It is fair to say that, as a whole, Round 15 of the Aviva Premiership wasn’t the best that we’ve seen however during the course of the season you’re bound to get one that doesn’t set the world on fire. That said fans of Sale Sharks, Gloucester Rugby and Worcester Warriors will all be particularly happy with their sides’ endeavour as all three recorded important victories.
As we expected the RBS 6 Nations period is having quite an impact on our Aviva Premiership sides and their positions in the table. Some are benefitting from settled and stable squads while others are counting down the days until key players return. Of course the playoff system is designed to negate this period when it comes to the latter stages but there is a sense that some Top 6 and even Top 4 chances will be made and lost during the next few weeks.
On Friday night the BT Sport team did a superb job and teeing up the bottom of the table clash between the Newcastle Falcons & the Worcester Warriors. With both precariously poised at the bottom of the table above London Irish there was plenty riding on the game however the opening 60 minutes did fall short of the mark. Instead we saw multiple errors that were thwarting endeavour and it really wasn’t a beautiful game of rugby. As flat as the opening 60 minutes were the final 10 were an good watch; Rob Vickers’ 72nd minute try had the potential to win Falcons the game but Craig Willis’ conversion drifted wide. With a single-point lead Worcester made life difficult for themselves as they handed back possession to the Falcons but eventually they ‘fell over the line’. The victory has to give Worcester the confidence that they’ve been searching for as they finally rode out a tight game while Falcons will know that they lost a big opportunity and will be disappointed with their output. Full Time: Newcastle Falcons 14 Worcester Warriors 15
In Manchester the Sale Sharks maintained their 100% home Premiership record in 2016 with their first victory over Harlequins since November 2014. On his first start of the season Joe Ford put in a flawless kicking display and defied his limited game time with an assured performance in the ten jersey. Harlequins enjoyed plenty of opening-half possession and a half-time lead due to Tim Visser’s score however didn’t ever look comfortable. Again Sam James was instrumental for Sale as it was his offload that put in Will Addison for the match-winning try and overall their back-row disrupted the breakdown extremely well. Marland Yarde’s dislocated shoulder was a bitter blow for Quins and their tricky RBS 6 Nations periods continues with just one victory in their last 7 fixtures in all tournaments. Full Time Sale Sharks 29 Harlequins 23
Gloucester Rugby’s victory over Wasps was one that I certainly didn’t predict however watching the match it has to be said they thoroughly deserved it. Throughout Gloucester’s defensive effort was superb, stronger than it has been all season, and it took Christian Wade’s fleetness of foot to eventually burst through and put Wasps in a position to draw. This season Jimmy Gopperth has had some stellar games for Wasps but Saturday’s wasn’t one and his frustration was compounded by his late drop-goal drifting wide. For all of Gloucester’s positives, solid defence and sprightly attack, the victory came at a cost with what looked like fairly serious injuries to Billy Burns, Henry Purdy, Rob Cook and Paddy McAllister. Full Time Gloucester Rugby 13 Wasps 10
At the Recreation Ground Bath Rugby ensured that London Irish’s woes continued by condemning the Exiles to their fourth straight loss in the competition. Across the eighty minutes we saw something that was starting to resemble a more recognisable Bath side – one that was focused on playing positive rugby. Kyle Eastmond fizzed in the centres and Rhys Priestland’s presence back from Wales was a great help. Bath’s performances has to be contextualised for Irish’s defence wasn’t strong and as shaky as their confidence has been they would have expected to put four-tries on the board. Throughout Tom Coventry’s Exiles looked at sixes and sevens, they didn’t have any aspect of their game that was rock solid and that’s a worry. Perhaps the bright lights of NYC will give the boost that they need while Bath head to London to face Harlequins and then we’ll see if they’ve made true progress. Full Time Bath Rugby 25 London Irish 17
Normally Saracens against Northampton is a fixture that you don’t want to end due to its intensity and physicality however on Saturday afternoon the final whistle was a welcome sound. The match wasn’t of great quality, something that a man watching in the crowd, Eddie Jones, will have noticed however in it there were some effective individual performances. Tom Wood was a talisman in Saints’ back row and 15-points from the boot of Stephen Myler was an effective day at the office. England returnees Alex Goode and Jamie George looked good with ball in hand however the home side badly missed an experienced fly-half as Nils Mordt struggled. Courtney Lawes’ injury marred what was a welcome victory for Saints but they’ll be hoping that even without the imposing lock they can use the result to put together a true run of form. Full Time Saracens 15-20 Northampton Saints
When the full-time whistle blew at Welford Road a large part of the post match conversation was about the officiating as opposed to the rugby. Now, from an Exeter Chiefs’ perspective understandable and it was done with respect and in the right manner however let’s try not forget the fantastic rugby we saw as well. Leicester were clinical as they romped to a 31-6 lead, Manu Tuilagi was physically imposing and Freddie Burns pulled the strings well. With that cushion you expect Leicester to never look back and that makes Exeter’s return back into the game even more impressive. What would have happened if the Chiefs had played for the full eighty!? Across both sides individuals shone; Lachlan McCaffrey and young Harry Thacker for the home side while Geoff Parling and Dave Lewis sparked the visitors. With action from minute one to eighty it is just a shame that many people’s overarching memories of the match will be the debates regarding the officials’ actions, or lack of them. Full Time Leicester Tigers 31 Exeter Chiefs 27
By Emma Thurston
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