The semi-final weekend of domestic rugby always promises a lot, and quite honestly, it often delivers far more than the corresponding finals do two weeks later. This year Belfast, Dublin, Leicester and London hosted the semi-finals of the RaboDirect PRO12 and Aviva Premiership, and certainly didn’t leave the fans disappointed.
All-Irish final awaits in the Rabo
Ulster started off a good weekend for Irish fans as they entertained the Scarlets at Ravenhill, and cruised their way to a 28-17 victory. Once the home side got their first try through Tommy Bowe, with the Irishman beating Lions’ rival George North with a neat step, they moved up a gear, and didn’t let off the gas until the game was well and truly won. From this point on, Ulster’s superior class showed, and further tries came from Robbie Diack and Tom Court, before Scarlets hit back late with a pair of consolation tries, through Gareth Davies and Sione Timani. Although Ulster were the better team on the day, Scarlets’ fans will be disappointed that referee Alain Rolland missed a trip on Aled Davies in the build-up to Bowe’s try, and will be left wondering what could have been, as both sides were very well matched prior to the score.
A day later and Leinster ensured there would be an all-Irish final as they limped to a 17-15 victory over Glasgow at RDS. Leinster have been in imperious form of late, but definitely looked out of sorts as they snuck victory against a determined Glasgow side. Both Jamie Heaslip, who scored Leinster’s only try, and Jonathan Sexton will have impressed Lions’ coach Warren Gatland with their displays, but there were few other performances of note for the Irish side. Glasgow came close to avoiding defeat when Mark Bennett ran in a late try, but unfortunately for the visitors, Stuart Hogg was unable to make the conversion and tie the scores.
An intriguing final now awaits at the RDS on the 25th May, when the most consistent side of the year, Ulster, go head-to-head with Leinster, who, with the exception of the semi-final, have looked nigh on unbeatable in recent weeks.
Twickenham to play host to East Midlands derby
The first Aviva Premiership semi-final saw Leicester Tigers humble the visiting Harlequins at Welford Road, recording a convincing 33-16 victory. The win sends Leicester to their ninth consecutive Premiership final, and you struggle to think of a side in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere who can match the continued success of the Tigers. Leicester’s Lions contingent were in superb form, with Tom Croft scoring a magnificent solo try, as well as putting in one of the tackles of the season on Danny Care, preventing a try for Quins early in the game. The visitors did enjoy a good first half, and were probably unlucky to head into the interval trailing 13-9, but were outclassed throughout the second, and conceded tries to Niall Morris, Croft, and Mathew Tait, in addition to a powerful first half try from Vereniki Goneva, whose effort was highly reminiscent of Alesana Tuilagi in his Welford Road pomp.
Saracens were unable to keep up the winning trend of the home sides as they were outmuscled by an invigorated Northampton side, slipping to a 27-13 defeat at Allianz Park. The home side were strong favourites coming into the game, and topped the table during the regular season, but they were unable to live with the physicality of Northampton, with Samu Manoa, Brian Mujati and Tom Wood all putting in top performances. Saracens looked shell-shocked in the first half, and went into the break 17-0 down, thanks to tries from Mujati and Jamie Elliot, and although they upped their game in the second half, it was too little too late for the home side.
Saracens and Harlequins may be the two most recent names etched on the history of the Premiership, but the East Midlands have laid down their claim to be the heartland of rugby, and Leicester and Northampton will relocate their fierce rivalry south to Twickenham on the 25th May.
Heroes of the Week are Brian Mujati, Dylan Hartley and Soane Tonga’uiha. The Northampton front row was at their very best, dominating their Saracens counterparts to an extent which no other team has done this season.
Whilst there is normally nothing too special about a player scoring an individual try with a moment of blistering pace, there is when that player is a 6”6′ blindside flanker, weighing in at not much shy of 17 stone. Try of the Week goes to Tom Croft.
Villain of the Week goes to Saracens’ lineout. Throughout the season it was one of the major strengths of the North London side, as was the set piece in general, but it collapsed against Northampton and was a significant factor in the loss.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)