The Six Nations is over for another year, but it's been a weekend full of incident as the domestic season reaches the sharp-end
We cast our eye back over the last few days to bring you the saints and the sinners from an action-packed weekend of rugby…
Their unorthodox, out-of-the-box thinking rubs some people up the wrong way, but you have to take your hats off to Saracens for bringing 83,889 people to Wembley Stadium to watch Saturday’s Aviva Premiership clash against Harlequins. It set a new World Record for a club game and while many of those fans took advantage of special offers and promotions to get in at seriously bargain prices, Sarries still had to persuade them to make the journey to Wembley and pay for transport, lunch etc.
It’s a fair bet that a big proportion of those spectators won’t have seen a live rugby match before – let’s hope the seven tries in the 39-17 win for Saracens will persuade some of them to become regular rugby fans.
Aisea Natoga scored a hat-trick of tries to secure the Ospreys a 34-9 bonus-point victory over Cardiff Blues and keep them firmly in the hunt for a RaboDirect PRO12 play-off place.
The Fiji wing scored after 16 and 29 minutes, helping the Ospreys to go into the break with a 17-9 lead, then he crossed for his third with ten minutes to go.
Ashley Beck and Rhys Webb were the Ospreys other try-scorers and Dan Biggar kicked nine points.
What seemed like a dream job – head coach of Fiji Sevens – turned into something of a nightmare for Ben Ryan when he moved to the Pacific island last September, as the Fiji Rugby Union’s financial problems meant they were unable to pay him for the first few months. However, the former England Sevens coach stuck with it and the FRU chief executive Berlin Kafoa was grateful for that saying: “We as a nation should applaud a foreign individual who is willing to make personal sacrifices for the love of rugby in Fiji.”
Now, things are looking rosier for Ryan after Fiji beat South Africa 33-26 in the final of the Tokyo Sevens at the weekend, to set themselves up perfectly to defend their Hong Kong Sevens title next weekend. Going into Hong Kong, Fiji sit third in the HSBC Sevens World Series on 95 points, behind South Africa (116) and New Zealand (114).
Ryan is pleased with the work his squad are putting in and says: “When they want to turn up and they want to turn it on they are pretty hard to stop.”
Fiji captain Osea Kolinisau acknowledges the impact Ryan has made, saying: “There are changes he has brought about, but good changes and positive changes for Fiji.”
Rose to the occasion
Melrose are the new Scottish club champions after winning the RBS Premiership title on the last day of the season. They and Gala were in contention for top spot and Gala missed out when they lost 34-33 to Ayr, conceding a try deep in stoppage time.
Melrose made no such mistake and beat Currie 26-10 thanks to tries from scrum-half Bruce Colvine and new Edinburgh signing Damien Hoyland, plus four penalties and two conversions from centre Joe Helps.
A case of the Blues
Cardiff Blues are in a poor state. Lying tenth in the RaboDirect Pro 12 table, with just four wins out of 17, their bad form has already cost Phil Davies his job this spring and they are showing no signs of turning the corner.
On Friday they had a big Welsh derby against the Ospreys to get up for, but instead of giving it all they’d got at the Liberty Stadium, they limped tamely to a 34-9 defeat. They put little or no pressure on the Ospreys when they were in possession, jogging from play to play instead of closing them down. There were too many individually poor performances and no collective passion at all.
On BBC’s Scrum V former Wales skipper Gwyn Jones said the Blues “went down like lambs – they were brushed aside,” while their caretaker coach Paul John said: “We have got to get pride and passion in how we play, value possession more and give the supporters something to cheer.”
Gloucester are enduring a disappointing season so their fans were enjoying an all-too-rare display of excellence from their team as they built up a 37-7 lead over Newcastle Falcons with five tries. Then, someone flicked the off switch in the Gloucester players’ minds and they proceeded to concede four tries in the final quarter to allow Newcastle to make it 40-33 at the final whistle.
Gloucester boss Nigel Davies was less than impressed, saying the loss of control in the closing stages had taken all the shine off a welcome bonus-point victory.
“It’s bizarre really. We had all the momentum, all the game for 65 minutes and played some great rugby and then just fell off the side of a cliff,” said Davies. “Our discipline was poor in that part of the game and the whole momentum of the game swung and we weren’t able to stop it.
“That game was a microcosm of our season – we have played some great stuff and some really dreadful stuff. The last 15 minutes was unacceptable.”
The Saracens v Harlequins match was still anybody’s game, with Sarries ahead 20-10 as half-time approached. Harlequins repelled one Saracens’ attack, thanks to great work from Ollie Lindsay-Hague and were all set to clear their lines, when fly-half Nick Evans decided to fling a long pass across the face of his own goal posts, missing out three of his team-mates. Owen Farrell read the path of the ball and raced through the Quins back line, grabbing the ball on his way and dotting it down under the posts. Thanks to former All Black Evans’s rush of blood, Harlequins trailed 27-10 at the break and Saracens weren’t going to give up that lead.
Harlequins and England full-back Mike Brown, not playing on Saturday, Tweeted: “We really need to stop throwing big, long passes.” Evans probably agrees, with hindsight.