Sale shock Bath, Leicester keep bragging rights
The two biggest pretenders to Owen Farrell’s England jersey met at The Rec on Friday night, as Danny Cipriani led his Sale Sharks side to a highly impressive 12-11 win over George Ford and Bath. Ford may be above Cipriani in England’s pecking order, but it was the veteran who sparkled on the day, kicking all 12 of Sale’s points, and defending well as part of a solid effort from the visitors, erasing some worries that people may have about his fragility in those areas of the game. It was a night to forget for Ford, however, who missed a conversion and two drop goal attempts in the dying minutes of the game, anyone of which would have stolen victory for the home side. The win keeps up the momentum on Sale’s late charge for the playoffs, and is even more impressive considering that Mark Cueto and Dan Braid, two of the Sharks’ most pivotal players, both pulled up with injuries in the warm-up and had to be replaced at the last-minute.
The East Midlands derby offered up potentially the most appetising clash of the weekend, and the Leicester Tigers certainly sent their fans home the happier than their local rivals, as they beat the Northampton Saints 22-16 at Franklin’s Gardens. Fly-half Owen Williams continued to show his international credentials, kicking 17 points and sparking the Tigers’ back line well, whilst a poor kicking display from Will Hooley ultimately cost the Saints, who only looked to be at the races in the final 15 minutes. The other results of note in the Aviva Premiership include Gloucester sneaking a 14-13 win over the Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park, and Saracens continuing to strengthen their grasp on top spot, as they beat London Wasps convincingly at Adams Park, 32-20. Worcester managed to end their winless streak, beating relegation rivals Newcastle 17-12, but the Warriors are still nine points adrift at the bottom, and with just four games left to be played, the odds are firmly stacked against them surviving the drop.
Cardiff upset Ulster, Leinster take control at the top
Despite the RaboDirect PRO12’s top two sides meeting in a titanic encounter at the Aviva Stadium, it was the Cardiff Blues who stole the headlines this weekend, turning it on for 80 minutes and beating the usually impressive Ulster, 28-23 at Cardiff Arms Park. An early Darren Cave try had the demoralised Cardiff faithful fearing the worst, but a peerless kicking display from Gareth Davies, who accounted for 23 of Cardiff’s 28 points, put the Blues into a commanding position. Ulster were resurgent after the interval, and although Paddy Jackson managed to kick 18 second half points, it was not quite enough to make the difference, and the Blues picked up a much-needed win in what has been a fairly dismal season thus far.
The aforementioned match at the Aviva Stadium, like the East Midlands derby, was a compelling watch, but also failed to live up to its billing somewhat, as a Brian O’Driscoll try was enough to give Leinster a 22-18 victory over Munster. The win now stretches Leinster’s lead over Munster at the top of the table to five points, and it’s difficult to see Munster overturning that deficit between now and the end of the regular season. Elsewhere in the PRO12, both the Italian sides impressed, as Treviso saw off Edinburgh 20-16, and Zebre were narrowly denied a win over Newport, as a late Jevon Groves try and Jason Tovey conversion levelled the scores, and ensured the Dragons left the game with two points, as the sides drew 25-25.
Chiefs channel the All Blacks in dramatic comeback in Pretoria
The Bulls will be left kicking themselves this week, as they let a commanding lead slip against the Chiefs at Loftus Versveld, and ultimately had to make do with sharing the points, drawing 34-34 with the reigning champions. The Chiefs took charge early on, with tries from Mils Muliaina and Liam Messam, but a superb kicking display from Jacques-Louis Potgieter and tries from Deon Stegmann and Bjorn Basson, as well as a penalty try, seemed to give the Bulls an unassailable 16-point lead, with just over 10 minutes left to play. Cue some All Black-like composure form the Chiefs however, and tries from Gareth Anscombe, Matt Symons and Dan Cruden were enough to earn the Chiefs a draw, and it was only a late penalty from Potgieter that allowed the Bulls to salvage the result, in what was a disastrous end to the game for Frans Ludeke’s side.
Elsewhere, the Rebels shocked the Brumbies, scoring 29 second half points to beat the Australian conference leaders 32-24 in Melbourne, with fullback Jason Woodward chalking up 27 points himself, and playing perhaps his best game in a Rebels jersey. The Sharks strengthened their position at the top of the South African conference, comfortably beating a Waratahs side shorn of Israel Folau, 32-10 in Durban, whilst the Blues cantered past the Highlanders in a 30-12 victory, and took up the somewhat surprising position of New Zealand conference leaders.
A sensational solo try from London Wasps-bound winger Alapati Leiua saw off all competition for the Try of the Week, and is certainly a strong contender for Try of the Season. The Hurricanes winger picked up the ball inside his own half, proceeded to beat two defenders on the outside, before cutting inside a third, skipping out of the tackle of a fourth, and handing off a fifth and final tackler before diving over for the try. If you watch anything this year, watch this.
Villain of the Week goes to Rob Horne of the Waratahs for a dangerous and blatant swinging arm against Francois Steyn. Even with the help of the TMO, the referee only gave a penalty against the very lucky Horne in the game, but justice prevailed and the winger has since been cited.
Matthew Rees is the Hero of the Week, as he made his return to the rugby pitch following a successful fight with testicular cancer. The rugby community was united in wishing Rees a speedy recovery, and we are all delighted to see him back in a Cardiff Blues shirt.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images