There was something of a try-fest in the Aviva Premiership this weekend, while the battle for the top four places in the Guinness Pro12 shows every sign of going right to the wire. Who were the heroes for the teams who triumphed, and who were the villains?
Leicester’s Peter Betham put in a magnificent individual performance in his side’s thrilling 35-30 win over Gloucester in the Aviva Premiership on Saturday.
With 11 minutes gone, the first piece of brilliance from the No 13 created a try for his centre partner, Manu Tuilagi. Ben Youngs sent a high, looping pass out to the right flank, where Betham leapt up to catch the ball then, knowing he would land in touch, immediately passed it back inside to Tuilagi, who just had to step over the line to score.
In the second half Tuilagi returned the compliment when a superb back-of-the-hand offload out of a tackle created a try for Betham which brought Leicester back to 30-28 down, having trailed 27-13 at half-time.
Betham landed two more telling blows, one in attack and one in defence. He sent out a superb long pass to Niki Goneva, creating the try which finally put Leicester back in the lead with seven minutes to go, then as Gloucester went in search of a match-winning try at the death, it was Betham who got his hands on the ball when Elliott Stooke hit the floor at close range, forcing the penalty which enabled the Tigers to hang on for a win.
It wasn’t a perfect game from Betham as his risky offload went straight to James Hook and allowed the Gloucester fly-half to turn defence into attack and create a try for Steve McColl just before the half-hour mark, but he was still a worthy Man of the Match.
Dragon’s double double
Dragons wing Hallam Amos scored two tries for the second week in a row, but again ended up on the losing side in the Guinness Pro12 as the Ospreys won 26-20 in Newport.
Amos benefited from a scorching break from Tyler Morgan for his first try, then produced a great individual score later in the game with a wonderful chip and chase up the left.
The 21-year-old got just the one start during the recent Six Nations, but he is in top form for his region.
Saracens were no fools on 1 April as they beat Bath 30-10 at the Recreation Ground and are now guaranteed a place in the Aviva Premiership semi-finals.
Alex Goode was the star of the show and picked up the Man of the Match award. His outstanding contributions included a superb flat pass which set up Saracens’ third try, scored by Mike Ellery and a longer pass to Will Fraser, who then fed Chris Ashton for the wing to claim his second try.
Goode even found the time to calm Brad Barritt down when he was losing his cool over something at the death and he was the one Saracens player who recognised the wisdom of putting the ball dead when they were awarded a penalty after time was up, rather than trying to go for another, unnecessary try.
Woodburn on fire
Exeter Chiefs put 50 points on Worcester Warriors, thanks in no small part to hat-tricks from wing Olly Woodburn and No 8 Thomas Waldrom.
The Tank’s tries were his trade-mark, close-range efforts, but Woodburn’s were that bit more spectacular. His first score was created by his wing partner, the excellent Jack Nowell, who made a break from his own 22 to past half way then put in a superb kick up field which Woodburn collected deftly. The second came when Woodburn scooped up a loose ball about 43 metres out and the third was scored after he took an inside pass from Dave Lewis and ran in from outside his own 22.
A Man-of-the-Match performance from Jared Payne in attack and defence helped Ulster to an 18-10 win over Connacht, who were top of the Guinness Pro12 before this match.
Ulster had built up an 11-0 lead, which was narrowed slightly to 11-3 before half-time, and a try-saving tackle by Payne on John Cooney kept Connacht at arms’ length for longer. An expert offload to Craig Gilroy by the full-back after half-time took Ulster’s lead out to 18-3 and they were not going to give up that advantage.
There is also a tip of the hat this week to Johnny Sexton, who scored all of Leinster’s points in their 16-13 win over Munster, which enabled the Dubliners to overtake Connacht at the top of the Pro12 table. Sexton managed to hang onto the ball when he crashed into the posts as he dived over for his side’s only try, and he kicked three penalties and a conversion.
