As the Northern Hemisphere season draws to a close, worried minds all over the continent were focused on playoff and relegation matters. Here are the best bits:
Wasps in control as Newcastle come up short against Saracens
A farcical finish to a nervous afternoon at The Rec saw Wasps come away with a valuable losing bonus point, following a moment of brilliance from winger Tom Varndell. With Sam Vesty seemingly through untouched for Bath’s bonus point try, the fly-half celebrated as he ran towards the line before Varndell wrapped him up and prevented the score. It meant that Wasps finished within 7, placing them four points ahead of 12th placed Newcastle ahead of the final round when the two sides will meet at Adams Park.
Newcastle fans will have been in agony when the resident TMO accidentally pressed the ‘Try’ button following the Vesty decision. The greater pain however will have come the night before at home to Saracens. The Falcons work rate could not be faulted for a second, yet they failed at the death to grab that winning try that would have moved them alongside Wasps on 32 points. Instead it was the champions’ defence and Owen Farrell’s boot that left Newcastle on the brink.
Game of the season at The Stoop sees Leicester’s charge continue
A phenomenal, see-sawing encounter between the top two that shook anyone who saw it, Leicester continued their monumental run in the Aviva Premiership by racking up a 6th consecutive try bonus point victory.
Few games in the Premiership this season have been as gripping as Saturday lunchtime’s clash at The Stoop, which looked set to be heading in favour of the league leaders following the sin-binning of Manu Tuilagi and scores from Ugo Monye and Nick Easter. But Leicester were typically resilient, responding through Steve Mafi and Toby Flood before half-time. George Lowe impressed in the centre, scoring an outstanding try, but it was his counterpart Anthony Allen who stole the show as the game closed out, his involvement playing a huge part in Leicester’s two tries that won the game.
With Leicester back in second and Harlequins remaining in 1st, the top four spots were filled by Northampton who pulled off a surprise win away at Sandy Park thanks to tries from Chris Ashton and Paul Diggin. Valuable penalties from the boot of Stephen Myler in horrendous conditions sealed the win for the visitors, though there was a valuable losing bonus point for the Chiefs through Richard Baxter’s late try on his 350th appearance for the side.
In the weekend’s other two matches Sale won the grudge match at Kingsholm against Gloucester, Bryan Redpath’s prospective new club picking up a win thanks to a brace from Rob Miller. London Irish were also victorious, picking up their first Premiership win in 8 matches thanks to tries from Joe Ansbro, Tom Homer and Delon Armitage against Worcester.
Cuthbert racks up a farewell hat-trick as Leinster win at Ravenhill
His destination may remain unknown, but Alex Cuthbert reminded the Blues what they’ll be missing next season with a hat-trick against Edinburgh at Cardiff City Stadium. The visitors rested several stars ahead of the biggest game in their history next weekend and it showed in the result. Leinster kept their 10 point gap at the top of the table by beating fellow Heineken Cup semi-finalists Ulster, Kevin McLaughlin’s try the difference. Munster’s hopes of regaining second place took a severe blow after their draw against the Scarlets, Rhys Priestland’s late penalty for the home side levelling the scores in the 70th minute. There were also wins for the second placed Ospreys, Glasgow and Connacht.
Crusaders stealing the show as the Chiefs remain top
A magnificent first half from the Crusaders kept the seven-time champions’ season on track, with outstanding tries from Robbie Fruean, Daniel Carter, Kieran Read and a brace from Israel Dagg giving Todd Blackadder’s side a convincing 42-14 win away in Wellington. That moved them up to 6th, seven points behind leaders the Chiefs who pulled off an ugly win in Durban against the Sharks. The Stormers kept close by winning in Brisbane against the Reds in a dominant display, unsettling the champions rhythm with a powerful performance from their pack. There were also wins for Bulls, Waratahs and Highlanders.
The Try of the Weekend might not have been the best, but it was definitely the most symbolic. Shane Williams looks likely now to get another chance to run out at the Liberty Stadium, but if for some reason last Friday night is to be his last match in front of his home crowd, he gave them the perfect goodbye.
With so many players running out in their home crowds for the last time, there are plenty of Heroes this week. Three that really stood out though were Williams, Bath’s Duncan Bell after a monumental week where he revealed his struggle with depression, and finally one man who is not retiring in Richard Baxter, who racked up an astonishing 350th performance for Exeter Chiefs against Northampton.
No contest on the Villain front however, with Sam Vesty’s early celebrations costing Bath a bonus point. It could also be the moment that sees Newcastle go down.
by Ben Coles