A very busy weekend of Rugby to make you forget the December cold over the past three days. Here, as always, are the best bits.
With a try and plenty of tears, Shane Williams bides farewell
Almost perfect. From the moment you saw the emotion in the eyes waiting in the tunnel, you wanted Saturday’s match to go well for Shane Williams against Australia. This was only accentuated during a rousing national anthem from the crowd, part in celebration of Williams, part in mourning of Gary Speed.
The tears flowed uncontrollably, and whilst the result may have not gone the way Wales would have wanted, Williams last act in international rugby will not be forgotten for a while. That elusive pair of quick feet saw him skip around Berrick Barnes, put down the pedal racing past the trailing Anthony Faingaa, and let him release a scream of pure joy before the somersault celebration wowed the crowd once more. A magical ending with the clock in injury time.
In the end what cost Wales the result was the sin-binning of Leigh Halfpenny. The Australian backs simply found the gaps too easily, with Will Genia, Lachie Turner and Berrick Barnes all crossing during his absence. But, as is becoming typical of this young Welsh outfit, there was plenty of fight and with it came first a try from Rhys Priestland in the corner before Williams late score. A loss in the long-run may not be a bad result for the Welsh. Nowhere do expectations escalate more than over the Severn bridge, and this result will perhaps ground some of those assumptions about next year’s Six Nations. Or perhaps not.
Nick Mallett savours a Twickenham win in front of 29,251 at the Heroes Rugby Challenge
With a first win in West London under his belt, Nick Mallett’s beaming smile was a sight that many within and outside of the RFU will hope to see in the future as head coach of England. Eight tries meant that those in attendance were served up plenty of entertainment, with the undoubted highlight being Saracens England U18 hooker Scott Spurling sidestepping the legendary former Wallaby Joe Roff for the first try.
In the end the Southerners quality of personnel shone through, including an fantastic score from Jackson Willison, but the Northern Hemisphere side had their fair share of good moments with Will Greenwood and Sean Long combining to send through Tom Gleeson late on. After last week’s hammering of the Barbarians, the contest promised by the coaches was definitely produced. The fact that the final try went to Ceri Cummings of the Army offered the perfect reminder of what the day was all about.
First title of the season for England’s 7s side in Dubai
Big wins over New Zealand in the quarter-final and Fiji in the semi-final saw England defend their Dubai 7s title successfully, picking up their first win of the series after defeating France in the final 29-12. With great control at the breakdown and the hard-running of Isoa Damu, England bullied teams into submission with the brilliant Mat Turner, who was named Man of the Tournament, causing chaos at scrum-half.
Incredible drama at Welford Road as the Falcons grab their second win
There’s an argument that a red card ruins a game of rugby as a spectacle. Saturday’s Midlands derby was not one of those matches. Despite Alesana Tuilagi and Tom Wood seeing red with 14 minutes on the clock following a dangerous brawl on the touchline, seven tries followed their dismissals as the lead chopped and changed hands with each side crossing the whitewash. Phil Dowson’s score with two minutes to go looked to have won it for the visiting side, before Horacio Agulla raced away for a sensational winning try that not only brought the Tigers their 7th consecutive win, but also the bonus point. Northampton have now bounced from a devastating defeat to the Scarlets, to elation in thrashing Saracens, back to the heartbreak of losing to their local rivals. With Phil Dowson and Tom Wood set for disciplinary hearings this week, things could be about to get rough.
Up north the talismanic Jimmy Gopperth led the Falcons to their second win of the Premiership season over visiting Gloucester, who have now lost four times on the trot. In the end, Freddie Burns missed conversion following Scott Lawson’s try proved the difference, but Gloucester had 15 minutes in which to knock over a drop goal or penalty kick to give them the lead. Newcastle though were bullish, taking advantage of Alastair Strokosch’s sin-binning by grabbing 10 points, and Gopperth’s only miss came at the end when he could have made the game safe, otherwise hitting four penalties and two conversions. The Falcons are not dead and buried yet, whilst Gloucester must stop their losing run against Connacht next weekend.
Elsewhere Saracens and Exeter ground out wins over visiting London Irish and Worcester, in encounters dominated by the boot. Owen Farrell shone again for Saracens with his tactical kicking, whilst the boot of Nick Macleod saw Bath go down once again in the Premiership for their third straight loss against Sale. Frustrated by their last-minute defeat to Exeter the week before, the Sharks did not come up short this time round. Bath’s domination of the first half followed by their lack of imagination in the second will have Sir Ian McGeechan concerned. Harlequins also won yet again to go 14 from 14 this season, withstanding a comeback from Wasps late on to continue their remarkable run.
Big wins for Edinburgh and Leinster as weakened Ospreys defeat Munster
Tim Visser reached 10 tries for the season with a hat-trick against Aironi, with Edinburgh winning by 40 points against Aironi Rugby in a 50-10 result. Set to qualify for Scotland in June, fans should be getting excited about his inclusion on the summer tour to Australia, Fiji and Samoa. Leinster also racked up 50 points, thrashing a weakened Cardiff Blues team with a brace from Dave Kearney and 6 tries in total. The Ospreys were also missing plenty of names, 19 in total, yet still conjured up a win over champions Munster, the boot of young Matthew Morgan doing the damage. There were also wins for Ulster and Benetton Treviso, whilst Glasgow Warriors and the Dragons drew.
Try of the Weekend has some top contenders this week. Mike Brown’s effort against Wasps following the work of Chris Robshaw and Matt Hopper was excellent. Matt Smith’s remarkable finish against Northampton was astonishing. And Jackson Willison finished off an amazing team move for the Southern Hemisphere at Twickenham. But I can’t look past Scott Spurling for the Northern Hemisphere. Outrageous for a hooker.
This weekend’s Hero, well, it’s hard to look past Shane Williams. Not his greatest match in a red shirt, but his heart and soul was laid bare for everyone to see, and arguably never has a watching audience willed so strongly for a sportsman to bow out with a final moment of glory. A great man, an incomparable rugby player.
This week’s Villain is Chris Ashton. Hair-pulling is not on. The fact that two players were then sent off whilst he escaped unpunished was a joke, though you could argue the punches he took will have taught him a lesson.
by Ben Coles