Quins suffer third defeat in five games as Saracens close the gap
Mid-season slumps are not unheard of, and now Harlequins find themselves in one of their very own. A superb away win against Toulouse aside, crushing defeats to Saracens and now Northampton have taken the steam out of their run at the top. Despite significant early pressure, Northampton struck early with Ryan Lamb kicking three penalties and a drop goal, before Ben Foden sped past Mike Brown on the outside to give Saints a 17-3 lead going into half time. As Saracens showed just 10 days earlier, if you get ahead early against Harlequins, huge defence will get you the result. The hard work of the whole side, exemplified by Samu Manoa, paid off.
As a result, Saracens reduced the gap between first and second place to just three points as the Aviva Premiership takes a break for a month. The champions are now unbeaten in their last six matches in all competitions, sending Bath to their seventh defeat in 10 matches despite Owen Farrell missing four kicks at goal with the boot. Dave Strettle picked up the Man of the Match award and was in fine form, pushing his EPS claims. Saracens responded to Bath’s early try from Stephen Donald with a Steve Borthwick score of their own, before Farrell’s boot and a Chris Wyles try put them out of sight, though a late Tom Heathcote penalty snatched a bonus point for the visitors.
Andy Goode inspires Worcester comeback as Newcastle’s woes continue
A strong second half performance from Worcester, led by former England fly-half Andy Goode, saw them win the M5 derby at Sixways. Joe Carlisle started the game for Worcester played poorly in the first half, and it was no surprise to see him substituted for the elder statesman Goode to come on and turn the game when he slipped a poor Freddie Burns tackle to go in under the posts. His boot helped stretch the lead before Marcel Garvey ran in a length of the field interception try to put Worcester out of sight.
It meant that the Warriors moved 12 points clear of basement club Newcastle, who with only 12 points and two wins this season do look in serious trouble. Alan Tait showed the emotion of the result in the post-match press conference, questioning his future at the club going forward. Exeter were inspired by scrum-half Haydn Thomas, who scored a superb solo try in the first half, with Ignacio Mieres continuing to hit the points over.
Elsewhere, Leicester in the end comfortably dispatched a spirited Wasps side to cement their place in the top four. 29 points for Billy Twelvetrees, taking his tally against Wasps this season to 58, put Leicester out of sight towards the end, though it was far from the Tigers most convincing performance. Nic Berry and Sam Jones caught the eye for the visitors. London Irish also picked up a win at home to Sale, in a see-sawing match with Adrian Jarvis slotting the winning kick with four minutes to go. Steve Diamond was displeased with Wayne Barnes’ performance, labelling him a joke on Twitter, which could land him in hot water with the RFU. BC
Newport finally get back to winning ways against Ospreys
Ian Jones’ 12th minute sinbinning was sandwiched by two James Tovey penalties in the first half but Matthew Morgan clawed the Ospreys back into the match with two further penalty goals for his side. Tovey and Morgan added further penalties to their side’s tallies making it 9-9 after 45 minutes.
Newport finally ended the try drought when Thomas crossed the line. Four minutes later Robling also crossed for the Dragons and the win looked sealed when Tovey converted. The Ospreys added two more penalty goals leaving them six points behind the hosts but Tommy Bowe looked to have saved the day for the Ospreys with a try seven minutes from time but the Ospreys couldn’t convert. The win spells an end to Newport’s losing streak which stretches back to November.
In other matches, Ulster travelled to Murrayfield and beat Edinburgh 42-20, Aironi beat Connacht 20-6, Leinster won against Cardiff Blues by 23 points to 19 and Llanelli beat Warriors by another close score line 16-14. The final result of the weekend was Munster’s 29-11 victory over Treviso at Thomond Park. SD
Try of the Weekend goes to Charlie Sharples of Gloucester. Set to be included in the EPS squad on Wednesday, the England winger finished brilliantly in the corner under severe pressure from Dale Rasmussen. Credit also goes to Marcel Garvey and Haydn Thomas.
This weekend’s Hero is Billy Twelvetrees. Any player who scores two tries, two conversions and five penalties not once against a side, but twice in one season, is an automatic hero. Credit to Adrian Jarvis and Andy Goode.
Finally, the Villain of the weekend is Dan Biggar. Harsh perhaps, but missing his late drop goal attempt, hitting the post, unfortunately cost his side the win. Rory Clegg did himself no favours either missing plenty of kicks against Northampton.
by Ben Coles & Sam Durham