Harlequins time run to perfection
It is something the Leicester Tigers have been doing for a while, and now it seems Harlequins have the knack too. On Saturday they won their fifth game on the bounce to leapfrog their opponents, Bath, into the final play-off position. The 19-16 scoreline included a try for that man Mike Brown (who else?) and another breathtaking solo effort from George Ford.
Bath have been in the top four for all but one week of the season, but when it mattered most, in crunch matches against the likes of Quins, Saracens and Northampton, they came up wanting. Success does not happen over night and the top four have all been around this end of the table for some time now – Bath will learn from this and come back stronger for it next season.
Elsewhere, the Saints completely dismantled Wasps, scoring an astonishing 11 tries on their way to a 74-13 win, while Worcester ended their Premiership stint on a high with a 28-27 win over local rivals Gloucester – which has since lead to the sacking of Gloucester DOR Nigel Davies. The Tigers beat a second string Saracens side 31-27, but would probably have been hoping for a more polished performance against a side boasting only a handful of first team regulars. In the other dead rubbers, Newcastle lost to Exeter 13-23, while James O’Connor signed off from London Irish with a dodgy kicking display in their 22-20 win over Sale.
So the semi-finals, for the second year in a row, feature Saracens, Harlequins, Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers. The title will be going to either the East Midlands or London – the West Country will just have to wait a bit longer.
Zebre miss out on Europe by skin of their teeth
Benetton Treviso’s bonus point at Rodney Parade in their 20-19 loss to the Dragons was enough to take them above national rivals Zebre, who were spanked 54-0 by Glasgow, and into the Rugby Champions Cup next season as Italy’s sole representative. Fans of irony everywhere bemoaned the result after last weekend Zebre, who were held up as a club that had not earned their right to sit at Europe’s top table in all the Euro-wranglings this season, had beaten the Ospreys, a team who have sat at that table for a good while.
At the other end of the table Glasgow’s dismantling of Zebre and Munster’s 17-19 loss at home to Ulster mean the Scottish side host a semi-final for the first time, while Ulster will travel to take on Leinster. Elsewhere Edinburgh nearly shocked leaders Leinster in Dublin but eventually went down 13-15, while the Ospreys and the Scarlets also ended the season on a high, beating Connacht and Cardiff (scorelines 45-20 and 27-15) respectively.
New Zealand franchises continue Super Rugby dominance
The Kiwi teams consolidated their stranglehold on the top of the Super Rugby table with wins for all but one of their teams this weekend. The Blues were the only side to lose – and that loss came against another New Zealand team, the Chiefs, 20-32 in Hamilton. The Hurricanes continued their good form to beat the Rebels 25-15 in Australia, while the Highlanders were made to work surprisingly hard against a plucky Lions outfit, eventually winning 23-22.
The Crusaders hammered the woeful Reds 57-29 in Brisbane, to continue what has been a season to forget for the men from Queensland. In the highest profile game of the round the Brumbies overcame the Sharks 16-9 in Canberra to consign the conference leaders to just their second loss this year. The Force continued their impressive season with a win overseas, beating the Cheetahs 23-16, while the Bulls swotted away the Stormers 28-12 in the only South African derby this weekend.
Try of the week goes to George Ford, whose dancing feet and excellent vision took him through a gap in the Harlequins defensive line before an impressive turn of pace took him away from the covering defenders. At a pivotal point in the season, it was a moment of class and composure that will have enthused England boss Stuart Lancaster no end. Skip to 0.57 in the video below to see it.
Villain of the week is a no contest – it goes to the Toulouse medical and coaching staff, who deemed it appropriate to bring Florian Fritz back onto the field despite his going off with very obvious and severe head injuries earlier in the game. With blood pouring from his forehead and unable to walk unaided as he left the pitch, the untold dangers of bringing him back on somehow passed Guy Noves et al by as they sent him back out for five minutes before half time. He did not return again after the break.
The hero of the week award also goes to the Top 14 this week, and it is Castres who take it for finally bringing to an end Clermont’s astonishing run of 77 games unbeaten at the Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin. They beat les Jaunards in the semi-finals last year too, but that was on neutral ground – this was at a ground where Clermont simply do not lose. Despite a topsy turvy season for the champions, they now head into the semi-finals not fearing anyone and do not bet against them at least making the final, if not winning it for a second season in a row.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images