So that’s it, Round 22 is completed. With 47 tries and 347 points scored it’s fair to say that the regular season signed off with a bang and as a result of the six matches more pieces of the final Premiership puzzle fitted into place.
Northampton Saints and Sale Sharks booked Champions Cup rugby for next season and Exeter Chiefs emphatically secured the second home semi-final. Of course we’ve a short break now for the European Finals but once they are concluded we’ll be ready for Premiership’s ‘Knockout Saturday’ with Saracens against Leicester and Exeter versus Wasps.
At The Twickenham Stoop both sides had plenty to play for but in the end there was just one team in it. Rob Baxter’s Exeter Chiefs made a very capable Harlequins outfit look ordinary. Exeter were sharper, quicker, slicker and showed us how clinical they can be. Henry Slade has been tasked by Eddie Jones to ‘play some rugby’ and he did just that distributing gloriously. Jack Nowell hadn’t trained all week and was ‘on one and a half legs’ according to Baxter but it didn’t stop him being as sharp as a pin alongside James Short. Exeter’s pack weren’t to be outdone by their backs as they delivered their work with ease, in short it was the perfect stepping stone towards a home semi-final. For Harlequins it was a nightmare, they lost out on qualification to the Champions Cup, felt utterly humiliated in the process and now have to go to Lyon knowing that it is all or nothing. Full Time Harlequins 24 Exeter Chiefs 62
At the Ricoh Arena Wasps may have notched up six tries against London Irish but it’s fair to say that they didn’t fully find their straps on home soil. Dai Young’s side know that they’ll need to significantly up their game against Exeter and as a collective look like they need the short break coming in order to freshen up physically and mentally. Ashley Johnson produced one of his trademark performances filled with barn-storming runs and it’s that type of performance that all in black and gold need to replicate in two weeks time. London Irish were committed, and to their credit spent much more time on the front foot than many would have predicted, but once again discipline and missed opportunities hurt them. Full Time Wasps 38 London Irish 12
For the second week in a row Jim Mallinder’s Northampton Saints delivered an impressive comeback to ensure that they gained the victory and secured Champions Cup rugby next season. Tom Wood had another mesmeric day but revealed after that he’s booked in for surgery next week so won’t be considered for England duties. Harry Mallinder was another Saint that shone at Kingsholm, his emergence this season has been a huge positive and the great thing is that he has so much development still to come. Gloucester’s game will have vexed them, in the same manner that their season has, for after a positive opening on the scoreboard they let a 20-8 lead slip. The home side became frustrated and once Saints saw a victory was in touching distance their experienced bench, including Victor Matfield and a returning Dylan Hartley, did the rest. Full Time Gloucester Rugby 20 Northampton Saints 28
At Sixways two of Saracens’ form backs excelled; Chris Ashton and Alex Goode. The former crossed for a hat-trick and the latter cut Worcester apart for the 42-minutes that he was on the field of play. Worcester had started well but Saracens, as we’ve seen them do so many times, flicked the switch and punished their hosts. Jamie George enjoyed his return to action and the only concern for Mark McCall will be the severity of the hamstring injury that Neil de Kock picked up. For Worcester the final result of the season wasn’t a positive one, but their season has been and Dean Ryan can now fully focus on planning for next. Meanwhile Saracens will continue to press on in the Premiership but first have the small matter of a Champions Cup Final to deal with. Full Time Worcester Warriors 19 Saracens 43
Any side will tell you that if you have a victory to gain and you are on your way to Kingston Park then it isn’t going to be a straightforward affair. Sale’s outing wasn’t their best of the year and it won’t be placed in the vintage box but it was filled with the character and determination that we’ve come to associate with the side. The Falcons were rugged opponents and it was fitting that the man that’s been at the heart of their season, Nili Latu, scored a hat-trick. The home side had their chances but couldn’t convert them all and Joe Ford’s on target boot sealed the victory and Champions Cup rugby for the Manchester based outfit. Full Time Newcastle Falcons 15 Sale Sharks 21
At The Recreation Ground Bath finished their disappointing season with a victory albeit against a Leicester side that had chosen to rest a large proportion of their key men ahead of their semi-final. Of course the win didn’t change their ninth place finish but it was important for their pride as much as anything else. George Ford nailed every kick at goal put in front of him and Semesa Rokoduguni delivered a brace of tries as he continued his hot streak, 10 tries in 8 Premiership matches. Overall we saw much better execution in attack from the home side and Leicester also played their part in an enjoyable Premiership game. Ellis Genge lived up to his description by Richard Cockerill as ‘a bit of a handful’ and fellow prop Frasier Balmain had a stormer. In the visitors’ backline Peter Betham was the man of the moment as he caused issues all over the park and overall the match was a good opportunity for Richard Cockerill to squad members vital Premiership experience. Full Time Bath Rugby 38 Leicester Tigers 27
|Aviva Premiership Final Table|
By Emma Thurston
To see more from Emma, visit Out On The Full