Best of the Weekend – Domestic Round-Up

The second part of the Best of the Weekend feature rounds up the domestic action in the Aviva Premiership and the Rabodirect Pro12.

Nick Abendanon

Saracens back to winning ways as the last kick of the game brings victory at the Rec

It is the art of winning ugly that separates the title contenders from the rest of the pack, and current champions Saracens showed that grit on a gloomy Saturday afternoon against Bath at the Rec.

After the opening exchange of penalties from Bath’s Sam Vesty and Saracens’s Owen Farrell, it was Bath who made the first charge on the try line as a chip from the back of the ruck from Michael Claassens was chased down by Nick Abendanon, but the ball managed to beat him and the defending Alex Goode out of play.

It didn’t take long after for the first try of the match, when Saracens flyer James Short broke through the gain line to score the men from Watford’s first try of the season. Bath responded quickly with one of their own, Abendanon again this time following up a grubber kick from Vesty. Bath’s march continued this time with a score that was made in the back row, as new signing Carl Fearns picked up an offload from fellow flanker Ben Skirving to score in the corner.

It was all about penalties in the second half, but it was nearly a drop goal from Charlie Hodgson that could have sealed victory for Saracens. However with the clock hitting 80 minutes and the score at 26-25, Owen Farrell stepped up for the last kick of the game, a penalty from the left hand side of the pitch. He struck it, the ball hit the right post, then the left, and it fell over the crossbar. Saracens win 26-28.

The composure of 19-year-old Owen Farrell was outstanding throughout the match. He was one to watch out for last season, if he keeps on like this, he’ll be one to watch following his dad into the white of England.

Also back on the right track after their opening weekend defeat was Sale Sharks, who had a narrow home win over London Irish. It was all action in the first half as tries from Henry Thomas and James Gaskell for the Sharks were matched by Jonathan Joseph and David Paice for Irish, leading to a 20-23 half time score.

Irish fullback, Tom Homer, managed to slot all 7 of his attempts at goal but sadly this was not enough for the visitors as an excellent individual try from Wales international scrum-half Dwayne Peel sealed a first win of the season for Sale Sharks. London Irish, despite having lost two from two so far, should not be disheartened as they played really well and will certainly register that first win soon.

After their last minute defeat away at Northampton on the opening weekend, it was back to normal for Gloucester at Fortress Kingsholm as they faced Premiership new boys Worcester, registering a convincing 29-8 win.

Centre Jonny May opened the scoring for the Cherry and Whites with a 50 metre sprint under the posts after intercepting an errant Worcester pass. Fly-half Tim Taylor added the conversion as well as four penalties in the first half, as Gloucester capitalized on Worcester’s mistakes.

Former Gloucester boy, Marcel Garvey, saw yellow as his try saving tackle on Lesley Vainikolo was penalized as the winger made no effort to roll away from the tackle, effectively killing the ball.

In the second half, Worcester tried to get back into the game but Gloucester’s back row worked hard at the breakdown, turning over Worcester ball regularly. In the last ten minutes, Freddie Burns chipped the ball, finding Tom Voyce, who went over in the corner for Gloucester’s second try, and the match. A consolation try for Dale Rasmussen helped move Worcester from 3 to 8 points in the match but the extras weren’t added due to Andy Goode’s missed conversion. Having won well on the opening day of the season it just wasn’t to be for Worcester, as Fortress Kingsholm claimed another casualty, probably the first of many.

Harlequins, Exeter and Wasps maintain their 100% records

On Friday night Harlequins hosted Northampton at The Stoop, with both sides buoyed by their opening weekend victories over London Irish and Gloucester respectively.

It was Quins who put on the early pressure, getting over the line with their forwards but not being able to ground the ball. However the referee had already given a penalty, which Nick Evans comfortably slotted over. Northampton fought back though as fullback Greig Tonks went over the line to get on the scoreboard. The Saints conceded some soft penalties to allow Harlequins to head in at half time with a lead.

The second half began like the first, only this time Harlequins scored a try, as scrum-half Karl Dickson broke from the back of the scrum to send hooker and former Saint, Joe Gray, over the line. The floodgates were opened briefly as Ugo Monye went over later on. Northampton stayed in the game, largely due to their superior scrum, putting the Harlequins forwards under pressure. Despite prop James Johnston being sinbinned close to full time for going off his feet, Harlequins managed to hold out for a 26-13 victory.

High flying Exeter, not showing signs of being affected by “second season syndrome” just yet built on their victory over Leicester at Welford Road with their first home win of the season against Newcastle.

Having scored in the first minute against Leicester, they repeated this once more through winger Josh Tatupu, with Ignacio Mieres adding the extras. Newcastle attacked well in Exeter’s 22 but the Chief’s defence held up. 25 minutes in the Falcons made their break, with James Catterick scoring in the left hand corner, though the conversion attempt from Jimmy Gopperth was wide.

