So, Round 19 was a quiet one wasn’t it!!?! It’s fair to say that Premiership Rugby signed off for the European break with a flourish. From Friday night’s drama at The Recreation Ground all the way through to the Sunday service at the Ricoh Arena we witnessed 40 tries and some eye-catching performances.
With just three rounds remaining only two things have been decided, first that Saracens will be in the playoffs and second that Worcester have secured their safety. As many clubs will testify it is a huge challenge to come up to the Premiership and stay up and the manner in which Dean Ryan as gone about developing the Warriors and the application of his squad deserves great plaudits.
Round 19 started at The Recreation Ground in what was the most dramatic match of the weekend and one that had a spot of bite to it too. In the first half Saracens were their usual clinical selves they took full advantage of Bath’s shaky lineout and mistakes and as a result notched up a healthy 18-3 half-time lead. The drama arrived on 49 minutes when Anthony Watson was given a red card for his collision in the air with Alex Goode. By the letter of the law it was red however like many others I believe that some element of empathy with the elements of the collision needed to have been given. Watson’s course was altered by his impact with Chris Ashton instead of him just going straight for the full-back, regardless the red was given and shortly after Chris Cook’s yellow added to Bath’s challenges. Bath did well to put a score on the board, and Dave Attwood’s full eighty after 12 weeks out has to be applauded but they weren’t ever going to comeback against the league leaders. The visitors looked every inch the form team in Europe, they are imperious at the moment and it will take something very special to take their Premiership crown away from them. Full Time Bath Rugby 10 Saracens 30
At the Twickenham Stoop Harlequins put their Round 18 defeat behind them with a six-try victory over Newcastle Falcons. Although the scoreline looks emphatic there was a period in the second-half when Dean Richards’ side came back to within 3-points of their hosts. When Quins secured the try-scoring bonus-point they thought that it game was done and dusted and they let their intensity levels drop. Frustratingly for Newcastle their discipline wasn’t squeaky clean and a combination of penalties and Sean Robinson’s sin-bin cost them the foothold that they’d gained in the match. It wasn’t a brilliant team performance from Harlequins but when it counted Conor O’Shea’s key men stepped up – Tim Visser and young Joe Marchant particularly caught my eye. For Falcons the loss, and Irish’s in Reading, means that their meeting at Kingston Park on 17th April is make or break time in terms of Premiership survival. The Falcons have recorded six-losses on the bounce and if they want to remain in the competition have to embrace the pressure that is on them and make home advantage count. Full Time Harlequins 46 Newcastle Falcons 25
In Reading the Sale Sharks achieved their first victory at the Madejski Stadium since October 2006 and condemned London Irish to further concern about their Premiership future. With 10 minutes remaining the Exiles were in touch of their visitors, just a point behind at 15-16, but two late Sale tries snatched it away from their hosts. Sale took their opportunities in that final 10 minutes in a way that a team without relegation concerns does while Irish’s hearts broke. Danny Cipriani’s 20-points were contrasted by Greg Tonks’ 3 missed kicks that highlighted his, and his side’s, nerves. The huge challenge now is for the Exiles to put their game on the park without fear in spite of the stakes getting higher with every minute that goes by. For Sale they have a gruelling few weeks ahead, first a European quarter-final against Montpellier and if they are victorious then they need to play Bath Rugby twice in the space of 5 days. It’s a big challenge but ultimately is one that will define their Premiership Top 6, ambitions. Full Time London Irish 15 Sale Sharks 30
It was a bitter sweet day for Worcester Warriors at Sandy Park as the Exeter Chiefs inflicted their heaviest defeat of the season on them but due to results elsewhere the Warriors secured Premiership rugby for another season. In the second-half the home side were a class apart, they put on a show for their home supporters and it was simply lovely to watch. As always Dean Ryan didn’t beat around the bush after the game and instead admitted that the match was ‘was a step too far for us’. Worcester’s final three games are against Wasps, Leicester Tigers and Saracens so having survival in the bag means that they can attack them with gusto. The way in which Dean Ryan has managed the squad and the manner in which they’ve developed over the season deserves great praise. Francois Hougaard’s signing was inspired and personally I look forward to seeing what they can do after a full pre-season and with their exciting new signings in their ranks. In terms of the Chiefs they’ll be buoyant and ready to take on Wasps in Europe, Thomas Waldrom’s hat-trick notches his try tally up to 13 in the competition and across the board they’re planning on ruffling a few feathers at the Ricoh Arena. Full time Exeter Chiefs 50 Worcester Warriors 12
Welford Road was another venue that witnessed a dramatic match, this time the drama came in terms of the twists and turns on the scoreboard. The game between Leicester Tigers and Gloucester Rugby started at a pace and never let up. After Leicester’s composed start the visitors’ potent 20 minutes before half-time saw them race to a 27-13 lead. Gloucester’s tries came thick and fast as they capitalised on Tigers’ errors and we started to see a the type of performance that we’ve been waiting for from David Humphreys’ men. Half-time must have been a heated affair in the home dressing room for they rocketed out of the blocks and flicked on the switch. Manu Tuilagi’s form is returning at a rate of knots, it’s a delight to see him at full flight, Peter Betham had an excellent day at the office and debutant openside Will Evans had a stellar maiden Premiership outing. Gloucester have to take the positive elements from their performance but overall they’ll remain frustrated and will need to channel that into a home European Challenge Cup quarter-final. Full Time Leicester Tigers 35 Gloucester Rugby 30
At the Ricoh Arena Wasps continued their winning form with a 28-6 victory over Northampton Saints. Not for the first time their charge was led by veteran George Smith who showed what a tremendous playmaker he is as well as a master openside flanker. It wasn’t the slickest of Premiership matches with handling and loose play letting both sides down for much of the second-half but Wasps were the ones to take their chances. Rob Miller is continuing to impress being pushed on by the presence and competition from Charles Piutau and Elliot Daly’s long-range boot proved to be a handy tool in their armoury. It wasn’t pristine from Wasps but that actually is a good thing to ensure that they don’t rest on on their laurels heading into the Champions Cup. For Saints the European tussle with Saracens could stretch their resources and be a step too far, Kieran Brookes’ and Lee Dickson’s return to play will be managed and they may or may not be ready for the match and the message from Jim Mallinder is simple – put this defeat behind us quickly and go for broke at Allianz Park. Full Time Wasps 28 Northampton Saints 6
By Emma Thurston
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