Upsets narrowly avoided all round in the Aviva
Two extremely unlikely upsets were on the cards in Round 14 of the Premiership, as Sale Sharks hosted Saracens, and Newcastle Falcons made the trip south to take on Harlequins, but both games proved to be far more competitive than many expected. A strong-looking Saracens side were actually trailing Sale 10-3 at the interval of their game, and had to turn in a relatively error-free second half performance to turn the game around. Thankfully for Saracens, the class of their squad showed, and Charlie Hodgson was able to kick 12 second half points against his former team, and salvage a 15-10 win. It was a similar story at The Stoop, as the Falcons held a 14-12 lead over the home side in the second half, but Ben Botica came through in the clutch, successfully kicking two penalties, and gifting Quins a hard-fought 18-14 win.
Northampton Saints returned to the top of the table with a powerful 30-14 win over the struggling Worcester Warriors, with the soon-to-be Worcester man, Gerrit-Jan van Velze, helping lead the Saints to victory with a brace of tries. Bath came from behind to keep their title challenge well and truly alive, beating Exeter Chiefs 27-23 at Sandy Park, in a thrilling back and forth game, whilst London Wasps’ playoff hopes took a severe dent with a lacklustre 23-20 loss at home to London Irish. The weekend’s action was capped off at Welford Road as Leicester Tigers waited till late to turn it on, but were able to steal an 11-8 win against Gloucester, and climb up to fourth in the table.
Irish provinces prosper in the Pro12
Munster kept their place at the top of the RaboDirect Pro12 with a bonus point win over Zebre in Cork, but Leinster, their title rivals, kept pace with the league leaders, also securing a bonus point win, as they beat Newport 31-19. There were plenty of impressive performances from both sides, but no player may have shone more than Simon Zebo, who looked lively throughout, and was unlucky not to add to his two tries against Zebre. CJ Stander and Tommy O’Donnell of Munster, and Jack McGrath of Leinster, also put in standout performances, as their respective sides cruised to comfortable wins, despite missing a plethora of international stars.
Elsewhere, Glasgow chalked up their seventh successive away win in the Pro12, as a late Mark Bennett try helped them come from behind and beat the Cardiff Blues, 27-20. Unlike Glasgow, Edinburgh couldn’t help put a painful week for Scottish rugby to bed, as they fell to an 11-7 loss to Connacht at the Sportsground, a result which saw the Irish side move off the foot of the Pro12 table. The Ospreys wrapped up the Pro12 action for the weekend, and did so in spectacular fashion, recording their record win the tournament, beating Treviso 75-7 at the Liberty Stadium. Young talent Sam Davies was particularly impressive, scoring two tries, and accounting for 22 of the Ospreys’ points.
Lions cause first Super Rugby upset
The Lions began their reintegration into Super Rugby with a last-minute triumph over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, as the Southern Hemisphere showpiece returned with two South African derbies. The home side had been dominant throughout, but failed to take their chances with a string of unforced errors and missed kicking opportunities, and after a missed penalty in the last 5 minutes that would have put them 5 points clear, the writing was on the wall. A dropped goal from fly-half Marnitz Boshoff in the 78th minute gave the Lions a one-point win, and left the Cheetahs licking their wounds after what should have been a comfortable home victory.
In the other match, the Sharks were in ominous form, dispatching the Bulls 31-16 in Durban and scoring a four-try bonus point in the process. Undoubtedly the most impressive side in action, the Sharks are now being hotly tipped to win the South African conference.
Dan Cole ruled out of Six Nations
‘Dan Cole will have a period of rest from rugby to relieve a bulging disc in his neck which is trapping a nerve’ read the RFU press release yesterday, as the England tighthead prop was ruled out for the rest of the Six Nations. Dave Wilson has returned to fitness just in time, but Lancaster is viewing this as an opportunity to build some much-needed experience in this position. How do you think this will affect England’s chances in the tournament?
Try of the Week goes to Ollie Devoto of Bath, for his effort against Exeter. A combination of skill from fly-half George Ford, and an exemplary running line from Devoto, unlocked a stubborn Chiefs’ defence, as the two youngsters displayed their talent and chemistry.
Tomas O’Leary is the Villain of the Week, after he stamped to the head area of James Haskell. London Wasps’ Director of Rugby Dai Young described the stamp as ‘reckless, rather than vicious’, but more consideration needs to be taken by players in these positions.
The Hero of the Week accolade goes to Hugo Southwell, as the former Scotland full back was forced into a premature, injury-enforced retirement this week. His club career spanned three countries, as he represented Bristol, Worcester, Edinburgh, Stade Francais and most recently London Wasps. He was also a very effective international player, and it’s a struggle to think of a more underrated player for Scotland than Southwell, who picked up the last of his 59 caps in 2011.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images