In the first Aviva Premiership and Guinness PRO12 action of the New Year, there were players with plenty to celebrate and others who will wish to make a fresh start to 2015 next weekend.
Northampton fly-half Stephen Myler joined Paul Grayson in a most exclusive club at the weekend, after reaching the 2,000 point milestone for the Saints.
The 17 points Myler scored in their 39-31 Aviva Premiership win over Newcastle Falcons took him to the mark which only Grayson had previously reached. It has taken him just over eight years to run up the total and he has made 243 first team appearances for the club.
Myler has a way to go to catch up with Grayson though, as the former England fly-half amassed 2,786 points in nine years at Franklin’s Gardens. Still, to be only the second player in Northampton’s 135-year history to reach 2,000 is something worth celebrating and acknowledging.
Connacht had only managed one win over Munster in 41 attempts and that came six years ago, in December 2008, so when they trailed 13-0 as the half-hour approached at The Sportsground in Thursday’s Guinness PRO12 clash, it seemed like the same old story was unfolding.
But then up stepped – or sprinted, more like – centre Robbie Henshaw, with a piece of play to turn the tide. He raced after a chip ahead by Craig Ronaldson, caught it on the full, then beat two defenders before releasing Kieran Marmion to score a peach of a try.
There was more brilliance from Henshaw after the break as he made the line break which led to Ronaldson’s second-half try and from there Connacht kicked on to win.
Henshaw was named Man of the Match and Connacht maintained their unbeaten record at The Sportsground this season, while Munster missed out on a chance to go top of the table.
I gave Saracens a bit of stick in this column before Christmas, for their #scrapthecap campaign, but I always like to hand out credit where it’s due and the club are back in my good books for attempting to look after their players’ long-term health by giving them sensors to wear to monitor the impact of collisions during a game.
The small sensors are worn just behind one ear and Saracens hope the data they collect will help them to ensure their players don’t sustain long-term damage from concussion and other head knocks.
“We don’t want to meet our players in 20 or 25 years’ time, to find them suffering from dementia or any similar condition, and to reflect we suspected something was going on but we didn’t really know. We want to know,” said Saracens CEO Edward Griffiths.
“We aspire to be a club that genuinely looks after its players, and nothing is more important than their medium and long term welfare. At Saracens, we feel obliged to ask these questions without delay and to seek answers, however uncomfortable they may be. The findings will be reported in due course.”
Leinster moved up into the top four of the Guinness PRO12 after this weekend’s 24-11 win over Ulster and that victory was due in no small part to Ian Madigan, who scored 19 of the province’s points.
With three penalties already under his belt, he produced a moment of magic early in the second half which took Leinster from 9-6 up to 16-6.
Awarded a penalty in an attacking position, Madigan feigned to kick to touch in the right-hand corner, but as the defence retreated he tapped and went instead and darted over for a try which he then converted. He missed just one kick all afternoon – a conversion from the touchline late on – but it was his quick-thinking and confidence as much as his accuracy with the boot which won the match for Leinster. Find the highlights here.
At the double
There were no hat-trick heroes in the Premiership or PRO12 this weekend but a trio of players grabbed two tries each to help their teams to victory.
None were more important than those scored by Edinburgh’s Tim Visser in the 20-8 win over Glasgow Warriors which enabled Edinburgh to win the 1872 Cup for the first time since 2009. The capital side had lost the first leg of the cup double-header 16-6 but overturned the deficit at Murrayfield. Visser came off the wing to cut a great line for the first try and intercepted a pass from Peter Horne for the second.
In Coventry Wasps’ Joe Simpson scored two in their 41-16 pasting of Sale Sharks and the first of those scores was set up by an extraordinary piece of work from Bradley Davies and Christian Wade. They caught Sale full-back Michael Haley in possession and lifted him up to the horizontal and held him there for several seconds, so Ashley Johnson could rip the ball from his grasp and feed Simpson, who raced in almost unchallenged. Watch it two minutes into the Wasps v Sale highlights package here.
David Strettle also scored two tries and the fact that he made just 12 metres with the ball in hand during Saracens’ 22-6 win over London Irish tells you the double score owed more to his power and precision than his pace, but the second try was particularly well taken.
Missing the point
George Ford’s goal-kicking has come on in leaps and bounds this season but it let him down at a crucial time yesterday. The England fly-half missed an eminently kickable conversion at the death – a kick which would have earned Bath a losing bonus point from their match at Leicester. Instead, they were beaten 17-8 and came away from an Aviva Premiership match without a single point for the first time this season.
Bath retained second place behind Northampton Saints in the table but with Saracens, Wasps and Leicester all winning in the three spots below them, Ford has to take opportunities when they arise.
Francis at fault
Exeter Chiefs replacement Tomas Francis brought to a halt a spell of pressure which might just have resulted in a winning score for his team inside the final minute of their 26-25 Premiership loss to Gloucester.
The Chiefs had made steady progress into the Gloucester half through 15-plus phases and were within kicking range if a penalty was given, when Francis threw himself into a ruck from the side and conceded a penalty which allowed the visitors to relieve all the pressure and see out their one-point win. Where his team-mates had been patient and clinical, Francis was needlessly rash and his mistake could not have come at a worse time for the Chiefs, who were looking for their first Aviva Premiership win since the end of November.
Around ten minutes earlier, Gareth Steenson had missed a conversion kick which would have put the Chiefs one point up, but the kick was from wide on the right, in windy conditions, so the No 10 does not deserve to take all the blame for the defeat.
Eleven of this weekend’s 12 Premiership and PRO12 matches produced just four yellow cards between them but the Treviso players decided to redress the balance as three of them headed for the sin-bin in a ten-minute period during their clash with Zebre on Saturday.
They were leading 10-3 in a game they needed to win to climb off the bottom of the PRO12 table for the first time since September but Matteo Muccignat was yellow-carded for offside at a ruck on 55 minutes, D’Arcy Rae joined him six minutes later for a scrummaging offence and Enrico Bacchin completed the unwanted hat-trick shortly before Muccignat returned, when he was sin-binned for a tip tackle.
Somehow, Treviso conceded just five points while the trio were off and went on to win the game 17-15.
The players of Leicester and Bath did their best to increase the card stats during their clash at Welford Road as they repeatedly battered one another with their new Christmas handbags at breakdown after breakdown, but referee Matt Carley decided a harsh word here and there was the best way to deal with it as no one was getting hurt.