On a horrendous first day of 2012, both in terms of the weather and no doubt a few million hangovers, sides across the UK sloshed and battled their way through some terrible conditions.
Leicester and Northampton back in the playoffs
Nearly 10 weeks since the Rugby World Cup final, two of the sides who struggled most in terms of losing personnel are back in the playoff spots. Leicester fought off a spirited Sale outfit at Welford Road, holding off a series of near comebacks before edging ahead through a Toby Flood penalty towards the end. Nick Macleod’s late drop goal was more than deserved for Steve Diamond’s men, as Sale move up to fifth. One of the best games of the season so far, there were great tries from Alesana Tuilagi and Rob Miller.
Northampton also moved into the top 4 after thumping Newcastle at Kingston Park, with Tom May receiving an unpleasant welcome from many of the locals on his return to his old club. His slightly overt celebration after scoring the bonus point try was fair game. Ben Foden reminded those calling for Mike Brown to start in the Six Nations who England’s number one full back really is with a superb brace. Elsewhere, Bath thrashed London Irish on their trip to the Recreation Ground, putting their recent troubles behind them to pick up their second win in 9 games. A powerful forward performance, and an excellent try by Michael Claassens, paved the way for a good start to 2012.
The rest of the results saw Saracens held to a draw at home by visiting Gloucester, with all of the game’s points coming from the boots of Owen Farrell and Freddie Burns. Worcester also picked up a rare away win against struggling London Wasps, in a contender for the season’s worst match, with a final score of 0-6. Harlequins however did get back to winning ways, defeating Exeter down at Sandy Park thanks to the boot of Rory Clegg.
Tight results in all the RaboDirect Pro 12 local derbies
Plenty of close margins across the Celtic League this weekend, as the Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Italian sides took on each other domestically. Leinster remain top of the table by six points following a two point win over Connacht, Isa Nacewa’s boot sending them to victory, whilst the “minnow” Ospreys defeated the “galactico” Cardiff Blues (Scott Johnson’s names, not ours) to keep on the hunt in second place. Glasgow have moved up into third following their 1872 cup win over Edinburgh, whilst Ulster produced an impressive performance in their bonus point home win against Munster. Treviso comfortably won the battle of the two Italian sides, with a final score of 37-14.
Biarritz grab only their third win of the season as Toulouse stay on top
A strong win at home over high-flying Toulon means that Biarritz are now within a point of escaping the relegation spot, just one behind rivals and newly promoted Lyon. It was the latter’s draw with Clermont Auvergne that means Toulouse now have a five point gap at the top, comfortably dispatching Bayonne thanks to an impressive points haul from Lionel Beauxis who kicked 8 penalties and two drop goals. The biggest win of the weekend though was produced by Bordeaux over Stade Français, who scored 5 tries in a convincing 39-6 win, including a brace for Australian winger Blair Connor.
Try of the Weekend goes to Stefan Terblanche of Ulster. Good work from Ian Humphries and Darren Cave released the veteran Springbok winger down the left, and he slid in for an excellent score.
This weekend’s Hero is Rory Clegg of Harlequins. If his last penalty had missed like the other 14 points he failed to take, Clegg would probably be the villain, but to plug away as he did takes bottle and the ball went over when it mattered most, giving Quins the win at Sandy Park.
As for a Villain, picking on Wasps seems harsh despite failing to score any points at home, but the way Newcastle fans treated Tom May was out of line. Former players in rugby nearly all of the time are welcomed back with open arms. Abuse of former players is a dangerous path to go down.
by Ben Coles