Saturday brought the last round of matches in the regular season of the Aviva Premiership and the Guinness Pro12. It turned into something of a try-fest, but who contributed to the crucial wins and who fell at the final hurdle?
Chiefs duo shine at the Stoop
Henry Slade had a cracking game for Exeter Chiefs in their 62-24 demolition of Harlequins at the Twickenham Stoop in the last round of Aviva Premiership matches, but Jack Nowell stole all the headlines with his hat-trick of tries.
The wing created tries for others as well as scoring his own. His outstanding break from his own half set up a first-half score for James Short, and later Nowell accepted a pass from Phil Dollman, who had in turn been fed deftly by Slade, and strode over the line for his first try.
Slade was also critical to Nowell’s second try, sending a long pass over Dollman’s head to find the wing in space and after Nowell had claimed his hat-trick following some sleepy defending by Harlequins, Slade scored one of his own, finishing a great move up the right.
Nowell did his share in defence too, stopping Danny Care from burrowing over the line when Quins trailed 17-3 – or at least doing enough to make the referee refer the attempted try to the TMO, who could find no proof the scrum-half had scored.
Wood fires Saints into Europe
Tom Wood played a crucial role in attack and defence as Northampton came from 20-8 down to beat Gloucester 28-20 in the Aviva Premiership and secure a place in next season’s European Champions Cup.
The back row set up George North’s second try by realising Gloucester had left the back of a ruck totally unprotected, and he strode over and through it, charged on into the 22 and fed North. That try put the Saints 22-20 up and they kicked on to win from there.
Wood made nine carries in all, while in defence his total of 11 tackles beat any of his team-mates. This was a game that mattered for Northampton and Wood was rightly named Man of the Match.
Great from Goode, hot stuff from Ash
Chris Ashton scored a hat-trick of tries in Saracens’ 43-19 win over Worcester Warriors, showing all his finishing skills and capitalising on some outstanding play from full-back Alex Goode.
Goode created Ashton’s first try when he took a high ball and sidestepped the first line of defence then broke clear and passed to the wing to score in the corner.
Ashton collected an awkwardly bouncing ball after a brilliant chip from Goode for his second and replacement Ben Ransom provided the kick for Ashton to chase for his hat-trick touchdown after Goode had gone off early in the second half to rest for next Saturday’s Champions Cup final.
An offload from Ashton then set up a try for Ransom, as Saracens showed they are in fine form as the true business end of the season begins.
Remember the name
Ellis Genge – a former England U20 prop who is on loan at Leicester Tigers from Bristol – made his Premiership debut on Saturday and showed he has what it takes to succeed at the highest level.
Leicester lost 38-27 at Bath but it was not for the want of trying on Genge’s part as he excelled in attack and defence. He helped create two tries – one for the excellent Peter Betham and one for Mathew Tait, making a total of 45m with ten carries beating five defenders, and he did his share of defensive work too.
West is best
Kieran Marmion was named Man of the Match as Connacht sealed a top-two finish in the Guinness Pro12 with a 14-7 win over Glasgow Warriors in a winner-takes-all match.
But Marmion was by no means the only one at Connacht with something to celebrate as the province more or less swept the board at Sunday’s Pro12 annual awards. Bundee Aki was named Player of the Season, Pat Lam Coach of the Season, skipper John Muldoon received the Chairman’s Award in recognition of his 13 years of service and no less than seven Connacht players were named in the Pro12 dream team – Aki, Matt Healy, Marmion, Denis Buckley, Tom McCartney, Finlay Bealham and Ultan Dillane.
Young star shines to the end
Ospreys fly-half Sam Davies capped a fine season with another good display off the bench for his region, then picked up the Guinness Pro12 Young Player of the Year award at Sunday’s dinner.
In Saturday’s Ospreys v Ulster clash, which Ulster won 46-26, Davies set up a try for another replacement, Tom Grabham with a great break from 40 metres out and a long pass to Grabham as he scorched into the 22. Paddy Jackson covered across to try to prevent the try but Grabham still dived in and turned over to touch the ball down.
Treble for Latu
Nili Latu had the rare distinction – for a No 8 – of scoring all his team’s points in Newcastle Falcons’ 21-15 loss to Sale Sharks. He scored a hat-trick of tries from driving mauls – twice breaking from the back of a maul a few metres out and trundling unopposed round the blindside.
Harlequins’ horror show
It should have been a fond farewell for Harlequins DoR Conor O’Shea after six mostly happy years at the Stoop, but instead it turned into a horror show for the home side as Exeter trounced them 62-24 and extinguished their hopes of qualifying for the European Champions Cup via a top six Premiership finish.
Quins can still get into Europe’s top competition next season if they win the second tier Challenge Cup final on Friday, but they will need to put this awful performance quickly behind them and bring their A game to play Montpellier in Lyon.
Danny Care called Saturday “a pretty sour day” and O’Shea said “that will take some getting over”. Quins were poor in all departments and the lead-up to Jack Nowell’s hat-trick try encapsulated everything that was wrong with their game. They overthrew a lineout near their own 22, Exeter hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie gratefully gathered the ball at the tail as if it was a planned move and barrelled up towards the line. The ball squirted out at the side of the ensuing ruck and Quins prop Kyle Sinckler just stood and looked at it on the floor, leaving it for Chiefs scrum-half Will Chudley to pick up and pass out to the right, where Nowell scored.
Quins missed a shocking total of 23 tackles and although they occasionally sparkled in attack, they were utterly outmuscled by the Chiefs. O’Shea’s coaching mettle will be tested to the full this week as Harlequins attempt to bounce back and win on Friday.
Losing his head
Glasgow Warriors needed to win at Connacht to earn the right to a home semi-final in the Guinness Pro12 and with half an hour to go the game was poised at 7-7. Then a moment of madness from Sila Puafisi left the Warriors a man down for the remainder of the match and Connacht went on to win 14-7.
The referee had blown for a penalty at a ruck but as Connacht scrum-half Kieran Marmion bent down to pick up the ball which was at his feet, the Glasgow tighthead came diving round the side of the breakdown head first and banged his head into Marmion’s.
Referee Ian Davies decided a red card was the appropriate punishment for Puafisi and it’s hard to argue with that.
The Ospreys needed a home win against Ulster to earn a place in next season’s European Champions Cup and to help the Scarlets step over Ulster and into the Pro12 playoffs, but too many errors from the men in black helped the visitors to win 46-26.
Weak defending at close quarters allowed Rory Best to score a try and just before half-time Rhys Webb kicked straight to Andrew Trimble, who counter-attacked and put in a return kick of his own. A wicked bounce took the ball away from Webb – who might perhaps have tracked back with more determination – and Trimble was through for a try.
Webb was at fault for another try later in the game, when he had the ball at his feet at the back of a ruck inches from his own line, but left it unguarded a fraction too long and Chris Henry reached through from the Ulster side of the ruck and touched it down for a try.
Brown the try-poacher
Edinburgh wing Tom Brown might not be in Matt Scott’s good books after pinching a try from right under the nose of his team-mate. Scott kicked through the Cardiff Blues defence from just outside the 22 and chased the ball to the line, but Brown popped up at his shoulder and dived on the ball first. Scott gave a rueful grin to his team-mate as they got up but might not be entirely impressed with Brown’s cheeky move.