We select our heroes and villains from a tense and action-packed weekend
Finally, after 17 defeats (some of them clutched agonisingly at the last minute from the jaws of victory) Worcester Warriors claimed their first Aviva Premiership win of the season, and the unlikely hero was a replacement centre making only his fourth league appearance.
With 69 minutes on the clock in the basement battle at Newcastle Falcons, the score was 12-12. Then Andy Symons, all 6ft 5in and 16st 5lb of him, lit up the game with a charging run from just inside the Falcons’ half. When he was stopped a couple of metres from the line on the left, Josh Drauniniu was on hand to take the pass and dive in for the try in the corner and this time the Warriors hung on for a 17-12 victory.
Worcester are still nine points adrift of Newcastle at the bottom of the table with four games to play and as they have to travel away to Saracens and Bath their hopes of survival are still slim. But as their director of rugby Dean Ryan said: “We knew if we didn’t win here today it was gone. This breathes a little bit of life into us. I am really pleased the group have got a reward.”
In the Niko of time
Glasgow Warriors were 6-9 down at home to the Ospreys with five minutes on the clock, in a game they needed to win to keep up the pressure in their hunt for a top-four spot in the RaboDirect Pro 12.
Niko Matawalu broke from his own half and put a great kick through which Tommy Seymour chased. The Scotland wing did superbly to bravely beat Dan Biggar to the touchdown and score the try, but Duncan Weir missed the conversion, so the Warriors had some nail-biting to do at just 11-9 ahead.
They thought they had extended that lead when Finn Russell touched down a couple of minutes later but the try was disallowed and the Ospreys went looking for the winning score. The Welsh visitors patiently created a drop-goal chance for Biggar, but who was there to charge it down and save the game – Matawalu.
The win leaves the Warriors in fifth spot, just one point behind the Ospreys but with two games in hand, so with every chance of moving up into the play-off places.
Rees is the word
The British Isles rugby family held its breath and hoped for the best when Wales and Lions hooker Matthew Rees announced he was being treated for testicular cancer last October. But on Saturday the Cardiff Blues hooker returned to action and helped inspire his team-mates to a 28-23 victory over Ulster.
The Blues’ performance was an utter transformation from last weekend’s lame 34-9 defeat by the Ospreys. All-action Josh Navidi was man of the match, the pack were magnificent and Alex Cuthbert deserves a mention for a magical back-handed pass to set Robin Copeland on his way to a great try.
Caretaker coach Dale McIntosh said his team had done a lot of soul-searching after the loss to the Ospreys and talking about Rees he summed up the feelings of many, saying: “The guy is an icon. We look at him and he’s an example to us all. He came out there and looked like he hadn’t been away from the game.”
Rees himself thanked everyone for their amazing support through his illness and Martyn Williams, a former team-mate for the Blues and Wales, added: “His positive mindset has been unbelievable – an absolute inspiration to everybody.”
Suni side up
Every international team wants to go to the World Cup finals and two tries in quick succession from the Suniula brothers, Shalom and Andrew, ensured that the USA will be there in 2015.
Playing over two legs for the right to take up a place in Pool B at the tournament in England, the USA Eagles and Uruguay were locked together at 27-27 after the first leg.
Uruguay took a 13-3 half-time lead in the second game and looked to be firmly in the driving seat as the USA made a lot of errors, but they fought back after the break and the Suniulas struck in the last 15 minutes to take their team to a 32-13 win on the day and a 59-40 triumph on aggregate.
He will doubtless enjoy many moments in his career when he is the match-winning hero, but like all goal-kickers, George Ford is also sometimes cast as the villain after missing a crucial kick and that was the case this weekend. In wet conditions which made kicking difficult, the young Bath fly-half effectively cost his team the game against Sale Sharks when he missed a conversion and two drop-goal attempts in the last five minutes, with Bath trailing 11-12. It meant the Sharks pulled up to within four points of Bath in the race for fourth spot in the Aviva Premiership, so leaving the west-country side with work to do to ensure they don’t blow their playoff chances.
Leicester became the first team to beat Northampton at Franklins Gardens in the Premiership this season, sneaking home 22-16 in a game that had its share of controversy.
There was talk of Dylan Hartley biting Tom Youngs, although the Northampton player was not punished at the time and is not being cited, then Leicester had two players sent to the sin-bin – something which never goes down well with Tigers’ boss Richard Cockerill.
The final talking point came right at the death when Manu Tuilagi took the ball into touch in the right-hand corner, close to his own goal line, and Ben Foden’s attempts to take a quick lineout to steal a potentially winning score at the death were thwarted by a Leicester physio, who stumbled over the ball in touch and therefore made a quick throw-in impossible.
Did the physio kick the ball deliberately? Should he had been a little further away from play, rather than running along beside it? Should referee Wayne Barnes have used some discretion and allowed the lineout to be taken despite the fact time was up? The answers to all three questions are debatable, and there’s no guarantee that Northampton would have scored and converted a try if play had continued – although they were facing only 13 men.
However, it’s worth the powers-that-be considering what should happen if an employee of a club such as a physio is involved in a similar incident in the future.