This weekend’s Guinness Premiership Rugby was dominated by activities off the field rather than on it as Saracens lose for the second consecutive week, their coach loses his patience, Northampton grab a last gasp victory and Bath win the battle at the basement.
Chris Ashton’s controversial try secured a win for Saints
A freezing Edgeley Park pitch passed a late inspection from referee Chris White to enable Sale to entertain Harlequins on Friday night. Quins will look back and rue numerous missed opportunities to take a stranglehold on this encounter in the first half. The impressive half back pairing of Danny Care and Nick Evans controlled the opening exchanges for the men from The Stoop – Care forcing the tempo with Evans playing attacking rugby on the gain line.
Despite all of their field position and superior possession, Harlequins made countless handling errors and they were inevitably punished soon after. Sale’s Neil Briggs burst through the middle of a ruck in his own 22 and offloaded to the impressive young second row James Gaskell who galloped over from 40 meters. An exquisite touchline conversion from Charlie Hodgson took Sale into half-time 13-6 in front.
After the break, Hodgson and Man of the Match Dwayne Peel took control of the game. The latter starting a move that led to Ben Cohen diving over for a score. Tom Guest replied with a try of his own for the visitors to keep Quins in touch yet some desperate defending from Sale in the dying seconds to deny Ugo Monye meant the side from Stockport held on for a 21-16 victory.
Saturday’s rugby program grabbed the headlines for the wrong reasons after Brendan Venter’s scathing attack on English referees following his Saracens side were defeated at home by Leicester 22-15. A poor game of rugby was hampered, claims Venter, by inconsistent refereeing decisions at the breakdown – a constant issue in the modern game. A 40-minute tirade in the post match press conference was preceded by a match of penalty ping-pong (mainly awarded for offences at the breakdown) and an only try of the game from Leicester centre Dan Hipkiss.
The match of the weekend was played out at Franklin’s Gardens where second placed London Irish travelled to play third placed Northampton. Penalties were traded until a Saints catch and drive in the 42nd minute led to Phil Dowson emerging from the pile clinging to a try-scoring ball.
An intercept try from Peter Hewat and penalties from Chris Malone meant Irish lead by five points going into the final stages, however with one final throw of the dice, England’s present, Shane Geraghty, threw an inside pass for England’s future, Chris Ashton, to crash over the try line to level the scores. A Geraghty conversion was the last act of the match to give Saints a 24-22 victory, their unbeaten home record still intact.
In the fight for survival at Headingly Carnegie, five penalties a piece from Leeds’ 19 year old fly-half Joe Ford (son of England Coach Mike Ford) and Bath’s Nicky Little could only be separated by a 27th minute try from Bath wing Michael Stephenson. Bath ran out 20-15 victors of an attritional game that left Leeds five points adrift at the bottom of the league.
At Kingsholm, a late try from replacement lock Dave Attwood rescued Gloucester from the affliction of their eighth defeat of the season at the hands of Worcester. A thirteen-all draw was salvaged after tries from Rico Gear and Jonny Arr had put the Warriors into a winning position at half time. Earlier, Akapusi Qera had got Gloucester off to a flyer with an interception try but a penalty from either side left parity and symmetry to the final score board.
The final action of the weekend produced a low scoring yet surprising result at Adams Park where Wasps were overturned 12-6 by the visiting Newcastle Falcons. The Falcons’ props Carl Hayman and Jon Golding squeezed the life out of their Wycombe based counterparts and four Jimmy Gopperth Penalties were enough to see Newcastle return to the North East with the spoils.
By Andrew Daniel