Heroic efforts and horrible mistakes both featured in the last weekend of the regular season in the Aviva Premiership and Guinness Pro12. The climax of the HSBC World Sevens Series also produced its share of champs and chumps.
As the second half of their clash with Ulster kicked off, Glasgow Warriors trailed 10-6 and knew they needed to conjure four tries and a bonus-point win to secure a home semi-final in the Guinness Pro12. With a strong wind at their backs, they did just that and Man of the Match Finn Russell was their leading light, scoring two of the four tries.
Stuart Hogg deserves great praise for getting the ball rolling with a fine first try, chipping and chasing up the right and beating Mike Allen and Louis Ludik to the bouncing ball. That put Glasgow 11-10 up on 54 minutes, then five minutes later Russell stepped and then powered his way over for his first try, and added his second just as the clock hit 70 minutes.
Richie Vernon struck the final blow with eight minutes to play, cutting a lovely line to secure the all-important bonus point and ensure Glasgow finished the regular season on top of the Pro12 table. They now face a semi-final re-match against the same opponents back at Scotstoun on Friday evening.
So often the heart, soul and backbone of the club, Leicester’s pack played a huge part in their 22-14 win over Northampton on Saturday, a victory which took the Tigers into the Aviva Premiership semi-finals.
Niall Morris scored a peach of try, with some magical footwork, but he was probably helped by the fact that the Saints were down to 13 men at the time after two props had been sin-binned when the Leicester eight had them in all sorts of trouble at scrum time.
Northampton fielded a weakened team but were still a tough nut to crack and the Leicester forwards worked hard to get the win they needed to reach their 11th consecutive Premiership semi-final.
Munster on the march
Munster moved up to finish second in the Guinness Pro12 and earn the right to play at home in the semi-finals thanks to a 50-27 win over the Dragons. Scrum-half Conor Murray was the Man of the Match after he scored a hat-trick of tries.
Munster had the bonus point after just 23 minutes but kept going, with Murray pulling the strings, to make a real statement about their form and desire going into the semi-final.
Five minute wonder
Chris Ashton had a field day at the Kassam Stadium, scoring a hat-trick of tries in five minutes to set a new Premiership record. As he had already breached the London Welsh defence once in the game before that second-half flurry, the Saracens wing took his total number of Premiership tries in his career to date to 60 and his season’s total to 13.
Saracens needed to beat London Welsh by as many points as possible to edge Exeter Chiefs out of contention for the Aviva Premiership playoffs and did enough with their 68-17 triumph.
Exeter did all they could against much tougher opponents, Sale Sharks, but their seven-try, 44-16 win still left the brave Chiefs with a points-difference 20 points shy of Saracens’, so they ended up in fifth spot.
Great Scott (and super Steff)
Two magical moments earned a 17-13 win for the Scarlets in Treviso and with it the all-important place in next season’s European Champions Cup. A fine finish by Steff Evans, taking a pin-point pass from Rhys Priestland and diving in at the left-hand corner, was the winning score, but it might not have mattered if Scott Williams had not denied Treviso a certain try earlier in the second half.
The Italian side’s scrum-half Henry Seniloli was racing towards the line and pointed mockingly across at Williams as the centre tried to cover across. The Welshman made enough ground to get hold of Seniloli as he dived over the line, rolled onto his back and forced him to spill the ball.
Unimpressed by the scrum-half’s showboating, Williams foolishly then pushed his head down onto the ground as he got up, but most people would say Seniloli got what he deserved.
Time’s up for Tom
Great players retire at the end of every season and some get more attention than others, but the final curtain should not come down on Tom May’s career without some applause.
The versatile back played his 247th and last Aviva Premiership match on Saturday in London Welsh’s 68-17 defeat by Saracens.
May made his Newcastle debut back in the 1999 and had 11 seasons with the Falcons before playing in France for Toulon from 2009-11. Northampton then brought him home to England and he spent two seasons with them before joining London Welsh in 2013 and helping them earn promotion back to the top flight for this season.
