The topsy-turvy nature of the Premiership was again in evidence last weekend as teams jostled for European places and play-offs, knowing that matches are running out.
The head of steam Harlequins looked to be building turned into a fog on Friday night as they were out-played and out-muscled by a Sale team already in last chance saloon. Harlequins sorely missed Nick Evans and Chris Malone as they attempted to play most of the second half with two scrum halves, Gomarsall and Care, at 9 and 10. Sale were able to take control of the game and ease away from Quins, scoring their bonus point fourth try late in the day through Richard Wigglesworth to take it 28 – 6.
Harlequins retain a good shout for a home semi-final as a result of London Irish’s loss, away to Northampton, by 21 – 17. Northampton started the better side but it was Irish who struck first, Tagicakibau scooping up a loose pass and racing all the way to the line from within his own 22. Northampton regrouped and produced some excellent rugby to score two tries and go into the break 21 – 8 ahead. Irish came back strongly in the second half but ultimately were unable to breach the gap.
The win keeps Saints in prime position to secure 7th in the league and a Heineken Cup spot next season while Irish need one more win to guarantee a play-off. Both Saints and Irish face tricky away fixtures against Sale and Worcester respectively to finish their seasons where they want to be.
After their epic Heineken Cup match last weekend it was perhaps no surprise that both Leicester and Bath struggled to uninspiring away victories against Saracens and Newcastle respectively.
Vesty again proved his worth to Leicester with a late penalty to take the win, Glen Jackson having hit the post moments earlier for Saracens – the match ending 16 – 13. The win sees Leicester as the only club to secure their play-off place going into the final round of matches, a losing bonus point will be enough next week to guarantee a home semi-final.
Newcastle raced into an early lead against Bath, playing rugby that confounded their league position, with tries from Danny Williams and Micky Young. The Newcastle scrum-half was at the centre of everything good about their play and it’s no coincidence that his substitution coincided with Bath gaining ascendancy in the second half.
Butch James had another disastrous day with the boot, missing numerous kicks at goal which meant Bath had to revert to tap penalties and kicks for the corner. James was replaced by Bradley Davis and although he was for the most part equally abject with the boot, Bath’s pressure told and they managed to come back to take it 15 – 14.
On Sunday, London Wasps finally managed a decent performance – no mean feat against a Bristol team with pride on the line in their final Premiership home fixture. The half-back pairing of Joe Simpson and Danny Cipriani gave Wasps fans two reasons to be hopeful for next season with excellent performances, in particular the lightning-quick scrum half who scored another wonder solo-try. Bristol ended the match with two consolation tries, but Wasps took it 36 – 18.
Following on from Gloucester’s abject performance in the EDF Cup Final on Saturday, the Shed faithful must have thought things couldn’t get much worse. Well they could. Worcester strolled into Kingsholm on Tuesday night, battled it out round the fringes, exposed Gloucester’s soft underbelly yet again and took the spoils 13 – 6. If Dean Ryan thought his stinging criticism following the Cup defeat would galvanise his troops he was mistaken. It looks likely now that Gloucester will miss the play-offs and end the season trophy-less. It will be very interesting to see how the club reacts and who will make the grade for next season from both the playing and coaching staff.
The beauty of the Premiership is again evident in the final week of the season, with every team bar the bottom two left with something to play for. Leicester can afford to rest their first team against Bristol at the weekend in preparation for the Heineken Cup and play-offs, all the other hopefuls will be going at it hammer and tongs in what should be a cracking end to the regular season.