With all of the hype surrounding the current Six Nations championship, it would have been easy for us to forget that there was a full program of Guinness Premiership rugby this weekend. There may have been more than just a few players away on international but that doesn’t mean that there was a shortage of excitement and quality rugby in the domestic game. There was a big win for Gloucester; Saracens win at Wembley and a victorious Bath team.
At Kingsholm, Gloucester hosted Harlequins – a repeat of last weekend’s LV Cup match up. The West Country outfit dominated from the first whistle with captain Gareth Delve in exceptional form. His line breaks and interception conspired to putting Lesley Vainikolo, Tom Molenaar and Tom Voyce over the white wash for impressive scores. Quins kept in touch early on through two Nick Evans penalties but a stunning hat trick from wing James Simpson-Daniel left the result in no doubt with Gloucester running out 46-6 winners.
The biggest crowd of the weekend was at Saracens’ newly adopted second home of Wembley Stadium. Over 40,000 supporters watched a tight game that involved a late comeback from Saracens to win. Worcester started brightly with Tom Wood benefiting from a charged down kick for a simple touchdown. Worcester were proving to be too strong in the scrum and after numerous re-sets near the Saracens try line a penalty try was duly awarded. The boot of Glen Jackson kept the men from Watford in the hunt and when Neil De Kock finished a try that started deep in their own half, Saracens stole the lead and held on for a 25-22 victory.
A packed Franklin’s Gardens saw Newcastle travel south to the midlands to take on a Northampton team that were boosted by the returning England wing in waiting, Chris Ashton. Whilst England were struggling in Rome without Ashton, Northampton were benefitting from a brace of tries courtesy of the rugby league convert. Newcastle battled throughout and grabbed a deserved try through Rob Vickers but the Saints had too much and a try from Lee Dixon, sandwiched between Ashton’s double helped Northampton take the spoils 25-13.
Leeds and Leicester played out a tight game on what can only be described as a sandpit at Headingley Carnegie. The pitched played a big part in a very slow game in which Craig Newby of Leicester scored the only try of the game as the Tigers defied their poor away form to win 14-9.
Wasps continued their surge towards a top four finish after beating Sale 22-16 at Adams Park. A wonderful try from Ben Jacobs, made from a blistering run by Tom Varndell that put Wasps on the front foot. Danny Cipriani and Charlie Hodgson exchanged penalties before Gavin Kerr scored for the travelling Sharks. Cipriani’s penalties were the difference however and Wasps sneaked a deserved victory.
The final game of the weekend was played out in Reading between title chasing London Irish and Bath, who welcomed back their South African world cup winner Butch James for his first game in the Premiership this season. Bath started the strongest of the two teams and scored the first try when David Barnes broke from the side of a ruck to canter over from 20 yards out, and then before half-time, England winger Matt Banahan intercepted a pass and ran in unchallenged from the half way line.
Irish never really got going in this game and when Faan Rautenbach was sent to the sin bin, Bath took full advantage. Joe Maddock grabbed two tries – his first of the season – and earned Bath their first five point win. The exiles did have something to shout about though when the impressive young full back Tom Homer went over for a fine individual try whilst taking his personal and Irish’s tally to 22 points but it was too little too late though and Bath won 35-22.
This was the first of four uninterrupted rounds of the Guinness Premiership and it’s nearly always a season-defining string of matches. The table is poised nicely for a thrilling climax to the season.
By Andrew Daniel