Sporting the greyest hair in the Premiership, it is clear May is no spring chicken! He turned 36 in February but still made 13 starts and played five times off the bench for the Exiles this term, sticking at it through the tough, tough times and was still setting up tries for his team-mates with his electrifying skills in his final appearance on Saturday.
May played for England, the Saxons and England Sevens, won the Tetley’s Bitter and Powergen Cups with Newcastle and led Welsh to the Greene King IPA Championship in 2014.
Congratulations on a long and distinguished career and best of luck for the future.
Take a bow
Talking of retirements, well done to the Sandy Park crowd for giving Mark Cueto a standing ovation when he departed his final Premiership match a few minutes early after being sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on. The Sale and England wing headed for the dugout with a rueful grin as the Exeter fans stood alongside Sale’s travelling supporters to show him what a popular and respected player he is.
Two former England Sevens coaches were basking particularly happily in the Twickenham sunshine at the weekend, as Ben Ryan piloted his Fiji side to the HSBC Sevens World Series title for the first time since 2006 and Mike Friday helped the USA team claim the Marriott London Sevens crown – their first World Series title.
At Friday’s side was former England hooker and England Sevens skipper Phil Greening, who joined his coaching ticket a couple of weeks ago.
The organisers of the London Sevens also deserve plaudits as the combined crowd for Saturday and Sunday – 116,219 – was a record for two days at a World Series event.
Finally, England took their share of the limelight by securing enough series points to guarantee a place at next summer’s Rio Olympics on behalf of Team GB.
The battle for the home semi-final spots in the Pro12 couldn’t have been tighter going into the last round of matches and the Ospreys knew a bonus-point win would ensure they would play at the Liberty Stadium next weekend. When they were 24-0 up before half-time against Connacht in Galway they looked certain to finish the job.
However, Eli Walker fumbled a gilt-edged scoring chance before the break and the Ospreys were unable to create another try in the second half, although they did hang on to win 24-20.
Walker was tackled just short of the line but not held, so he lunged forward to stretch across the whitewash with the ball in one hand, only to let it slip forwards and out of his grasp.
The Ospreys did not give up on their quest for a fourth try and Rhys Webb almost cracked open the defence from a tapped penalty with the last play of the game. Referee Marius Mitrea could easily have given the Welsh side another penalty as Connacht did not look to be back ten metres, but he didn’t and now the Ospreys have to travel to Munster next Saturday, knowing no team has ever won away in a Pro12 semi-final. Still, there’s always a first time.
Ross sees red
Sale prop Ross Harrison might well start next season on the naughty step as he was sent off in the Sharks’ final game of the season for repeatedly punching Exeter’s Alex Brown in the head after Brown had held onto him illegally. Brown was sin-binned but Harrison got his permanent marching orders and, given that his team were already down to 14 men before he landed his blows, it was particularly foolish on his part.
Autographs don’t come much more expensive than this. Kenya’s Collins Injera decided to celebrate his 200th World Sevens try by taking a permanent marker out of his sock – yes, really! – and signing the ball after he had claimed the landmark score.
He then decided it would be fun to copy the world’s leading tennis stars by signing a TV camera lens, presumably not realising that when Andy Murray and Co do this, the lens has a special protective cover.
The same wasn’t true of the camera at Twickenham and Injera ruined the £60,000 lens with his signature. Let’s hope the TV company’s insurance will write it off!
Watch his try and celebrations here.
Last chance for Manu
Manu Tuilagi. What can you say? The Leicester and England centre has got himself into a couple of scrapes before, some of which could be written off as youthful exuberance. But now he has acquired a criminal record for assault and criminal damage. It doesn’t sound like any serious injuries were inflicted when Tuilagi grabbed the taxi driver by the throat or shoved the two female police officers, but this was certainly the worst of his “mistakes” and one which will haunt him for months and years to come.
It is an appropriate punishment from England to ban him from their squad until next year. Then we will see if he can earn his place again. But he will have to change his ways. Tuilagi was 23 – nearly 24 – when he was involved in this (presumably) drunken incident. Other people the same age are doctors, teachers and police officers, so the time for saying “he’s young, he will learn” is past now. Manu needs to man up.