Guinness Premiership teams jostle for position

This weekend saw some more exciting encounters in the Premiership as the regular season reaches its final stages. Form is everything going into these last few weeks and there are ominous signs for some of the teams who’ve been residents in the top four for most of the season.

On Friday night, one team who keep improving regardless of international call-ups, Leicester Tigers, took on a doomed Bristol team, scrapping for pride. The match was a lot closer than most people expected and credit here must go to Bristol who upped their level rather than the Tigers’ dropping theirs.

Things didn’t look good at the start for Bristol as the Leicester prop, Dan Cole, embarked on an ambling lollop in the Bristol twenty-two, to be met by two surprisingly poor tackles and find himself over the line. Bristol did hit back with a fantastic counter by Luke Arscott to serve as a reminder of the form he hit last season but defensive lapses off a quick tap penalty late in the game allowed Ben Youngs to gallop away and feed Dan Hipkiss to seal the win for Leicester, 23-17.

On Saturday, Wasps almost managed to defy their lowly league position by taking Gloucester right to the wire at Kingsholm, only to be defeated 24-22. Wasps haven’t exactly been stunning the rugby world with their performances of late and they did well to compete with the league-leaders, especially given the early withdrawal of Josh Lewsey and the shift to outside-centre for Danny Cipriani. Gloucester scored three tries from Qera, Balshaw and Morgan and on balance deserved this victory but the other teams at the top certainly wont be overly fearful of the cherry-and-whites come the playoffs.

Sale continued to hurl themselves down the table at a rate of knots at Franklin’s Gardens, with Northampton achieving a bonus-point win, 38-3. Ben Foden was again the talk of the town as both team coaches cited his performance as the difference between the sides. He scored a try of his own to add to 5-pointers from Diggin, Wilson and Downey and consign Sale’s depleted and tired squad to an embarrassing defeat. Sale now lie in 6th and will need a real change in fortune to make the play-offs.

Sunday’s performance of the day came from a Saracens team, fresh from the news that Eddie “I’m not going anywhere until the end of the season” Jones had quit with immediate effect. He’s done some very good work at the club and comes across as a measured and collected person so I don’t think he can be blamed for jumping ship, but it seems the team were galvanised to show their worth against a Bath team intent on securing a home play-off. Rod Penney in particular has done wonders for his prospects for a contract elsewhere next season with a fantastic display, scoring two tries (one of which started behind his own line) and never missing a tackle in defence. Despite a horrendous day with the boot from both Glen Jackson and Gordon Ross, Saracens scored four tries to win it 20-16.

Elsewhere, London Irish got straight back in the play-off hunt with a 5 try demolition of Worcester, 38-17. Despite still not being quite the finished article, if Irish can just sneak their way into the top four come the end of the season, they will really fancy their chances in a knock-out match in the sunshine on some hard ground. An outside bet for the title this year?

Newcastle continued their sensational run of form, with Tom May continuing to orchestrate their play, to defeat a Harlequins team desperate for victory, 24-16. A Heineken Cup spot, which would have seemed like a fanciful dream a couple of months ago, is now realistically in their sights. They could well have an indirect effect on the play-offs too with fixtures against Leicester, Bath (x2) and Quins still to come!

By Jon Hobbs