Once again the ‘Great’ British weather did its best to thwart the endeavour of our Aviva Premiership sides with just two of the six games being played in conditions that you’d call conducive to professional sport. The presence of the RBS 6 Nations is already giving us much to ponder on with some sides struggling without key men while others are taking their opportunities to shine.
On Friday night Bath and Gloucester Rugby locked horns at The Recreation Ground and the visitors prevailed for the first time since February 2012. The game started well for the home side, they dominated territory and Gloucester’s repeated infringements caused Tom Savage to see yellow. It all looked fairly rosy for the hosts however their neighbours kept themselves nicely in the match, 3-8, at half-time. While the teams discussed their second-half strategies the heavens opened and they remerged to treacherous wind and rain. As the conditions worsened so did Bath’s form, they had lost Kyle Eastmond early to injury and Dan Bowden simply didn’t have the experience or prowess to provide the kicking game that they needed. In stark contrast Gloucester’s half backs James Hook and Willi Heinz led them brilliantly using all of their experience to take control of the game and take advantage of the elements now being in their favour. Hook’s boot nailed his goal kicks and David Humphreys’ side stamped all over Bath’s fragile confidence. With the time in the red Matt Kvesic’s final turnover was vital to stop Bath’s last attack and it sealed a memorable derby victory for the Cherry and Whites while Bath’s woes continue.
The Sale Sharks hadn’t won on the road since February 2015 however on Saturday afternoon they fixed that issue at one of the most intimidating and challenging away grounds, Welford Road. The Leicester Tigers were missing a large number of key men; Telusa Veainu, Ed Slater and Tom Youngs all pulled out prior to the game, Ben Youngs and Dan Cole were away with England and then they lost Tommy Bell after 25 minutes. That disrupted them greatly and they also lacked key experience on their bench, whereas Sale benefitted greatly by having Brian Mujati and Eifion Lewis-Roberts to call on. Physically Steve Diamond’s squad delivered and the result could have been more comfortable had Danny Cipriani’s radar been accurately calibrated, instead he missed 5 out of 7 attempts. Leicester enjoyed more possession after the break however in all honesty it wasn’t a game that will live long in the memory books of the Tigers’ faithful.
The Twickenham Stoop witnessed a remarkable finale to the match between Harlequins and the Northampton Saints, one that broke home fans’ and players’ hearts and that really had to be seen to be believed. Prior to the clock running out both sides were locked in a fast paced and entertaining game of rugby; Luther Burrell and Harry Mallinder were a lively and dynamic centre pairing for the visitors with the former having his best game in a long time. Saints took the lead 3 times in the first-half and led at the break 17-14 however Quins looked to have wrestled the game back through penalties from Evans and Botica. After eighty minutes the scoreboard read Quins 23 Saints 20 and all that Ben Botica needed to do was to kick the ball dead, bizarrely he went for distance and with the swirling winds missed touch. Ben Foden was the grateful recipient of the ball and the full-back calmly set up the attack and then finished the try off himself. Never have I seen such an ending like it and unsurprisingly Conor O’Shea was dumfounded and furious while Jim Mallinder had a wry smile in his face knowing that his side had got out of jail!
Winning games three times over is the ultimate Premiership bugbear of Wasps’ Dai Young and once again his side had to do that at the Ricoh Arena. The Newcastle Falcons arrived and delivered a head turning performance against a side that they should have routinely beaten. Like other matches during the weekend the weather wasn’t ideal however it was bearable. Early in the game Andy Goode’s radar was uncharacteristically off as he pushed two relatively easy kicks wide before landing a third whereas Jimmy Gopperth nailed his first attempt. As far as points went that was it for the opening-half, after the break Christian Wade had an early score disallowed whereas Nili Latu added another powerful 5-pointer to his collection. Jimmy Gopperth’s boot gave Wasps further points in order to nudge their nose in front as the clock approached 80 minutes. However the game finished with Falcons in possession, trailing 9-8, and pressing; Andy Goode could have broken his old faithfuls’ hearts with a match-winning drop goal however Siale Piutau’s final crunching hit meant the ball never reached the hands of Mr Goode and his old club held on for the narrowest of victories.
On Sunday afternoon first in the table met second as the Exeter Chiefs hosted Saracens at Sandy Park. As always the wind swirled around the stadium and certainly had its own impact on the game. Exeter had the conditions in their favour in the opening half and used them well. Rob Baxter’s men were playing with confidence and when James Short intercepted Charlie Hodgson’s final offload things were looking good. The home side did suffer a spot of frustration as Ollie Atkins’ try was disallowed, for a knock on that most of us failed to see, and had it been allowed it would have altered the landscape of the game. Instead, Saracens gained a 5-pointer of their own thanks to Samuela Vunisa and were nicely in touch six points behind, 11-5. In the second-half they have the elements in their favour, Richard Wigglesworth capitalised on this and the visitors clawed their way back into the game. At 70 minutes it was locked at 11-11 and the Chiefs were pressing with all of their worth however Saracens’ engaged their wolfpack mode to repel their advances and then Charlie Hodgson nailed his longest kick of the season to take the game.
Finally at the other end of the table the Worcester Warriors headed to the Madjeski Stadium in search of a results against London Irish. Dean Ryan deemed his side’s opening-half to be ‘unacceptable’ as they didn’t deliver the energy that he had implored them to bring for a match of this magnititude. In contrast London Irish met the fixture head on and drove the tempo of the game. Ciaran Hearn delivered the opening try with a super chip and collect when he found the Worcester defence sleeping. Tom Coventry’s men had other opportunities that they should have taken in order to put the game out of their opponents reach however they didn’t convert them. That said when the Warriors finally found their stride they did show us what they are able to do however the wayward goal kicking of Andy Symons did little to help the cause and Irish took the spoils in what could be a season-defining match.
By Emma Thurston
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