Sale Sharks storm Sandy Park
It’s been a funny old season for the Exeter Chiefs, and although their home form has been decidedly inconsistent, no one expected their 55-12 humbling at Sandy Park on Saturday. Sale played Exeter off the park in almost all facets of the game, and much credit should go to Danny Cipriani for playing such a pivotal role in Exeter’s heaviest ever defeat in the Aviva Premiership. The fly-half has been playing with such verve and confidence that his inclusion on England’s summer tour to New Zealand is now surely nothing but a formality. The eight-try win may keep alive Sale’s playoff hopes mathematically, but realistically their chances are all but gone, and they will have to console themselves with a guaranteed place in next season’s inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup.
London Wasps took a big step towards securing seventh spot (and the resulting playoff for inclusion in the ERCC) by beating Gloucester 38-30 at Twickenham in ‘The Stinger’. Two James Haskell tries, another whose inclusion in the England squad this summer is becoming seemingly more and more inevitable, as well as tries for Ashley Johnson and Tom Varndell on their returns from injury, secured the bonus point. Given the proximity of Wasps, Gloucester and Exeter in the table, the results at Twickenham and Sandy Park this weekend have given the High Wycombe-based outfit a firmer grasp on the highly-coveted seventh spot. Harlequins and Leicester played out a tense and thrilling encounter on Friday night, and although Quins were able to record a 24-20 victory over the Tigers, they are still six points behind Leicester, who occupy the last playoff spot, and the Londoners will need a slice of luck to now make the end of season party.
Glasgow’s stock continues to rise in title chase
Glasgow recorded the most important win of the weekend in the RaboDirect Pro12, beating playoff rivals Ulster 27-9 at Scotstoun. The victory comes fresh on the heels of their 22-5 victory away to Munster last weekend and their resurgence in form has come at just the right time to make a push for the Pro12 title. Tries for Sean Maitland, Tommy Seymour and Mark Bennett were enough for Glasgow, with Ulster only able to offer up three Paddy Jackson penalties in return, and they now sit just one point behind Ulster in the table with a game in hand over the Irish province. With a relatively easy run-in for the Warriors (Edinburgh (H), Treviso (A), Zebre (H)), there’s a very real possibility that they could also pip Munster to second spot, although Leinster are likely now too far away to be caught at the summit of the table.
Zebre broke their duck against Scottish sides as they beat Edinburgh 26-13 in Parma, and combined with Treviso’s comprehensive 62-7 loss to Leinster, could yet secure a place in the ERCC if they can leapfrog their national rivals in the table. The Cardiff Blues kept alive their slim chances of playing in Europe’s new premiere cup competition with a 17-13 win over the Scarlets at the Millennium Stadium, but they will need their Llanelli-based rivals to pick up no more than a single losing bonus point in their remaining two games, whilst the Blues will need an unlikely return of 10 points from their trips to Connacht and Llanelli.
Canes cruise past lethargic Blues
Anticipation and excitement ran high all week in the build-up to the Blues trip to Wellington to take on the Hurricanes, and though a score line of 39-20 to the ‘Canes doesn’t look on the surface like it should disappoint, the game did fail to live up to its billing. The two sides play with such flair that providing both of their defences turned up, it was always going to be a compelling game, but a lacklustre second half from the Blues arguably gifted the game to the Hurricanes, and prevented it becoming the classic that it perhaps should have been. Beauden Barrett, Alapati Leiua and Julian Savea all shone for the Hurricanes, with the latter two both contributing tries on the way to a bonus point win for the Wellington-based side, a result which moves them to within touching distance of the Super Rugby Wildcard spots.
The Chiefs and Crusaders played out the most compelling game of the weekend across both hemispheres, as the visiting Crusaders snatched a priceless 18-17 win in Hamilton. The intensity of the game was akin to that of a World Cup final, let alone Test Rugby, and although the attrition rate was high on the players, who seemed to be dropping like flies at one point, the skill levels and composure were sky high, despite difficult conditions. The Crusaders, like the Hurricanes, are now also within touching distance of the Wildcard spots and both franchises have done extremely well to turn their seasons around after disappointing beginnings.
Neither game in the South African double header particularly thrilled, but the Sharks’ 19-8 win over the Cheetahs keeps them cemented in top spot in the Super Rugby table, whilst the Stormers’ 18-3 victory at home to the Lions snaps a hideous five-game losing streak for the men from Cape Town.
Tough to call Try of the Week with no real standouts this week, but both Matt Scott and Israel Folau finished off well-worked team tries, and I’ve erred in favour of the Scotsman simply because the standards by which we measure Folau and his ability need re-thinking. His genius and skill are currently off the Richter scale.
Hero of the Week goes to Danny Cipriani for pulling in the strings so superbly in Sale’s landmark win over Exeter. With Owen Farrell and George Ford potentially unavailable for the first test in New Zealand this summer, Cipriani has to be the man Stuart Lancaster turns to, not least for his experience of playing in the southern hemisphere. Another dominant display from Nathan Hughes and a game-winning cameo from Ben Botica meant these two were unlucky to miss out on the award, but both certainly deserve recognition.
Jared Payne picked up the Villain of the Week award a few weeks ago for his reckless collision with Alex Goode, and for consistency’s sake, Liam Williams takes the award this week for a very similar incident. Williams will share the award with Robin Copeland however, who was red carded for a stamp to the head. Exeter are lucky to miss out given their abject performance at Sandy Park, and a dishonourable mention must go to Dominic Bird of the Crusaders for a blatant shoulder charge. The second row made absolutely no attempt to wrap his arms, and the recipient, Liam Squire of the Chiefs, had to leave the field with a concussion.
No new Honey Badgerism of the Week, perhaps in part due to the Force’s winning streak coming to an end, so instead we’ll offer up one of his greatest hits – “Busier than a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad.”
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images