Once again the Aviva Premiership round provided us with plenty of twists and turns! London Irish’s victory at the Madejski Stadium was a vital lifeline for them while at the other end of the table Exeter Chiefs promoted themselves into the top spot.
Of course this weekend was the last that all of our Aviva Premiership clubs will be without their International stars, some will return in Round 18 and by Round 19 they should all be back in action. The Aviva Premiership run-in is set to be intense and hugely exciting but first let’s look back over the Round 17 action.
On Friday night The Recreation Ground and all watching on BT Sport witnessed a pulsating game between Bath Rugby and Newcastle Falcons. Newcastle will have reviewed the game and wondered how they managed to be on the wrong end of the scoreline while Bath will credit their a huge defensive effort with the victory. In attack Semesa Rokoduguni was the home side’s catalyst and the visitors’ Marcus Watson also showed what a great talent he is. Discipline again caused Bath all sorts of issues, including going down to 13 men, but as mentioned their defence saved them. With the time in red the Falcons put together a remarkable 31 phases but all of Mike Delany’s drop-goal attempts were thwarted and the home side hung on to gain a vital victory.
After their Round 16 victory Worcester were well aware that if they gained another they would take a large step towards survival and at The Stoop that is exactly what they did. On the day Dean Ryan’s side were the better of the two sides and as Harlequins became frustrated in the match the visitors took advantage. Phil Dowson had another leading day at the office and continues to be instrumental in Worcester’s season. Harlequins will feel hard done by on one particular decision but in reality their opponents deserved the victory regardless of its impact. It is time for the South West London side to regroup and enjoy the confidence that their Grand Slam winners will deliver while Worcester need to keep their foot on the gas to keep momentum and let it guide them to safety.
At Sandy Park the Exeter Chiefs turned around a 3-12 half-time deficit to continue their strong home record. Once again Gareth Steenson’s work off the tee ensured that their second-half endeavour was rewarded with a victory. The opening forty minutes were largely about the visitors, Lee Dickson and Ken Pisi’s tries were well worked and the Saints looked sharp. However, the Saints’ second-half the penalty count didn’t make for pretty viewing and the Chiefs pounced. With the victory, and Sunday’s results, Rob Baxter’s side propelled themselves up a place to the top of the table while the Saints dropped out of the top 4. Both sides will be acutely aware that from hereon they cannot afford to be off the pace during matches especially if both want to be in the playoff mix come Round 22.
London Irish 23 Gloucester Rugby 18 was not a result that I was expecting to read at the end of Round 17 however it certainly shakes things up. The Exiles’ inability to finish games has been difficult to watch and yet this time they delivered the W and with it kept their survival hopes alive. David Humphreys was livid at his side’s performance and didn’t hide his feelings after the game. The facts are that Gloucester gave away 19 penalties and had, in his words, a ‘failed’ set piece. The only true positive for the Cherry and Whites was the emergence of Tom Marshall proving that good things come to those who wait. London Irish have to be given credit for their afternoon’s work as it takes guts to see out a victory when you are at the bottom of the table. Tom Coventry’s pack had a day to remember and he will want to ensure that they replicate that standard now in every game until the end of the season.
At the Ricoh Arena Wasps started their match with tremendous purpose and that paved the way for their bonus-point victory over the Sale Sharks. 17-points from the boot of Jimmy Gopperth certainly helped proceedings and as I continue to write Wasps look like the real deal right now, with plenty of talent to re-introduce too. Publicly Sale’s Director of Rugby had no qualms about their defeat as he said ‘they were convincingly beaten by a better side on the day’ however privately I’m sure that he’ll have been disappointed with his side’s output especially their number of errors and lack of physical competitiveness on the road.
Finally at Welford Road Leicester recored a victory over Saracens and their Director of Rugby said that it a ‘it was a proper Leicester performance’. Freddie Burns hit the headlines with a full house, drop-goal, try, conversion and penalty but Richard Cockerill was right when he said that result was delivered by work of the collective and not the individual. Saracens’ Alex Goode scored all 13 of their points and the whole side were grateful for the fact that he flew back from Paris for the game however he couldn’t deliver the result alone. Saracens have greatly missed their Internationals and cannot wait to get them back in order to provide them with the firepower and physicality they required to press on for the final few rounds.
By Emma Thurston
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