Best of the Weekend: Advantage Saints in the playoff chase

saints
The return of international stars from the Six Nations promised an exciting weekend of club rugby, and this certainly proved to be the case. Here is your weekly round-up.

Unbeaten home record ends for Wasps in a snowy thriller at Adams Park

Northampton Saints took a big stride towards securing their playoff place with a 26-24 victory over London Wasps, in what was certainly the match of the weekend, if not the season. An archetypal try from Tom Varndell set the game’s pace early on, but complete dominance at the driving maul was enough to earn the Northampton the win, with Wasps losing three players to the sin bin for maul-related infringements alone. The victory, secured by a Christian Day try on the very last play of the game, ended Wasps’ unbeaten home record this season, and also extended the Saints’ winning streak over Wasps to eight games.

A comfortable 27-12 win for Saracens over fellow title challengers Harlequins, and a tense 12-9 victory for Leicester Tigers against the Exeter Chiefs, helped shed some light on what the playoff picture could look like come the end of the regular season. Both teams will be grateful to their recently returned fly-halves, Owen Farrell and Toby Flood, both of whose accuracy with the boot were critical in their victories.

Things go from bad to worse for London Welsh

If all eyes weren’t on the battle at the bottom of the Aviva Premiership before the weekend, a hard-fought 14-13 win for Sale Sharks over Bath on Friday night certainly ensured they would be for the rest of the weekend. In addition to being a source of huge relief for Sale, the result was arguably a mortal blow to any hopes Bath had of making the playoffs.

London Irish, keen not to give up any ground to Sale is their campaign for Premiership survival, recorded a comprehensive 26-6 victory over Worcester Warriors. Tries from Matt Garvey, Halani Aulika and Christopher Hala’ufia helped secure the win, and London Irish fans will be quietly confident that they have found form at the most important part of the season.

Unfortunately for London Welsh, this was the end of winning ways for the teams at the bottom of the table, as 12th placed Welsh suffered a heartbreaking 15-14 loss to Gloucester at Kingsholm. Five penalties from Freddie Burns was enough to win a scrappy game for Gloucester, who had trailed Welsh for the majority of the game. The loss leaves Welsh five points adrift of Sale at the bottom of the Premiership, although they’re currently appealing their recent points deduction.

Leinster move top, Ospreys surge, Toulon and Clermont fall short

A surprise loss for league leaders Ulster against Edinburgh opened the door for the winner of the top of the table clash between Leinster and Glasgow to move into first position. Thanks largely to a virtuoso performance from Ian Madigan – who scored all of Leinster’s points in their 22-17 victory – the Pro12 swapped one Irish side for another at its’ summit.

Elsewhere there was a big win for Ospreys, as they sent the Newport Dragons packing with a 52-19 thumping, capping off a good couple of weeks for the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric and Dan Biggar, although it was not quite the end Toby Faletau will have been hoping for.

The Top 14 also bore witness to some surprise results with the two top placed teams, Toulon and Clermont, losing to Bayonne and Biarritz respectively, with both teams seeming to struggle with much of their Six Nations contingent still missing from their starting line-ups.

The Try of the Week goes to Elliot Daly of London Wasps. The centre showed great strength and tenacity to power through three tackles, all of which were made with his feet just inches from the touchline, and he had the composure to expertly place the ball down in the corner.

Tom Brady of Sale Sharks earns the Hero of the Week accolade for his game-winning try in the second half of his side’s game against Bath. Nothing spectacular about the try from the second half substitute, but it could well be a pivotal moment in Sale’s campaign to avoid relegation.

The Villain of the Week goes to Chris Ashton. On the back of a disappointing Six Nations performance, Ashton lost his cool and used a high swinging arm in a tackle. He may have only been yellow carded, but this could quite easily have been a red on another day.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

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17 comments on “Best of the Weekend: Advantage Saints in the playoff chase

  1. Personally, my villain of the week would have been Harlequins!

    We just seem to have an ability to disappear!

    Gloucester on Friday is now quite a daunting prospect…

  2. The most interesting part of the weekend for me was that the Wasps wingers swapped wings. Wade has moved to 11 and that just shouts to me of SL asking them to do so.

    A back three of Ashton, Wade and Brown (with Brown in his proper position and with Ashton having someone to run off) – is actually quite good!

      • He certainly has never played there for Wasps – and I can’t remember him playing there for the Saxons, although you may be right.