Exeter scored three more tries in the second half from backs Sireli Naqelevuki, Phil Dollman, and a last minute one from Jason Shoemark, as the Chiefs kept the ball alive after the 80 minute mark. It gave them that try bonus point to send them to the top of the Aviva Premiership.

Though Newcastle scored a try of their own in the second half, through Fitzpatrick again, it wasn’t enough to get them a losing bonus point and they remain at the bottom of the table after the 32-15 defeat.

Sunday’s game saw two of the country’s biggest teams battle it out in what is usually a high scoring thriller: Wasps and Leicester. Having beaten Saracens in the London Double Header in round 1, Wasps were on a high wanting to continue with winning ways, while Leicester, having lost narrowly to Exeter at home, wouldn’t want to lose two on the trot.

The Tigers started the match positively, as the impressive Wasps openside Jonathan Poff went off his feet at the ruck to concede a penalty which Billy Twelvetrees slotted over. Nicky Robinson missed an attempt at goal shortly after but made amends before Leicester could get further ahead.

Despite Leicester’s frailties at the line out, their scrum still worked well, earning another penalty, which Twelvetrees just managed in the wind. The Leicester outside centre then showed his attacking skills, taking a pass from winger Niall Morris and forcing himself past Tom Varndell and Nicky Robinson to get over the line for the match’s opening try, which he then converted.

Wasps had attacking prowess of their own as scrum-half, Nic Berry, scored just before the half an hour mark as he was on the end of a break from fullback Hugo Southwell, supported by the pace of Christian Wade. Nicky Robinson added the extras.

Close to half time the Christian Wade show began. He had already played a part in Wasps’s opening try but this time in combination with fellow winger Varndell he scored his first of three in the match. Varndell made the hard yards, drawing in defenders, leaving Wade to finish it off, and with his pace nobody could stop him.

Leicester had an answer though, as 18-year-old fly-half, George Ford, made a break in Wasps’s 22 off the back of a ruck, with Twelvetrees, again, going over the line and converting.

The second half had more of the same, but there was a feeling that Wasps came out more determined than ever, and it showed, as Wade completed his hattrick with a couple more spectacular tries, sealing the try bonus point for them. Ryan Davis, who replaced Nicky Robinson, also impressed with his kicking. However Twelvetrees kept Leicester within touch courtesy of his boot and a 45 metre kick on the stroke of full time sealed yet another losing bonus point for the Tigers as the match finished 35-29.

Try time for Cardiff see them as the early season pace setters

Cardiff have shown that a try bonus point can make all the difference as they sit on top of the RaboDirect PRO12 table with 10 points after their 33-18 win over Treviso this weekend. Tries from Alex Cuthbert, Tom James, Martyn Williams and Dafydd Hewitt sealed victory for them, while Kris Burton scored all of Treviso’s points.

It was a tight match at the Liberty Stadium as the Ospreys beat Edinburgh thanks to tries from Rhys Webb and Justin Tipuric, plus 16 points from the boot of Dan Biggar as they won 26-19. Connacht beat the Scarlets for the first time in 6 years as they picked up a 13-11 victory.

After the first weekend’s loss to the Ospreys, Leinster were back on form as they beat the Dragons 31-10. It wasn’t the match that saw the usual flair from the Dublin side but the Heinken Cup Champions saw the game through. Ulster had a narrow victory away at Aironi, taking the match 25-19. Munster also won on Friday night in Glasgow, 23-12.

Try of the Weekend goes to Gloucester centre Jonny May in their opening home game of the season against Worcester at Kingsholm. It came early on in the match, when Worcester had possession and were marching onwards into Gloucester’s half. However a loose pass down the line was intercepted by May as he sprinted down the pitch between the posts to open the scoring for the Cherry and Whites.

This weekend’s Hero had a few candidates, from try-scoring whizz, Christian Wade of Wasps to Saracens’s young fly-half, Owen Farrell, who sealed victory against Bath with the last kick of the game, and help from both posts. However my choice is an unsung hero: Billy Twelvetrees. The Leicester outside centre scored all 29 points for the Tigers in a losing cause, consisting of two converted tries and five penalties. In the 131-year history of the team, nobody has ever scored that many points as the sole scorer on the team sheet.

Meanwhile the Villain of the weekend was the man who made a feisty return to his former club, Marcel Garvey. The Worcester winger’s excellent tackle near the try line on Lesley Vainiko was ruined, as he made no effort to roll away and he was yellow carded by referee Luke Pearce. Gloucester, though missing out on a possible seven points went away with three, while Garvey spent 10 minutes in the bin.

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