Happy days for the Blues
Cardiff Blues completed a Pro12 double over the Scarlets for the first time in six years, winning 28-22 at Parc y Scarlets and while Sam Warburton was named Man of the Match and tighthead Taufa’ao Filise had a monumental game, especially in defence, the champagne moment of the match was provided by Blues No 10 Gareth Anscombe. He took a pass from Tom James, sprinted into the Scarlets’ 22 and then, with Warburton running a support line, Anscombe sold the most outrageous of dummies to DTH van der Merwe and strode in unopposed for a try.
Red card, black humour
Marcus Watson offered some classic sibling “support” when his brother Anthony was sent off during Friday evening’s Bath v Saracens match. While Twitter lit up with people either agreeing or disagreeing with the decision to wield the red card, Marcus tweeted: “Get him off, he’s rubbish anyway!”
The Italian job
Hats off to Glasgow Warriors, not only for picking up the almost inevitable bonus-point win at Benetton Treviso in the Pro12 on Saturday, but for then staying on to spend the following day seeing the sights of Venice, instead of jetting home at the first opportunity. Too often professional players fly in and out of some of the world’s most amazing cities without seeing much more than a hotel, a training ground and a stadium. Several Warriors players posted their Venetian “holiday” snaps on Twitter and it looked like they had a great time.
The Anthony Watson red card for a tip tackle on Alex Goode was a real 50-50 call for me. Watson was off balance when he clattered into Goode, so not entirely in control of his actions, but the collision did result in the Saracens man falling head and arm first to the ground. By the letter of the law, the red card was the right punishment. I don’t know whether to make Watson a Sinner or not, but I do know I would not like to be a referee in those situations.
What I am sure of is that rugby fans should never, ever, do what one Bath supporter may have done at the Recreation Ground on Friday evening and that is enter the officials’ changing room after the game to remonstrate with Greg Garner about his night’s work. The RFU and Bath have both said they are investigating reports that this happened. If it is found to be true, the person concerned needs to be banned from attending rugby matches for a long, long time.
Another reaction I did not like was that of Will Fraser when Garner got his red card out of his pocket. The Saracens openside applauded and, considering he was just a few feet from Watson, I thought it was a totally unnecessary piece of gloating and set a poor example to children watching the game on TV.
Wait a minute
Referees have a lot to think about during a game and it is understandable that they might sometimes allow goal-kickers more than the requisite 60 seconds to take their penalties. However, Ian Davies should have taken a tougher line on Johnny Sexton when the Leinster No 10 lined up what turned out to be the winning penalty in their 16-13 victory over Munster.
Davies appeared to warn Sexton he was in the last ten seconds of his minute, but then let a much longer amount of time elapse before the ball was kicked. Having given the warning, Davies should have whistled and stopped Sexton when the time was up.
Munster mess up
That same game included a poor decision from Munster at the death. Trailing 16-13, they were on the attack at the Aviva Stadium when Davies awarded them a close-range penalty. The sensible option was to take the kick and claim the two points for the draw, which would have been useful for the men in red in a tight Guinness Pro12 table, as well as denying their rivals a win. However, Munster prop Dave Kilcoyne got a case of white line fever and tapped and went in search of the winning try. A couple of phases later Munster knocked on and Leinster had the win in the bag.
Goal-kickers often end up among the Sinners for missing the target at crucial times and both Leicester’s Owen Williams – for his three missed conversions – and Gloucester’s James Hook – for hitting the upright with a close-range drop-goal – were at fault this weekend. However, the prize for the most extraordinary miss goes to London Irish fly-half Greig Tonks who managed to hit the upright with his attempted conversion of Sean Maitland’s try, even though it was in the shadow of the posts.
Tonks added a certain comedy value to the miss by catching the ball on the rebound!
Zebre’s players should be taking a long, hard look at themselves as they failed to score a single point for the third Pro12 match in succession. This time the Italians went down 29-0 at Edinburgh, having also failed to register against Munster and Ulster in the previous two rounds. In fact, they haven’t scored a Pro12 point since the closing ten minutes of their 27-10 loss to Leinster on 28 February.