        • Jacob, i too noticed that they swapped wings, and it does seem a bit strange that it suddenly happened – so it would suggest that england have been in touch.

          With regards to your comments of wade having “never played” 11 for wasps. this is not correct to my knowledge. there was a stage last season where wade turned out in the 11 shirt for a number of games.

          he also made his england debut (non-cap game against the Baa-Baas) in the 11 shirt for england.

          In the link you will see Wade wearing the number 11 shirt for Wasps last season:

          http://www.espnscrum.com/premiership-2011-12/rugby/image/147815.html

          i even managed to find this:
          http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidhowlett/7989454164/
          that is wade playing 11 this season for wasps, against Irish.

  3. Would like to see Daly included in England’s tour of Argentina. He seems to be pretty classy

    Also, Will Fraser and Tom Guest

    • Agree with you on Daly and Fraser – but not convinced by Tom Guest at all. Especially with Vunipola and Morgan both younger than him (and a lot better).

    • I hope Daly goes as well, good option for a 23 shirt. I think 15 makes the best use of his skills and I like the idea of having a longer range kicker than Farrell on the pitch as well for the 45-55m range.

      • exactly my thinking Matt. Especially in Argentina, where we may play at altitude, his kicking should be handy.

        Daly’s ability to cover 13, wing and 14 is handy. he is rapid and has great footwork.

        The Boks always have a “long range kicker”. Wales used to, until they just let Halfpenny do it all. Even Scotland and Italy produced a different guy to kick longer shots. England tend to have just Farrell, or whoever is playing 10. I like the idea of not only a back-up kicker on the field, but also someone who can have a pop (maybe not too accurately, but a shot none-the-less, from about 55m), it just keeps teams a bit more honest, IMO.

  4. To be fair to Ashton, he had been wrong footed and did his best to switch back and make the tackle. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to get his body round quick enough to complete it. If he had it would have looked quite different. There was no intent and he immediately put his hands up in acknowledgement of his error.

    Earlier in the same game though, someone took Strettle out with a suspect looking high tackle which seems to have been missed by officials and cameras.

    • Agree it wasn’t malicious but he was still going high and likely to be swatted aside even he had managed to turn and get in a legal challenge.

  5. I think Varndell deserves another shot this summer, 12 tries in 16 premiership games can’t be overlooked. His finish this weekend demonstrated everything a top class winger needs to do offensively, express pace, power to ride a challenge and awareness to evade cover defence.

    Whilst there’s the question marks over the defensive aspects of his game, lets not forget his try saver on Vesty last season and the ramifications on Wasps survival as a premiership club as a result.

    Hope he makes the tour, think he deserves a chance to test himself at international level

    • I sort of agree with you; but I would be surprised if he went. It is quite likely that none of the back three from England will go on the Lions tour – so there won’t be as much opportunity to try new things here. I would say Wade is more likely to get a chance, and maybe Jonny May.

      • It’s a good point Jacob, we could end up with something like Care, Flood, Brown, 36, Barritt, Ashton, Goode.

        The lack of lions candidates in the backs is a real headache. My view is if you are an established international and aren’t good enough to make a lions touring party 2 years out from a world cup you probably aren’t going to be good enough to play in a team in the latter stages of a RWC. I hope they run the rule over the squad now and if you aren’t making the grade lets bring someone new in for this tour.

        I would like to see something along the following lines

        Care
        Burns
        Varndell (or May)
        36
        Tomkins
        Wade
        Brown

        Daly on the bench.

        • It is the positions that we are strong that we will get to test players out.

          I.e.:
          England will lose definitely Cole, maybe Vunipola and Youngs/Hartley – we therefore need a tighhead to come through on tour – loose head and hooker is already covered quite well

          England will probably have two locks (Launchbury and Parling) on the tour – therefore we will find out about a few other locks in argentina.

          We also will lose Robshaw, and then maybe Morgan and Wood, so again, we will learn a bit about one of our young 7s, and billy vunipola may get his chance.

          In the back only Youngs, Farrell and Tuilagi are likely to go – maybe Brown as an outsider?

