Guinness Premiership Report – 15th April 2008

All the playoff hopefuls maintained their charge for the top with victories over the weekend, which keeps the race very interesting. Only Leicester, who lost to the Ospreys in the EDF Cup final on Saturday, look to be wobbling a little bit now that the end is in sight.

On Tuesday, Sale completed the first match of their busy week with an away win over Bristol. Foden, White and Jones scored in the second half to defeat the West Country men 24-17. Sale, Wasps and Leicester all have to play on Tuesday night having played at the weekend to catch up with the rest of the league so it will be interesting to see which teams have the squads equipped to cope with such a tight turnaround and which struggle for strength in depth.

On Saturday Ryan Lamb stole the show for Gloucester with an impressive performance in their thrashing of Saracens, 39 – 15. Saracens were unable to push on from their Heineken Cup quarter-final victory and looked completely bereft of defensive strategy at times as Lamb looped passes over the onrushing defence to the Gloucester wide players who couldn’t believe their luck. A brace for Lamb (including one sublime sidestep on a solo run from the 10m line) and tries for Simpson-Daniel, Qera, Vainikolo and Lawson saw off the Londoners with ease.

On the same day, Wasps secured a bonus point victory at home to Worcester making full use of their talented squad by resting, among others, Vickery, Shaw, Waters, Haskell and Rees in order for them to be fresh for their clash against Sale on Tuesday.

Wasps’ play-off fate is very much in their own hands – bonus point victories in their games in hand would see them on equal points with Gloucester, who currently top the table.

On Sunday, another bonus point victory for Harlequins against Leeds saw them rise to second in the table. Danny Care was again at the forefront of Harlequins’ quick, expansive play and got himself on the score sheet too. Dean Richards said after the match that he expects Care to be on the plane to New Zealand this summer and few would disagree. This defeat effectively condemns Leeds to National One next season. They will take heart from the performance of Northampton Saints and target an immediate return to Premiership rugby next season.

London Irish, with one eye firmly on the Heineken Cup, managed to defeat Newcastle 13 – 8 away at Kingston Park. Newcastle have now lost their last six matches on the trot in the Premiership and must be hoping for a European Challenge Cup win to salvage something from their season.

With only a handful of fixtures remaining for each club in the Premiership, the race is really hotting up. I’ll put my neck on the line and predict a top four of Bath, Wasps, Gloucester and Quins in that order.