As the regular season in the Guinness Premiership approaches its close, every game is becoming more and more important in both the title race and the battle to stay in the league for next season. This week saw welcoming results for Leicester, Bath, Northampton and a superb victory for Leeds.
After one of the most important weeks in the clubs history off the field, Bath hosted relegation threatened Sale at the Recreation Ground in a game that the hosts needed to win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Bath’s new multi-millionaire owner Bruce Craig was at the Rec to watch his side fly into a 17-point lead after tries from England hooker Lee Mears and England hopeful Olly Barkley. Barkley also added a penalty for Bath to lead 17-3 at the break. In the second half the home side did not let up as Matt Banahan crossed in his usual bulldozing fashion. Joe Maddock sealed the bonus point soon after whilst David Barnes made it a five star performance for the west-countrymen after his touchdown. Ben Cohen and Chris Ormsby scored consolation tries for the Sharks but their long trip back to Stockport will not have been a happy one after this 34-15 defeat.
Bath play their game in hand against Northampton on Tuesday where a win would lift them to within two points of the playoffs. Sale will now look to a must win encounter against Newcastle next Friday night to ensure their Premiership safety.
Worcester are now clear favourites to be relegated down to the Championships after a narrow defeat at home to London Wasps on Saturday. The visitors raced into a 21-3 lead after a brace of tries from centre Dominic Waldouck and a try from the recently fit Tom Rees.
Worcester however proved that they are not going down without a fight after tries from Pat Sanderson and Alex Grove launched an unlikely comeback. Their efforts were not enough though and a losing bonus point was scant consolation as Worcester are left five points adrift at the bottom of the table. Wasps hold on to the final playoff spot.
At Wembley Stadium on Saturday, Saracens played their third Premiership home game of the season looking to remain unbeaten at the home of English football. Harlequins were the visitors in front of a record crowd of over 47,000 fans. It was Saracens’ South African hooker Schalk Brits that proved to be the difference been the two sides with his scintillating broken field running and intelligent offloading proving too much for the Quins’ defence. Brits’ delicate off load sent back row Ernst Joubert racing through and his pass sent Andy Saull clear under the posts for the first try of the game. Within a minute Brits was at it again after the catching the subsequent re-start, he burst through the lacklustre Harlequins forwards, committed numerous defenders towards him but his inside pass to Justin Marshall was perfectly timed and as the former All Back motored clear, Saull was racing up on his shoulder to take the pass that sent him over for his second try of the match. Saracens led by 15 points going into the break despite a try from the visitors’ Chris Brooker.
Saracens and Brits continued to dominate after the break after the hooker found some space down the blind side to secure the bonus point for his team and a deserved score for himself. Michael Tagicakibau and Ernst Joubert both also sauntered over as Saracens’ six try romp was complete.
Harlequins did show some pride with late scores from Ugo Monye and Chris York but it was Saracens who left Wembley with their 100% record there intact, winning convincingly 37-18.
Northampton jumped momentarily into first place in the Premiership after an impressive victory over Gloucester at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday. Premiership top try scorer, Chris Ashton took his tally for the season to 15 after his second hat trick of the season helped Northampton to a bonus point 38-23 victory over their visitors. Fellow England International Dylan Hartley grabbed the other try for Northampton despite his own sin binning.
The Saints lead 16-10 at half time following a try from Charlie Sharples for Gloucester in response to Chris Ashton’s first half score. The second half was frenetic and after Ashton helped himself to his second try before Hartley opened the gap even further. Dave Attwood grabbed a score whilst Hartley was in the bin but it was not enough to get them back into the game as Bruce Reihana’s unselfish act of passing the ball to Ashton over the try line meant that the England winger could secure his hat–trick.
Sunday’s action started in the North-East where relegation candidates Newcastle Falcons welcomed top of the table Leicester Tigers to Kingston Park. The Falcons were dealt a serious blow just before kick off when their entire first choice front row, including Carl Hayman, failed late fitness tests and made unavailable for selection.
Leicester capitalised on the situation and after a blistering opening thirty minutes had scored four tries through Bath bound Lewis Moody’s brace, Johne Murphy and Toby Flood, who also converted all four scores.
Newcastle came back in the second half but could only score the one try from Charlie Amesbury despite stemming the flow of the Tigers’ tide and reducing them to just a solitary penalty. The loss means that the Falcons stay six points clear of the bottom whilst Leicester keep their lead at the top by three points.
The shock of the weekend came at the Madejski Stadium where Leeds Carnegie went a long way to securing their Premiership survival with a surprising victory over London Irish 13-23.
Leeds’ commitment and endeavour was commendable during the whole of this game as thirteen points from Cieron Thomas and tries from Luther Burrell and John Goodridge leave the Yorkshire men six points clear of relegation. Leeds led 16-13 at half time and never looked like surrending the lead in the second half after some tenacious defending at the breakdown forcing the Exiles into countless mistakes. Peter Hewat scored Irish’s only try of the game but the day belonged to Leeds who will be feeling more comfortable about spending life in the Premiership next year. Next Sunday’s game against Worcester will certainly make or break either teams season.
By Andrew Daniel