          I would like to see this in Argentina

          1. Corbisiero (may not be fit enough for lions tour so could do with some game time down in Argentina)
          2. Hartley/ Youngs (I think one will go on the lions tour as third choice hooker so the other plays with Gray as back up)
          3. Wilson?? (Cole will be gone so we need to unearth someone here!
          4. Lawes
          5. Robson (obviosly with main two gone – these are the next in line I believe)
          6. Croft (don’t think he will make the lions tour and can get himself back into international speed)
          7. Fraser (massive fan of his and Robshaw will be in the lions tour)
          8. Vunipola (I just want to see him in an England shirt, and I think Morgan will go with the Lions)
          9. Simpson (Youngs will be gone and I really like Simpson as a 9, we already know about Care and Dickson)
          10. Burns (again, Farrell gone and he is an exciting player)
          11. Wade (future England star)
          12. Twelvetrees (I actually think he may scrape onto the Lions tour – so if he does, I would like to see a bit of Eastmond here)
          13. Tomkins (Barritt is boring but this guy has a great offload)
          14. Ashton (playing off of the likes of Burns, 12trees and Tomkins, Ashton will find his mojo)
          15. Brown/ Foden

          I would personally take Ashton on the Lions tour, which I am aware will make some on here question what I am talking about but here is why:

          - With the likes of BOD, Sexton and Halfpenny, Ashton will have will genuine attacking threats to run off again, and he still runs excellent support lines – it is just that no one in an England shirt is count attacking. Anyone who saw the Saracens Quins game can see that he was running them well and can still do it.

          - Whatever form he is in – he is a genuine try scorer than will intimidate the Aussies

          - He is a confidence player – and if Gatland can give him confidence, and he starts clicking in training with the likes of BOD/ Sexton, his mood will pick up and he will be his old self.

          - The final issue – his defence! I completely agree there are issues here…BUT – is it any worse than Cuthbert? Anyone who saw the Ireland game knows he had a mare defensively that day. I will also throw Visser out there as a defensively liability. What I would say is – pick wingers on their threat, otherwise you will talk yourself into ending up like England with little attacking threat and just a defense.

          • I think Ashton still has a lot to offer as well, but I would prefer to see him get his mojo back in a club shirt first. For a lions touring party that will probably have 4 specialist wingers max I don’t think they can afford to take someone who may come good at the expense of someone who is in decent form.

            I have a hunch he may move Tom Wood to 7, but I would prefer to see Vunipola, Wood and then Kvesic/Fraser at 7. Argentina are one of the best teams round the fringes and I don’t think Croft brings the ammunition to combat that.

          • Jacob, I agree with your XV for Argentina. again, it does depend on who does go with the lions (as you said) but if all the obvious candidates and a couple of other options do go, then we will likely (more realistically it is probably hopefully than likely…) see a team like the one you picked.

            i agree with the locks that you chose. i would also maybe like to see guys like George Kruis and Kitchener or Gaskell go on the tour, even if they dont play. Charlie Matthews could be a surprise one too (played a lot for Quins this year). we could maybe see Attwood go. More likely though, I am sure we will see Mo Bo go as the experienced player, maybe Palmer too.

            I actually think this is a good opportunity for england to take a big squad and teach a lot of young lads what its like to be on tour with england. i would like to see 2-3 players for each position go on the tour, even if they dont all get game time.

            regarding loosehead. i think we may see an england LH go with the lions. but that will still leave use with two of Corbs/Mako and Marler. all being relatively experienced now, so we could probably afford to take a youngster.
            tighthead is a lot more of an interesting one. having put all of the eggs into the cole basket, england have kind of shot themselves in the foot here. they will likely be taking Wilson (even though he has 25 caps he has played very few minutes) and Henry Thomas (spend most of the 6Ns in the camp training, but is obviously yet to be capped) a 3rd tighthead is going to be difficult to find. i suspect we will see Paul Doran-Jones, because he has a couple caps, and has played a bit of test rugby before.

            Backrow is pretty clear who the options will be.
            6′s Could be Croft, Haskell, Clark and Johnson. Jamie Gibson may get a call too.
            7′s We will likely see Kvesic and Fraser. Luke Wallace may get a look in, if England are looking to develop genuine open-sides, then these are the lads.
            8′s: We will see Billy V, no doubt. This may be a tour where waldrom goes as an experienced player. although i would prefer see Guest. Dowson could be a call up too, as he is a more experienced guy.

            for hooker, i agree. we will probs see 1 go with the lions. i see gray and webber as the next options. (t. youngs was called in as cover for webber – a player SL knows from Leeds and rates highly).

            I have done the backs elsewhere on this thread, so wont bother with that now.

            my only other comment would be in regards to your likening of Cuthbert’s defence to Ashton’s. The problem Cuthbert had was poor positioning, Ashy on the other had has poor technique. he gets in the right place, but then offers about as much resistance as a revolving door.