This week’s Guinness Premiership programme threw up a few surprises, some big scores and some big wins for the clubs at the wrong end of the table. Northampton tamed the Tigers, Leeds and Worcester grabbed vital victories at the bottom, Bath won their third game in a row, and London Irish moved back into the top four.
On Friday night the struggling Worcester Warriors hosted an inconsistent Newcastle Falcons side at Sixways. The game was riddled with errors and if it was not for a forward pass early on from Gcobani Bobo then Newcastle would have taken an early lead. Worcester went in at half time 6-0 in the lead courtesy of two penalties from Willie Walker. In the second half, Worcester grabbed a fortunate try after a lucky bounce aided Will Bowley to run in unopposed from twenty metres out with only seven minutes left. Willie Walker’s conversion sealed a 13-0 win for the Warriors.
Gloucester continued their charge up their premiership table when they destroyed a hapless Sale with a seven try show at a very muddy Kingsholm. A penalty try after a collapsed scrum got the cherry and whites off to a flying start before Lesley Vainikolo dived over twice in quick succession. Akapusi Qera showed off his diving skills when he swan-dived over the line to give Gloucester the bonus point and a 26-0 lead after only 29 minutes.
Sale improved after the break but could not stop three late scores from Gloucester late on. Fly half Nicky Robinson finished off his own chip and chase just before James Simpson-Daniel dived on his own kick to add try number six. A late try from Andy Hazell condemned Sale to a 47-3 defeat as their relegation worries continue. Gloucester now move up to seventh in the table and after Sunday’s results the Sharks are now left to prop up the table.
The top of table clash between Northampton and local rivals Leicester at Franklins Gardens on Saturday was the biggest game of the weekend as Northampton attempted to continue showing their credentials to finish in the top spot. A low scoring affair ensued but it was Northampton who made the first significant breakthrough. With the scores at three all Leicester captain Craig Newby was sent to the sin bin and the Saints duly capitalised with two penalties from the boot of the ever reliable Stephen Myler. A further penalty from Myler meant that the Saints went into the dressing rooms at the break 12-3 in front.
After the break the Northamton pack took charge and they were rewarded early in the second half when Phil Dowson dived over for the only try of the game. As conditions worsened Saints kept their discipline and their impressive defence held out to win the game 19-3. The result leaves Northampton just one point behind Leicester with a game in hand.
On Sunday, Bath continued their winning streak with a 16-14 victory over Saracens away in Watford, where Bath welcomed back England International Olly Barkley into the fold for his first start since returning to the club from Gloucester. Early penalties were traded between Bath’s Ryan Davis and Saracens’ Derick Hougaard before Wikus Van Heerden crossed the whitewash for Saracens after Bath’s defence opened up like the red sea. Davis then cut the gap to 11-9 after two penalties to Hougaard’s one.
In the second half, Bath took control of the game up front and the experienced David Flatman took Northampton-bound prop Tom Mercey to task. A torrid afternoon for the Saracens tighthead was emphasised when a collapsed scrum led to a penalty try being awarded to the visitors. With the game poised at 16-14 Hougaard missed a late penalty that would have stolen the victory away from the West Countrymen.
Leeds shocked Wasps at Headingley to put themselves level on points with Sale and off the bottom of the table, whereas defeat for Wasps meant that they slipped back out of the top four. Leeds took an early six point lead through two Cieron Thomas penalties but a converted try from the Super 15-bound Danny Cipriani gave Wasps a slender lead. Two more quick fire penalties from Thomas however, meant that Wasps found themselves trailing 12-7 going into the break. The second half was dominated by Leeds and a try from Henry Fa’afili sealed the game for the Yorkshire side before young fly half Joe Ford landed a late penalty for a convincing 26-10 victory.
The weekend was rounded off at the Madejski stadium as London Irish hosted struggling Harlequins. An early penalty try gave Quins the lead but Irish hit back with a converted try of their own through Steffon Armitage. Nick Kennedy then scored one of the tries of the weekend as he powered over from a full 35 yards for another converted score. Full Back Tom Homer weighed in with five penalties and a late Harlequins try from George Lowe was a mere consolation as London Irish moved up the table with a 29-14 win. The loss leaves the men from Twickenham just five points away from the bottom of the table.
The Guinness Premiership is setting itself up for a grandstand finish at both ends of the table. Sale are now level with Leeds at the bottom whilst the fight for the final play-off positions are hotting up with teams as low as sixth and seventh still feeling that they may have a late say in proceedings. The biggest game of the next weekend will see Harlequins host Worcester in a must win fixture for both teams that may just go some way to deciding who will be playing their rugby in the Championship next year.
By Andrew Daniel