Guinness Premiership Review: Round 19

As the Guinness Premiership season nears its conclusion and the respective clubs fight for their final positions in the league, this weekend’s fixtures threw up some important results in both the battle for the playoffs and relegation. Sale edged away from relegation, Leicester ended Bath’s impressive run and Wasps stung London Irish to enter the play-off zone.

At Edgeley Park on Friday night, Sale took huge strides into ensuring Premiership safety with a much welcomed victory over fellow strugglers Worcester Warriors. After some nervous goal kicking from both teams, and a series of missed kicks at goal to boot, it was the Sharks that drew first blood through a Charlie Hodgson penalty. Two further drop goals from the Sale number ten quickly followed as the hosts went into half time 9-0 up.

After the break came the decisive moment of the match when the impressive Matthew Tait made an electrifying break through the middle and, after the ball was carried on further by Neil Briggs and Marika Vakacegu, Mark Cueto dived over in the corner for his first try of 2010.

Worcester will feel aggrieved at the fact that what looked like a perfectly good try from replacement Chris Cracknell was not given by the video referee but in truth they were not incisive enough throughout as numerous try scoring opportunities went begging.

Sale held on for a 17-3 victory which moves them up to tenth place in the table and six points above Worcester who are left to prop up the rest.

Leicester Tigers hosted old foes Bath at Welford Road on Saturday and the home fans were certainly not left disappointed. Bath came into this game off the back of a seven match winning streak but Leicester showed them just why it is them who are at the top of the league.

Bath conceded a try after only 26 seconds when Shontayne Hape was robbed of possession in midfield by Matt Smith, who then fed Alesana Tuilagi to jog over unopposed from the halfway line. Tuilagi soon added his second score of the afternoon and despite a breakaway try of their own from Joe Maddock, Bath were being dominated in all facets of the game. As Geoff Parling crossed the whitewash in first half injury time, Bath were looking down and out at 25-13 as they trudged into the dressing rooms.

Leicester’s bonus point was confirmed just three minutes into the second period when Anthony Allen crossed after some quick hands from Tuilagi. Bath pulled a try back through Matt Banahan but their misery was compounded when a penalty try after a collapsed score condemned them to 43-20 defeat that leaves a playoff spot looking unlikely. Leicester maintains top spot.

Leicester’s closest challengers, Northampton Saints travelled to a battling Leeds side who are desperate to avoid the drop to the Championship. Leeds started the brighter of the two teams until Kearnan Myall was sin-binned for punching, an act that also cost the hosts three points. Northampton however could not capitalise on their numerical advantage and as Leeds returned to 15 men and pushed Juan Gomez over for a score that meant they had a 7-3 advantage at the break.

Northampton dominated proceedings in the second half as Stephen Myler kicked two penalties to edge their noses in front. The Saints’ superiority finally told though and in the last minute a grubber kick through from Bruce Reihana was gathered by the in-form Ben Foden allowing him to dive over in the corner. Myler missed the subsequent conversion which meant Leeds gained a valuable bonus point with a 14-7 loss. That point leaves Leeds three points above Worcester whilst Northampton are still nipping at Leicester’s heels with a game in hand.

Gloucester and Saracens played out an entertaining and open game at Kingsholm on Saturday evening with the hosts taking the spoils by just a single point.

19-year-old full back and Man of the Match Freddie Burns finished the game with 19 points and an assist as Gloucester edged out their visitors 29-28. The game started at lightning pace when Brad Barritt scored a contender for try of the season, before Charlie Sharples hit back for Gloucester after a magnificent break from centre Tim Molenaar.

After the break, a glorious cross field kick from Burns led to Sharples grabbing his second try of the game and at 26-13 Gloucester looked as they might be out of reach. Saracens had different ideas though as tries from Chris Wyles and Alex Goode left the visitors just one point behind in the final five minutes. The scene was set for Derick Hougaard when Gloucester replacement Nicky Robinson was penalised in the last minute but the South African missed a long range penalty that would have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. Saracens stay third as Gloucester consolidate their position in seventh.

Harlequins maintained their push for a Heineken cup spot with a 23-14 victory over Newcastle at The Twickenham Stoop. Newcastle led 10-11 early in the second half but it was the sensational Nick Evans that caused all of the Falcons’ problems as he scored all of Quins’ 23 points, including two wonderful individual tries. Newcastle scored their only try of the game through Alex Walker but the loss leaves them in ninth whilst Harlequins remain in eighth.

The final game of weekend witnessed two teams battling for that final playoff berth battle it out at Adams Park. Wasps hosted London Irish in a high scoring affair that saw seven tries and two yellow cards.

Wasps took an early lead when Steffon Armitage cynically tripped David Lemi as he chased a kick for a certain try. The trip gave Armitage ten minutes in the sin-bin whilst Wasps were awarded a penalty try. Two further penalties saw the hosts a 13-0 lead. The Exiles hit back with a try of their own through Seilala Mapusua but soon found themselves 23-10 down as the hosts scored tries through Tom Varndell and Dan Ward-Smith.

Wasps extended their lead ten minutes in the second half after a scintillating break and perfect inside pass from Melbourne-bound Danny Cipriani gave Dominic Waldouck to trot over for the simplest of scores.

London Irish then launched a comeback with Steffon Armitage and James Tideswell both grabbing score but a late Cipriani penalty settled the home sides nerves and sealed a 33-22 victory. The win means that Wasps now leapfrog Irish into the final playoff position.

There are only three games in the Guinness Premiership next weekend but all of them feature a team that are entrenched in the relegation dog fight. The results of these games will go a very long way to showing us who will be making the dreaded drop on the 8th May.

By Andrew Daniel