Falcons, Tigers and Sharks claim vital wins
Newcastle kept up their remarkable winning form, having now won seven of their last eight premiership games by beating Gloucester. As the business end of the season comes into sight, it was a crucial win away against a rival for the semi-final berths. The visitors controlled the first half, taking a 16-5 lead into the interval after and Ally Hogg try and 11 points from the boot of Joel Hodgson. This turned out to be just enough, with the Cherry and Whites battling back to earn a double bonus point. The hosts scored four tries, but they had their kickers to blame as they went down 21-20 for a first home defeat of the season. The result leaves Gloucester four points adrift of fourth placed Falcons.
Meanwhile, Leicester’s bizarre upturn in form continued as they smashed Worcester 34-5 at Sixways. It may not have been plain sailing this year, but when it comes to the crunch, it seems the Tigers habit of a late surge into the playoffs may not be about to go down the pan just yet. With Matt Toomua pulling the strings, they visitors scored five tries and now sit within striking distance of Newcastle. Next up: a tantalising Midlands derby against Wasps…
Inspiring his side to a victory to keep them in contention, Denny Solomona scored a hat-trick in Sale’s 34-25 defeat of Saints. Whilst they are still a touch off the pace, if they can keep that scintillating style going, they may not be out of the running just yet. Coupled with the result for Sale and the other big games in and around the playoffs, arguably the biggest losers this weekend were Bath, who went down 20-5 at The Stoop to Harlequins.
It seems strange to be writing about Exeter v Saracens so far down, but that is a mark of just how tight the playoff fight is this year. The champions ground out a 24-12 victory, pulling away with a penalty try in the second half. The upshot is that Exeter now have a comfortable lead at the top, whilst Saracens now seem to be playing for a home semi-final and will be hoping that they don’t get sucked in to what is going on below them. Wasps crept into second place with a hard-fought win against London Irish. In a relatively dour game, the hosts edged it 24-16.
What happened elsewhere?
Due to the snow, there are only two matches to talk about in the Pro14. Cheetahs edged Connacht 26-25, whilst Southern Kings got their first win in style, smashing Dragons 45-13.
In Super Rugby, there were a number of away wins this weekend. Hurricanes, Chiefs, Lions and Rebels all came away with the spoils, whilst Waratahs drew at Sharks. The only home wins were for Reds and Crusaders.
In the French Top 14, Racing kept up the heat on Montpellier as the former beat Brive, whilst the leaders slipped to defeat at Agen. There were also wins for Clermont, Pau, Toulouse, Oyonnax and Lyon.
Villain of the week
Details seem at a premium about the George North situation, but any suggestion that a player did not want to play is inexcusable. I understand player welfare and that they shouldn’t be over-worked. Also, him prioritising Wales is fine, but just not wanting to play when you are paid to do so and are fine turning out for your country is just not on.
Hero of the week
A hat-trick is always worthy of a mention here, but to do it away from home and drag your team back into the fight for the coveted Champions Cup qualification spots means Denny Solomona definitely deserves it this week.
Try of the week
It seemed like nothing was on when the ball was shipped to him on the wing with two defenders on him. Quite how Jason Woodward managed to find the speed from a standing start and the space where there was none to grubber through and dive over untouched, I will never know.
How is your Premiership interest during the international period?
Who will make the playoffs with the race so tight?
Thoughts on the upcoming weekend of 6N action?
by Joe Large