The Guinness Premiership’s regular season came to a close this weekend as Bath secured the final play-off spot, Northampton claimed home advantage for the semi-finals and Leicester lost at home for the first time this season.
Wasps needed to beat Newcastle at Kingston Park to keep the pressure on Bath for a place in next week’s play-off semi finals. Newcastle started the brighter of the two teams and Jimmy Gopperth capped their pressure with a solo break and score under the posts to confirm him as the top points scorer in this year’s Guinness Premiership.
Wasps responded impressively though and their forwards started to have a say into where the outcome of this game was heading. A driving maul near the Falcon’s line saw Rob Webber burrow over the line to put Wasps in control following a penalty from fly-half Dave Walder.
Wasps seemed to be trying their best to give the game away after the break when Webber was needlessly sin binned for pulling back a Newcastle supporting runner off the ball. Newcastle didn’t hesitate to take full advantage when substitute Grant Shiells received a cute offload to dive over.
The game swung back in the visitors favour soon after though when a charged down kick was capitalised on by Dan Ward-Smith as he crashed over from short range. Soon after the game was out of the reach of the hosts when Joe Simpson’s electrifying break down the blind side enabled Paul Sackey to sign off his Wasps career with a solo try.
Newcastle and their new coach Alan Tait had the last say though when Tim Swinson Barged over in the final seconds for an irrelevant bonus point in a 21-25 defeat.
Meanwhile, all Bath needed to do was to beat Leeds Carnegie at the Recreation Ground to secure their place in a semi-final play-off against Leicester next weekend.
Bath started with some fluid rugby from the first whistle but just could not get the ball across the whitewash. With the scoreboard still showing no signs of changing Andy Gomarsall, the departing Leeds scrum half, was sin binned at a ruck and Bath soon took full advantage. Some slick hands through the backs allowed Nick Abendanon to slide through the struggling defence to break the deadlock and from that moment Bath took full control of the game. Before half time they had scored another try through captain Michael Claasens after a scything break through the middle off the base of a scrum.
In the second half the West Country men were dominant and further tries from Matt Banahan, Joe Maddock and Abendanon sealed a comprehensive 39-3 victory. Abendanon’s second try will surely be a contender for try of the season. The ball travelled through numerous pairs of hands before the full-back picked the ball up 40 metres out where he threw an audacious dummy and diving over in the corner. Bath’s remarkable run of 11 wins in 12 games since the turn of the year will help make them formidable opposition for the reigning champions.
Leicester lost for the first time at home this season when they entertained fellow championship contenders Saracens at Welford Road.
Leicester led early on after Alesana Tuliagi’s opening try but Saracens soon fought back after a Tuliagi mistake. Chris Wyles poached a loose ball after the giant Leicester winger dropped a high ball to sprint under the posts and give the visitors a 16-13 lead at half time.
Schalk Brits soon extended the lead after the break when he intercepted a Ben Youngs pass to charge over form 35 yards, leaving Youngs in his wake.
Marcos Ayerza’s try pulled the Tigers back into the proceedings but their own indiscipline was crucial in Saracens holding on for the victory, their first in 32 visits, 23-32.
Northampton secured second place in the league with a convincing 31-7 victory over London Irish away at the Madejski Stadium.
Saints were 11-0 up at the break through a Jon Clarke try and two Stephen Myler penalties. Chris Ashton soon added his 16th Premiership try of the season to finish as the league’s top scorer but Jon Clarke soon sealed the win with his second try of the game. Danie Coetzee scored a consolation for the Exiles but the biggest cheer of the day was reserved for the retiring Mike Catt when he arrived on the field after 65 minutes. Although the season has ended in disappointment for Catt and the Exiles, the former England international and World Cup winner will continue at the club as the attack coach.
Harlequins ended their under achieving season with a five try romp over Sale at the Twickenham Stoop. Tries from George Lowe, David Strettle, Nick Easter, Jordan Turner-Hall and Tom Williams set up a 35-20 victory. Sale did play well in parts and Matthew Tait’s exciting solo try will have certainly brought a smile to the faces of the England fan’s in the stadium. Sisa Koyamaibole scored the other consolation try for the Sharks who will also be disappointed with their below par season that saw them flirt with relegation at one stage.
Relegated Worcester and local rivals Gloucester played out an exciting and tight game at Sixways that saw the travelling shed-men edge victory by a single point, 22-23. Tries from Akapusi Qera, Lesley Vainikolo and Scott Lawson had put the visitors in charge but a stirring fight back from the home side and tries from Chris Pennell, Alex Grove and Joe Carlisle kept them in touch to help set up a grand stand finish. With the last kick of the season the Warriors’ fly half Willie Walker had the chance to snatch the victory but his attempted drop goal game back off the post to sum up Worcester’s season.
By Andrew Daniel