With the Six Nations firmly behind us it was time to turn all of our attentions back to the Guinness Premiership this weekend. All of the international players were back with their respective clubs and the weekend’s action certainly didn’t disappoint. Saracens won for the first time in five matches, Bath were in seventh heaven, Leeds and Sale struggle at the foot of the table whilst Worcester hit rock bottom.
The big game of the weekend was played out in front of a capacity crowd at fortress Franklin’s Gardens where Premiership title contenders Northampton Saints took on play-off hopefuls London Wasps. A tight game saw the Saints lead at half time 8-6 courtesy of a penalty from Bruce Reihana and a try from Roger Wilson. Danny Cipriani had missed a couple of kicks for Wasps before Dave Walder stepped up for the Londoners to make it 8-9.
Wasps looked the more likely of the two teams to score in the second half and Tom Varndell looked almost certain to do just that were it not for a try scoring tackle from the home side. Danny Cipriani then had a try disallowed when it was ruled that Varndell had thrown a forward pass in the build up. However, it was not to be Wasps’ day as young substitute Stephen Myler then won the game late on for Northampton after a 70th minute drop goal edged the Saints into a slender lead. A penalty from the fly half shortly after sealed the win 14-9 to extend Northampton’s home unbeaten run to 21 games and leaves them in line for an unprecedented treble of the Premiership, LV= Cup and the Heineken Cup.
Top of the table Leicester Tigers sealed a convincing victory when they travelled to the hapless Worcester Warriors at Sixways on Saturday. Toby Flood, returning to the Tigers’ squad from international duty, impressed whilst kicking 24 points on the way to an 18-39 victory. The Warriors went into half time just a point behind after Willie Walker had kicked four penalties in response to full backs’ Jeremy Staunton’s converted try for Leicester.
In the second half however, Leicester took control of the game and a try from Ben Youngs put the Tigers firmly in control. Youngs spotted a gap 25 yards out and darted through to sprint clear for an impressive score. Worcester struggled with the pace of the game that was being set by their opponents and the countless penalties that they conceded were punished time and time again by the ever consistent right boot of Toby Flood. In the last minute, replacement scrum half James Grindal skipped over the try line for the Tigers which Flood duly converted in what was to be the last act of a very one sided encounter. The loss leaves Worcester two points adrift at the foot of the table whilst Leicester maintain top spot.
At the Recreation ground on Saturday, Bath recorded their seventh straight win in the Guinness Premiership with a three try victory over the inconsistent Harlequins. Olly Barkley, in his first start at the Rec. this season scored all of Bath’s first half points as the hosts led 10-6 at half time. The first score of the second half was important in dictating which way the game was going to go and when tight head prop rumbled his way over the whitewash after some good work from fellow front row Lee Mears a collective sigh of relief could be heard around the Recreation Ground. A further try from the inform Joe Maddock put the game out of the reach of the visitors despite a late consolation try from Wing Tom Williams. The final score read 24-13 to the hosts.
Bath will be left frustrated by not getting the bonus point but their form may just carry them into a play-off spot whilst Harlequins are left to fight it out for a Heineken Cup place.
Leeds’ three match winning streak came to an end when they travelled south to Kingsholm to play Gloucester, who extended their unbeaten run at home to nine games.
Nicky Robinson scored all of the Cherry and Whites points to seal a 19-0 victory at a very muddy Kingsholm. His try came after a clever kick over the Leeds defence into space that he collected himself after he won a foot race with Hendre Fourie to score the only try of the game.
The win leaves Gloucester in seventh place, six points behind Westcountry rivals Bath whilst Leeds hover two points above the drop.
Sunday’s Premiership action saw two big wins for championship chasing Saracens and London Irish.
Saracens ended their four match losing streak with a comprehensive 58-15 victory over Newcastle Falcons at Vicarage Road. Newcastle actually led 6-0 early on with a drop goal and penalty from fly half Jimmy Gopperth but once the powerhouse South African hooker Schalk Brits bundled his way over for his first of his two tries, the Falcons folded as Saracens took a stranglehold on proceedings. A further try from Andy Saull before the break meant Sarries went into the break 27-12 in front. After the interval further tries from Noah Cato, Richard Haughton and a brace courtesy of Ernst Joubert meant that the Premierships’ early pace setters earned a valuable bonus point victory to cement their place in a play-off position.
London Irish rounded off the weekend with an emphatic bonus point victory over sorry Sale Sharks 38-0. The club, who were also having their St. Patricks day celebrations outside the stadium reinforced their play-off push after shutting down the Sharks and earning themselves a clean sheet in the process.
The Exiles led 14-0 at half time through a try from Winger John Rudd and three penalties from the boot of Ryan Lamb. After the break England back row and Man of the Match Steffon Armitage was twice set up by fellow back row Chris Hala’ufia to cross for a five pointer. Further tries from Peter Hewat and Alex Corbisiero sealed an emphatic victory for Irish.
Defeat leaves relegation-threatened Sharks just two points above bottom club Worcester, who they host next Friday.
Irish, meanwhile, take on fifth-placed play-off rivals Wasps, who trail the Exiles by four points, next Sunday at Adams Park.
The Premiership run in is poised to be one of the most exciting that we have seen in years with battles for places in all areas of the table. Next week’s games include Leicester v Bath, Wasps v London Irish and Sale v Worcester at the bottom of the league. All of these games will have a big impact on the final look of the Guinness Premiership table and whose season will continue long into May and whose will also start in the Championship next season.