As the Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups begin its pool stages next weekend, this was the last chance for clubs to make ground on the league standings for a fortnight, but who prospered and who floundered? Here are the best bits from the weekend’s action from England and France.
Robshaw stands out as Harlequins win comfortably against Bath
Harlequins’ winning ways in all competitions continued, as they registered their 10th consecutive win at The Recreation Ground. In what was a close match for the majority of the game, it was the breakdown that proved decisive, particularly the hard work of Quins skipper Chris Robshaw.
Bath lock, Dave Attwood, and Robshaw exchanged tries in the first twenty minutes but it could have been more for the home side as Sam Vesty missed two early attempts at goal. Nick Evans continued his good form, capitalising on any Bath mistakes in a kickable range, including fireworks from Nathan Catt as he was penalised for a brawl with fellow front rower Joe Marler. Mike Brown sealed victory for the visitors with a superb solo try, which included a one-on-one with opposite number Nick Abendanon.
London Irish finish with a sparkle as Leicester fizzle out
In what was a stark contrast from last weekend’s match away against Sale, Leicester threw away a 17 point lead to gift London Irish a 24-24 draw at Welford Road. Forward dominance led the way for the Tigers with a penalty try but that and Horatio Agulla crossing the line was not enough as they switched off for the last twenty minutes to allow the Exiles back into the game with a couple of late tries from Adam Thompstone and Matt Garvey. Toby Flood’s attempt at a drop goal towards the end of the match was not enough as Leicester let two vital points slip through their grasp.
Gloucester and Northampton win big matches away from home
Gloucester put their first home defeat in two years to the back of their minds as they were back with a bang to winning ways against Exeter Chiefs. It was a typical performance from the Cherry and Whites as the forwards completely dominated proceedings, putting Exeter on the back foot for most of the match. Tries from Freddie Burns, Akapusi Qera and Olly Morgan gave Gloucester the win, while Burns also added 9 points with the boot. Exeter went away with the losing bonus point as winger Matt Jess went over the line on 80 minutes to make the final score 24-19 to the visitors.
Wasps were denied a third win on the bounce in the league as they were out-muscled by Northampton. Despite going down to 14 men early on in the match after Tim Payne threw a punch, it was a close affair between the two sides as the impressive boot of Ryan Lamb proved decisive. Riki Flutey opened the try scoring in the first for Wasps, which was set up by wingers Tom Varndell and Christian Wade, but in the second half Soane Tongauiha and fellow prop Brian Mujati went over the line to give the win to the Saints, and leave Wasps without a losing bonus point to boot.
Sale and Newcastle stage late fight backs but it’s not enough
Charlie Hodgson’s first match for Saracens against his former club, Sale Sharks, finished with his new side taking the spoils but not before the visitors attempted a late come back. Once again it was Owen Farrell who made sure that Saracens took home the points, scoring 13 points with the boot as David Strettle and Matt Stevens added the tries. Sale, who didn’t score a point at all in the first half, had to wait until the 69th minute for their first points of the match as Mark Easter crashed over the line to deny the whitewash, followed by Rob Miller.
Lastly, Newcastle snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat as a 77th minute converted try from replacement hooker, Mike Mayhew, made the final score 16-16. Worcester scrum-half, Shaun Perry, went over the line just before the half hour mark in the game’s only other try as points from the boot of Jimmy Gopperth for the Falcons and Joe Carlisle and Andy Goode for the Warriors made up the rest of the scores. Newcastle will be lucky to have got the draw but they still remain rooted to the bottom of the table.
Perpignan defeated again as they start to lose touch with the Top 14 front runners
Perpignan’s blues continue as they went down 21-17 to a Luke McAllister inspired Toulouse. The former All Black scored six penalties with Lionel Beauxis adding one. For Perpignan, James Hook’s debut was one to remember despite the score line as the Welshman kicked out of hand and for goal really well, as well as setting up Farid Sid for the opening try of the match. Sadly it was not enough for the visitors as defeat leaves them 9th in the table, while Toulouse move to the top of the league above Clermont.
Three first half tries from Stade Francais caused a rare defeat for Clermont, who had prospered in the Top 14 during the World Cup, despite missing key players. France lock Pascal Pape went over for two tries, with Felipe Contepomi adding the third.
Bordeaux-Begles registered a convincing home win over Castres, not allowing the away side to reach double figures. The home team’s points were all scored by New Zealanders as Bruce Reihana, Gerard Fraser and Hikairo Forbes all made the score sheet.
Try of the Weekend goes to Freddie Burns of Gloucester for the opening try in their victory over Exeter on Saturday. Showing off his twinkle toes, he danced past the Chiefs defenders and over the try line, then adding the conversion.
Hero of the Weekend is Harlequins’ Chris Robshaw. With an opportunity for someone to take over England’s openside flanker jersey following Lewis Moody’s international retirement, Robshaw put his hand up for selection this weekend as he really impressed with both his play and leadership.
Lastly, this weekend’s Villain is Jeremy Staunton. It was his kick that was charged down by Matt Garvey, thus giving London Irish a share of the spoils at Welford Road. It’s not the first time he’s done it either, Leicester fans will groan at the thought of his pass which was intercepted against Gloucester last season.
What were your highlights this weekend?
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images