Wasps seal Euro playoff spot, Quins keep title dream alive
If there was an award for the most pendulous match of the season, Wasps’ 44-38 victory over Newcastle would certainly be the recipient. The Falcons raced into a 17-0 lead within 15 minutes, before Wasps responded in breathtaking fashion, scoring 29 unanswered points in the run up to interval, including a brace of tries for the impressive Nathan Hughes. Momentum swung once more early in the second half, this time back in favour of Newcastle, who saw wing Noah Cato go over for two tries and give the Falcons a narrow 31-29 lead heading into the final 20 minutes. The Londoners, however, were just too proficient, offensively at least, on the day, and two more tries, including a superb cross-field kick culminating in Will Helu crossing the line, were just too much for the visitors from the North-East to overcome. Wasps will now contest a two-legged playoff with Stade Francais, who finished seventh in the Top 14, for a place in next season’s inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup.
The result which secured Wasps’ place in the European playoff, Harlequins’ 30-29 victory over Exeter, also keeps alive Quins’ Aviva Premiership playoff hopes, setting up a titanic, winner takes it all clash with Bath at The Stoop next week. Bath failed to cement said playoff spot earlier in the weekend, when they played out a tense 19-all draw with Northampton at The Rec. A comfortable 44-20 victory for Saracens over Worcester, which included a hat-trick for Jackson Wray and a brace for Chris Ashton, consigned Dean Ryan’s side to at least one season in the Championship, after a miserable campaign which has seen the side from Sixways pick up just a solitary win in their 21 games.
Zebre leapfrog Treviso in race for Europe, Pro12 playoffs begin to take shape
A superb 30-27 win for Zebre over the Ospreys on Thursday night not only limited Ospreys to a fifth-place finish in this year’s competition, but also gave the Italians a great chance of now qualifying for next seasons’ RCC, as they currently sit above Treviso in the table with a game to go. Zebre controlled the game through their dominant scrum early on, building a 16-6 lead in an impressive first forty for the home side. Ospreys responded well after the interval though, fighting back with tries from Justin Tipuric, Ashley Beck and Alun Wyn Jones, and establishing what many thought was a match-winning 27-16 lead. That, however, was not to be, as a Brendan Leonard try brought Zebre to within touching distance, before a last-minute effort from Guglielmo Palazanni edged Zebre ahead, essentially curtailing a season to forget for the Welsh regions.
Elsewhere, bonus point wins for both Glasgow and Munster kept them in the hunt for second spot in the table, whilst a 22-20 victory for Leinster over Ulster has all but assured them of finishing top of the table, and the losing bonus point for Ulster guarantees them playoff rugby this season. The Cardiff Blues kept up their late season flourish in form as they beat Connacht 22-15 in Ireland, but its impact is diminished in the grand scheme of things, as the Scarlets’ 34-23 win at home to the Dragons secured the last open RCC qualifying place, meaning that Cardiff will be competing in Europe’s second tier tournament next season.
Waratahs move into contention, Sharks solidify at the summit
The Waratahs and Hurricanes stole the show in this week’s offering of Super Rugby, as the Australian side managed a 39-30 win over the then-leaders of theNew Zealand conference. With two such proficient attacking forces on display, it was never going to be a low-scoring affair, and the frenetic pace of the first half certainly confirmed that. Rob Horne opened the scoring for the ‘Tahs in just under two minutes, racing over in the corner, but the home side’s joy was short-lived however, as Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen, Beauden Barrett and Julian Savea all crossed the whitewash for the Hurricanes, raising fears the game could become a blowout victory for the visitors from Wellington. The ‘Tahs fought back formidably though, and scores from captain Dave Dennis and fly-half Bernard Foley ensured they took a 24-24 tie into the break. The second half certainly lacked the intensity of the first, but two further tries from the home side broke the back of the ‘Canes, who could only offer up two second half penalties in return, and the bonus point win breathes new life into the Waratahs’ championship aspirations.
The Sharks retained top spot in the overall table, beating a resilient but under-powered Rebels side 22-16 in Melbourne, whilst the Chiefs regained their place at the top of the New Zealand conference with an encouraging 38-8 dismantling of the Lions in Hamilton. Other notable results included a hard-earned 29-28 victory for the Stormers against the Highlanders, a result which finally lifts them off the foot of the Super Rugby table, and a ruthless 44-14 mauling of the Reds by the Blues, who are now just a point off of a wildcard spot and a genuine competitor for a place in the playoffs.
Try of the Week was particularly hard to award this week with a number of worthy candidates. I finally opted for Andrew Conway’s effort against Edinburgh, which you can see below, but Jordan Williams of the Scarlets, Will Helu of Wasps and Tom Donnelly of the Blues all came very close to stealing the limelight.
Villain of the Week has to go to the Bath fans who were giving referee Matthew Carley abuse at the final whistle of Bath’s 19-19 draw with Northampton at The Rec. Obviously these fans are in a minority, but it’s a dangerous road to be on, and this kind of behaviour needs to be stamped out before it takes root in rugby stadiums.
A couple of guys put their hands up for Hero of the Week, but it goes to Freddie Burns, who bid farewell to Kingsholm in fitting fashion, helping them to a 35-30 win over London Irish, and passed the 1000 point mark for the club in the process. There have been highs and lows during his time in the Cherry and White, but there’s no doubting what a devoted servant he was during his seven years with the club.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images