Once again the Great British weather did it’s best to thwart our Aviva Premiership weekend. In spite of the conditions the rugby, for the most part, defied the odds. Notably Saracens’ pack annihilated the Leicester Tigers at Allianz Park, the Newcastle Falcons gained their first victory over Bath Rugby at Kingston Park since October 2003 and both Gloucester Rugby and the Worcester Warriors achieved handsome comebacks – with only one ending victorious.
The rugby stated bright and breezy on New Year’s Day where Northampton Saints headed into the game with all of the pressure on their shoulders after a Boxing Day loss to London Irish. Conversely the Exeter Chiefs were the form team of the competition having dropped only two points in the last six domestic rounds. However on a wet New Year’s Day the form book went out the window as the home side put in a strong defensive effort that nullified the Chiefs and gained their fourth domestic victory. It wasn’t a beautiful game, far from it, in attack the Saints still didn’t have the answers however their pack did the business and they’ve set a winning platform to work on. Exeter weren’t themselves, Rob Baxter admitted that he ‘couldn’t put his finger on why’ afterwards however sometimes that happens in sport – they are still in a great position and will regroup before heading back to Sandy Park. Standout performances from Mikey Haywood and Tom Collins were the highlights on an otherwise fairly forgettable Premiership affair.
In a Kingsholm mud fest that any festival would be proud of Gloucester Rugby hosted London Irish. The visitors were the quicker of the two sides to start; Ciaran Hearn crossed for his first try in Exiles’ colours and then Alex Lewington brilliantly took a sweetly struck cross field kick from Chris Noakes. Alex continues to standout within the side, he has already made 52 appearance for London Irish and his career is still in its infancy. In the second-half Gloucester’s pack took hold and the home side showed the confidence and endeavour of one that are more secure in their own skin. Overall tries from Matt Kvesic and Billy Burns added to 17-points from James Hook’s boot to secure the victory. The Welsh International yet had another eye catching performance to add to his one at Big Game 8 and it is starting to click a little more for the Cherry and Whites, with every game played.
At Kingston Park the Newcastle Falcons welcomed Bath Rugby to town and recorded their first-ever victory over the visitors at home since October 2003. This is yet another indication that in this competition anything can happen and certainly mixes things up at the foot of the table. Bath Rugby will be frustrated and annoyed with themselves, their discipline still continues to plague them, as do the personal errors that they just can’t shake off. Conversely although the Falcons missed points their Director of Rugby thought that ‘they came up with the goods and deserved it’. Needless to say it was a useful four-points for the home team and strong character shown by 22-year-old fly-half Craig Willis to nail the final two penalties of the afternoon. Craig has the more experience man, Andy Goode, there now for company and will learn much from the man that has 2,228 to his name and is likely to start against London Irish next weekend. For Bath Rugby the questions will now come in thick and fast, just what isn’t working? How can it be fixed? Whatever the answers are they’ll need to find them quickly as they have a Champions Cup meeting with Toulon to contend with and the three time European Champions aren’t a forgiving bunch.
The match at the AJ Bell Stadium between the Sale Sharks and Wasps was another that was played in conditions that you can only describe as ‘less than ideal’. The visitors we know have a backline that can thrill however in the wind and rain weren’t able to do so. In contrast the Manchester based home side are a little more wily and used to the elements and had the back bone to nudge out the fixture. Danny Cipriani’s boot was the source of all Sale’s 15-points and his Man of the Match rewarded was thoroughly deserved. Both sides had try-scoring opportunities in the opening half however Sam Tuitupou and Rob Miller both couldn’t finish the opportunities in the weather. It wasn’t always a free flowing game of rugby however that won’t trouble Steve Diamond in the slightest however for Wasps their winless Premiership run continues.
At Allianz Park Saracens produced an almighty second-half performance to send the Leicester Tigers back up the M1 with nothing in their pockets. The performance of Mark McCall’s pack was one of the strongest that we’ve seen from any Premiership side as they took the Leicester pack to the cleaners. The net result was a five-pointer from Jamie George and three penalty tries in total; the home side played the conditions well and like they’ve done many times before inflicted a strangle hold on their opponents. Losing both Tom Croft and Ed Slater to injuries didn’t help the visitors at all as they are key men however overall the Tigers lacked the bite required and they’ll have plenty to think on before their home Derby fixture against the Northampton Saints next Saturday.
The final match of the weekend, indeed the only Sunday fixture, was at Sixways where the Worcester Warriors welcomed Harlequins to town. This was a thriller that included 5 tries in total and the home side coming back from 3-24 down to the final score of 20-24. Harlequins started the better of the two sides with Charlie Walker showcasing his electric feet, twice, and Luke Wallace finishing a driving maul score however Dean Ryan’s side weren’t done. Ryan Mills’ kicking out of hand was putting them in all of the right areas; Marco Mama started the try-scoring, followed by a penalty try and another of from Phil Dowson – had Mills’ conversion landed for the final Dowson try we could have been in for a box office drop-goal finish however it never reached the target and Harlequins held on for a very hard-earned victory on the road.
Round 8 Results:
Gloucester 27-14 London Irish
Newcastle Falcons 19-14 Bath
Northampton Saints 8-3 Exeter Chiefs
Sale Sharks 15-9 Wasps
Saracens 26-6 Leicester Tigers
Worcester Warriors 20-24 Harlequins
|Aviva Premiership Table – Round 8|
By Emma Thurston
To see more from Emma, visit Out On The Full