Once again the Aviva Premiership provided us with a plethora of enthralling matches and head-turning results. Without question this RBS 6 Nations period is shaking things up nicely and as the rounds roll on the predictability of the competition slowly goes out of the window!
On Friday Night Harlequins hosted the Leicester Tigers and in wet and windy conditions showed a great deal of resilience to deliver the result. Not for the first time Richard Cockerill threw in a late curveball by announcing that Jean de Villiers would start in the centres and not on the bench as previously thought. Jean’s partnership with Manu Tuilagi has been long awaited but in all honesty it was a fairly quiet night for two as a centre duo. Harlequins stuck to their guns well, they weathered a second-half Harry Thacker try and then heroically repelled 21 phases of Leicester pressure with the time in red. After his shocking match-losing moment two weeks ago Ben Botica bounced back with conviction and scored 21 of the home side’s points. That’s three losses on the bounce for the Tigers and as you’d expect Richard Cockerill isn’t too happy saying that his side have to remember that ‘they are there to win games and not just to throw the ball around’.
At Allianz Park Saracens got back to winning ways with a victory over Gloucester Rugby, but the home side didn’t go about it in the easiest of fashions. Instead Schalk Brits received a red card for punching Nick Wood and Mark McCall’s men were forced to play with 14 for 50 minutes of the match. With a man advantage you expected Gloucester to turn the tables on the score line and press on but that didn’t happen. Instead Saracens’ decision to keep a full compliment in their pack paid dividends as they kept it tight and worked hard. In the end the Cherry and Whites conceded a total of 18 penalties and their set piece was creaky. Both elements that perturbed David Humphreys’ and forced him to admit that we saw ‘the Gloucester of 15-18 months ago’. In contrast, Mark McCall hailed the work of his props and called the result their ‘best of victory the season’.
Last weekend Dean Ryan and his Worcester Warriors felt a touch aggrieved following the game however I’m sure their victory over the Sale Sharks will have helped lift their moods. This week it was the turn of Steve Diamond to be outspoken following the game, he blasted the influence that Dean Ryan’s words about the officials had on the game and for my own safety I’m going to leave that one for the two men to discuss! On debut Francois Hougaard was highly influential as his quick service from scrum-half pushed the tempo and Tom Heathcote’s goal kicking, 6 from 7, was where it needed to be. Conversely Danny Cipriani only made 1 from 5 and although Sale rallied back from 8-21 down the early damage was done. Josh Beaumont’s dislocated shoulder was the final blow for the visitors who will be disappointed with their eighty minutes and not to have gained two losing bonus-points instead of one.
At the Recreation Ground Wasps outplayed Bath Rugby and in doing so pushed themselves up to third in the Aviva Premiership table. Once again we saw confidence oozing out of every single Wasps’ player while the same couldn’t be said for Bath. If you looked at the opening-half statistics then you’d be forgiven for asking why Wasps weren’t 10/15 points ahead, but they rectified that in the second. Across the course of the game Bath were their own worst enemies making errors and giving away possession just when they needed to press on while Wasps calmly went about their business and turned up the heat nicely. Once again George Smith was electric and although Matt Banahan and Amanaki Mafi shone for the home side it was all about the visitors. Wasps have now won five Premiership matches in a row, something that they haven’t done since the 2012/13 season while Bath are still waiting for their form to click in place for the full eighty minutes.
On Sunday afternoon London Irish hosted the Exeter Chiefs and although Tom Coventry’s side delivered a strong opening-half they couldn’t keep pace when Exeter kicked on after the break. The Exiles started in the best possible manner with an early try from Ofisa Treviranus however the Chiefs didn’t let that phase them, nor did they Topsy Ojo’s superb interception later on derail their focus.The match had a similar feeling to England’s trip to Rome in the RBS 6 Nations as Rob Baxter’s Chiefs bided their time and then pounced as their hosts tired, made a costly error and then lost a touch of belief. The Exiles know that the pressure is starting to mount and seeing what Andy Goode is doing a Newcastle will add salt into an already open wound.
Speaking of the Falcons recorded they their six successive home win with a 26-25 victory over Jim Mallinder’s Northampton Saints. The home side started strongly and race to a 20-11 half-time lead however the visitors bounced back to ensure that the 7,000 strong crowd witnessed a nailing biting ending with Richards’ Falcons defending with all of their might for the final 10+ minutes. The aforementioned Andy Goode was sensational, the rugby ball did anything that he wanted it to and he is proof that peak physical fitness isn’t the be all and end all. Not for the first time JJ Hanrahan’s introduction helped to spark the Saints however their slow first-half couldn’t be overcome. So now that’s Harlequins, Bath, Leicester and Saints that have fallen at Kingston Park… will the Worcester Warriors be next in two weeks time? First it’s a trip to Kingsholm where I’m sure they’ll be given a warm greeting!
By Emma Thurston
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