The Aviva Premiership and Guinness Pro12 served up some five-star rugby this weekend with the spring sunshine helping the try-scorers to blossom and Wales teaching Ireland a lesson at regional level.
That’s the Wade to do it
Christian Wade gave Stuart Lancaster a timely reminder of his try-scoring prowess with a superb try for Wasps against Saracens in the Aviva Premiership on Sunday. Wasps attacked from their own half after stealing a lineout and Elliot Daly sent the ball spinning to Wade as he came speeding down the right wing on halfway.
Wade chipped and chased, dribbled skilfully towards the corner and even though Alex Goode forced him out into touch, he still used his athleticism and strength to dive towards the bobbling ball in the in-goal area and touch it down. The fact that his feet were in touch did not matter as he was not carrying the ball and the TMO and referee awarded the try.
Daly wrote some headlines of his own soon afterwards with a remarkable individual try, weaving and swerving through the defence from 60 metres out. However, these two Champagne moments were in vain for Wasps, as Saracens came back to win the game 26-17.
Welsh sweep the board
The four Welsh regions beat the four Irish regions in the Guinness Pro12 this weekend for the first time since October 2010. Cardiff Blues got the ball rolling with a controversial but gutsy 18-17 win over Connacht, then the Ospreys beat Munster 26-12, the Scarlets downed Leinster 23-13 and the Newport Gwent Dragons rounded it off on Sunday afternoon with a 26-22 win over Ulster.
The Welsh had home advantage in all four cases, but it was still a set of results to be proud of and put the Ospreys back up into the top four and kept the Scarlets in contention for a Champions Cup place next season.
Back row to the fore
Openside flanker James Davies was the Man of the Match in the Scarlets’ victory over Leinster after an outstanding performance in attack and defence. He helped set up Jordan Williams’s second-half try and seemed to be all over the pitch. Plaudits go to two of his back-row colleagues as well – John Barclay, who scored the Scarlets’ first try and replacement Rory Pitman who was a force to be reckoned with later in the game and barged through two tacklers and reach over the line to score the final try.
King of the Holm
Both sides produced some fabulous rugby in Saturday’s 33-33 Aviva Premiership draw between Gloucester and Northampton but James Hook was responsible for the match’s golden moment as he showed once more why he is becoming a real favourite at Kingsholm.
The outside-half went on one of his elusive, jinking runs from his own half and after he had broken the Saints’ line, instead of continuing on his own he put in the most exquisite kick with the outside of his boot to find wing Charlie Sharples steaming through on the outside to collect the ball and score. It was a perfect kick made while running at full pace and not something many fly-halves would attempt, never mind carry off successfully.
Never say die
Northampton Saints and Cardiff Blues both deserve praise for playing to the last peep of the referee’s whistle, as they changed the results of their games at the death.
Northampton snatched a draw at Gloucester with a try scored by Samu Manoa and converted by Stephen Myler. They had trailed 23-9 at halftime and such is their lead in the Premiership that it wouldn’t have made a difference to their playoff hopes if they had lost this game, but they still found the grit to battle for a share of the points.
Rhys Patchell landed the match-winning conversion with the last kick of the Blues’ game against Connacht after his team kept the ball alive for three minutes during stoppage time before finally creating the gap for Joaquin Tuculet to score the decisive try and turn an 11-17 deficit into an 18-17 win.
That makes it two wins in a row for a Blues side who were all at sixes and sevens last month and shows their spirit has returned.
Sam’s the man
Ospreys outside-half Sam Davies scored 21 of his team’s 26 points in their win over Munster and played a key role in Dan Baker’s try too, finding the back row with a long pass inside the 22. Not only did Davies land six penalties to punish the indiscretions of a Munster side which had come to Cardiff as league leaders, but he had the maturity to kick a drop-goal just before halftime to take the lead beyond two scores at 17-0. It was a long way back from Munster from there and they didn’t trouble the scorers until the last ten minutes of the game.
Hats off to referee Wayne Barnes who became only the third man to take charge of 150 Aviva Premiership matches when he officiated at Bath v Sale this weekend.
Barnes, 35, has refereed at two World Cups, set the record for the youngest ever Heineken Cup final referee in 2010 and looks odds-on to break Chris White’s record for taking charge of the most Premiership matches, which stands at 190.
Phil Winstanley, the rugby director at Premiership Rugby, says: “Wayne is obviously very highly regarded by players, officials and coaches from within Premiership Rugby and I’m sure I speak on behalf of all in congratulating Wayne on reaching this milestone.”
Ending on a sour note
Two match officials found themselves subject to big criticism for decisions at the death of games which changed the result.
Firstly, on Friday evening, Cardiff Blues scored a try six minutes into stoppage time to turn an 11-17 deficit against Connacht into an 18-17 win, after touch-judge Leighton Hodges advised referee Lloyd Linton to award a penalty for in at the side against Tom McCartney instead of a knock-on against Alex Cuthbert. The Blues went through the phases for three minutes until Joaquin Tuculet scored and Rhys Patchell converted, leaving Connacht head coach Pat Lam incensed that the match had not ended when Cuthbert knocked on.
Then, on Saturday afternoon, referee Greg Garner helped Northampton snatch a late draw at Gloucester by firstly penalising Yann Thomas in a scrum when he looked to have done nothing illegal to force the visitors into reverse gear, then giving the softest of lineout penalties against Tom Palmer for the lightest of contacts on Courtney Lawes in the air. Saints kicked that penalty to touch five metres out and rolled a maul over for a try which meant the match ended as a 33-33 draw.
Former England prop Dave Flatman said on BT Sport: “At the last scrum Yann Thomas did a brilliant job on Gareth Denman and was punished for it,” and commenting on the lineout penalty, he added: “There was physical contact but this is rugby for goodness sake.”
It was a great shame a match which featured so much excellent rugby from both sides ended in controversy.
Drug ban for Hunt
Karmichael Hunt should be counting himself lucky to have escaped with just a six-week suspension from the Australian Rugby Union and Queensland Rugby Union after he pleaded guilty in court to four charges of cocaine possession.
He has been stripped of the vice-captaincy of Queensland Reds and fined Aus$30,000 by the unions (and only Aus$2,500 by the court) but to only miss out on six weeks of rugby seems lenient.
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Stan Pilecki, who played 122 times for Queensland during the 1970s and 1980s, believes Hunt should have been kicked out of rugby altogether, even though he was contracted to play Aussies rules for Gold Coast Suns at the time of the offences. “He hasn’t fulfilled his contract to the Reds or Australian rugby or all the kids out there he was going to be an example for,” Pilecki told News Corp in Australia.