Leicester Tigers lift Premiership trophy in memorable final
Twickenham played host to one of the most memorable finals in recent history on Saturday, as the Northampton Saints ultimately fell to a 37-17 loss to the new Aviva Premiership champions, the Leicester Tigers. The match was Northampton’s first trip to the Premiership final, but two moments of madness at the end of the first half effectively killed off any chance they had of emerging victorious. The win for Leicester was sweet relief for their players, who had made it to the same stage of the competition for the last two years, but had fallen short on both occasions.
Northampton could be criticised for coming out of the blocks slowly, and looked lethargic in defence early on, allowing both Vereniki Goneva and Anthony Allen to break tackles and make significant ground, all of which culminated in Niall Morris diving over in the corner for a try. The try did seem to wake up the Saints however, and they responded with a well-worked try of their own. Manu Tuilagi was penalised for not releasing in the tackle, and Lee Dickson took a quick tap and go from the penalty, unleashing Luther Burrell, who then found Stephen Myler, with the fly-half also finishing in the corner.
Madness then descended on Twickenham as the first half drew to a close, with two incidents surrounding referee Wayne Barnes. With time over in the first half, Barnes informed Myler that he could not kick the ball out on the full, but presumably the fly-half did not hear Barnes correctly, and proceeded to kick the ball straight out into touch. This then resulted in a Leicester scrum inside the Northampton 22. After awarding a penalty to Leicester at the scrum, Barnes, who had already warned Northampton captain Dylan Hartley for his use of language toward the referee, gave a red card, the first in Premiership Final history, to the hooker for the alleged use of offensive language to Barnes once more.
Hopes of a revival for the 14-man Northampton team were rekindled early in the second half, as Ben Foden, who had enjoyed a great first half, raced his way to the try-line, and brought the Saints to within a score of the Tigers. Unfortunately for Northampton however, the disparity between the two teams was soon restored as Graham Kitchener powered his way over in the corner, helping Leicester move 11 points clear of their opponents. Momentum now seemed well and truly with Leicester, especially after a successful George Ford penalty kick, but a searing break from the rejuvenated Foden gave Northampton excellent territory, which Burrell exploited by offloading to Dickson and the scrum half slid over the try-line, cutting Leicester’s lead to just seven points. Northampton showed incredible resolve in the second half, but tries from Manu Tuilagi and Goneva opened up an unassailable lead for the Tigers, and ensured Leicester lifted their 10th domestic title of the modern era.
Leinster pick up their second trophy in as many weeks
Almost 300 miles away from Twickenham another final was being hotly contested, and concluded with Leinster being crowned the RaboDirect PRO12 champions, as they saw off the challenge of Ulster at RDS, recording a 24-18 victory. It may have not matched the Premiership final in terms of tries scored or controversial incidents, but it was equally enthralling.
Only two tries were scored in the game, both by Leinster, with back row forwards Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip getting their names on the score sheet. Jonathan Sexton also added 14 points to the tally, whilst Ruan Pienaar contributed all of Ulster’s 18 points, kicking six penalties. The game was competitive throughout, and despite Ulster’s table topping form this season, they weren’t quite a match for Leinster, who have been imperious of late, and the Dublin-based side added the PRO12 trophy to the Amlin Challenge Cup that they collected at the same ground last week
With the duo of Leicester and Leinster contributing no less than 12 players to the Lions squad, the games will have proven fairly comfortable viewing for Warren Gatland, who will have certainly enjoyed seeing the Australian-bound contingent in good form, and come through the games relatively unscathed.
Youthful England trounce Barbarians
As the Twickenham bars opened up for a second day of hefty business this bank holiday weekend, on the pitch a youthful and exuberant England ran riot against a vastly more experienced Barbarians outfit. All the tries came from the backs as Freddie Burns, Kyle Eastmond, Marland Yarde, Christian Wade and Billy Twelvetrees all crossed the whitewash to secure a most impressive 40-12 victory and send them off to Argentina in perfect fashion.
It wasn’t the most imposing Barbarians lime-up ever seen – especially given the squad they announced initially – and it will now be interesting to see how many changes are made before they take on the Lions in Hong Kong next weekend.
Not the most spectacular you will ever see, but Try of the Week goes to Lee Dickson. The build-up involved a sensational break from Foden, and great support from Burrell, who then did well to offload in contact to the arriving Dickson. They were arguably the three best players for Northampton, and their endeavour fully deserved the try.
Despite being on a losing team, the Hero, or more aptly, Heroes of the Week, are Lee Dickson and Ben Foden. Both played exceptionally well all game, but particularly in the second half, when Northampton were hamstrung by Hartley’s dismissal. They encapsulated Northampton’s resolve, fighting spirit, and determination.
A fairly obvious Villain of the Week this weekend, as Dylan Hartley was given a red card for use of offensive language to the official. Not only did he severely hamper his team’s chances, but he also now misses out on the Lions tour.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)