Northampton fans

Northampton fans

Aviva Premiership Round by Rugby World reader Alex Shaw.

Saturday 7th May 2011

Bath vs. Newcastle Falcons

Bath welcomde Newcastle to the South-West in the knowledge that if other results go their way, then a victory could see them reach the semi-finals following their excellent run of form recently. The Falcons will be no easy target however, as the side from the North-East are playing for their future in the Premiership. With their fate still in their own hands, Newcastle will be giving their all in this match and could prove to be a troublesome opponent for playoff hunting Bath.

Bath continued on from their last match against Newcastle, and were soon in the lead, Sam Vesty going over for the opening try, and Butch James added the conversion. Bath then moved through the gears and were celebrating further as Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe, Matt Carraro and Matt Banahan all went over before the interval, James adding the extras for two of the three tries. As the halftime whistle went, Bath found themselves having already secured what could prove to be a vital bonus point come the end of the match, whilst the Falcons will be particularly anxious if they hear of the surprise score from Franklin’s Gardens, with Leeds beating Northampton at the interval. It was Newcastle however who enjoyed the best of the second half, scoring two early tries through Alex Tait and Luke Fielden. The Bath defence remained strong though, and any remaining hopes of a Newcastle comeback were snuffed out. Bath even went on to add another try though Jacques Boussuge, and Vesty’s conversion effectively ended what was an exciting game of rugby.

Rather ironically it will be Bath who are disappointed following this result, and Newcastle who will be feeling a massive sensation of relief, as the thrilling comeback from Northampton against Leeds means that Bath will not qualify for the playoffs this season, and also Newcastle will still be playing Premiership rugby again next season. Bath however will content themselves with a place in Europe’s premier competition, the Heineken Cup, next season, and the recruiting opportunities it gives them.

Bath (29) 42

Tries: Vesty, Fernandez Lobbe, Carraro, Banahan, Boussuge Cons: James 3, Vesty Pens: James 3

Newcastle (0) 12

Tries: Tait, Fielden Cons: Manning

Bath: Vesty; Biggs, Carraro, Banahan, Abendanon; James, Claassens; Flatman, Mears, Lilley, Fernandez Lobbe, Grewcock, Skirving, Moody, Taylor.

Replacements: Boussuge for Banahan (68), Williams for James (68), McMillan for Claassens (68), Catt for Flatman (61), Dixon for Mears (61), Palma-Newport for Lilley (20), Watson for Skirving (52), Mercer for Moody (68).

Newcastle: Manning; Fielden, Tu’ipulotu, Fitzpatrick, A. Tait; Gopperth, Young; Golding, Thompson, Murray, Hudson, van der Heijden, M. Wilson, Gray, Hogg.

Replacements: Eves for Fitzpatrick (70), Bobo for Gopperth (47), Pilgrim for Young (61), Shiels for Golding (55), Vickers for Thompson (47), Brookes for Murray (55), Swinson for van der Heijden (55), Welch for Hogg (47).

Att: 12,200.

Ref: Wayne Barnes (RFU).

Exeter vs. London Wasps

With both teams languishing in mid-table and unable to have any effect on the outcome of the playoff race or relegation battle, this game has been billed as an anti-climax to the end of the season. However, with both teams having the potential to play good attacking rugby with the ball in hand, and their being very little of consequence to come out of the game, other than perhaps pride, we could be in for an exciting game at Sandy Park, with caution thrown to the wind and players eager to impress ahead of next season.

Wasps got off to an encouraging start as they were soon celebrating their first try, youngster Christian Wade going over for the side from High Wycombe. Exeter were determined to end their excellent first season in the Premiership on a high however, and by the interval had brought the score line back to 9-5 in their favour, Ignacio Meires on target with three penalties. If Wasps had been initially impressive in the first half, then Exeter were equally so in the second. Apart from a drop goal from Dave Walder, Wasps failed to add to their points tally and were subjected to tries from Tom Johnson and Matt Jess as Exeter went on to win 21-8.

The Chiefs capped off an excellent first season in the Premiership with an impressive win over a Wasps side very much in transition. Having cemented their place in the top flight of English rugby, Exeter will be hoping they can add to their squad and make a push at the other end of the table next season. Wasps meanwhile will be hurting after a season which falls far below expectations. Although a side in transition, no one at the club will be happy with their final position, mainly thanks to a dire second half of the season. There are however positives, with many exciting young players having received first team experience, Wasps will be hoping they can make an impact at the top of the table next season, the recruitment of players such as Steve Thompson will likely prove vital to this aim, providing much needed experience and brawn to an underpowered Wasps pack.

Exeter (9) 21

Tries: Johnson, Jess Cons: Mieres Pens:Mieres 3

Wasps (5) 8

Tries: Wade Drop-goals: Walder

Exeter: Arscott; Jess, Dollman, Naqelevuki, Sestaret; Mieres, Thomas; Sturgess, Clark, Tui; Hayes (capt), Hanks; Johnson, Scaysbrook, Baxter.

Replacements: Shoemark for Naqelevuki (61), Steenson for Mieres (69), Poluleuligaga for Thomas (78), Moon for Sturgess (67), Whitehead for Clark (56), Elosu for Tui (78), Slade for Hanks (75), Phillips for Johnson (75).

Wasps: Haughton; Daly, Jacobs, Flutey, Wade; Walder, Berry; Payne, Lindsay, Broster; Shaw, Birkett; Launchbury, Jones, Hart (capt).

Replacements: Jewell for Haughton (62), Lewsey for Walder (53), Baker for Payne (71), Ward for Lindsay (71), Taulafo for Broster (57), Cannon for Birkett (71), Burton for Hart (73).

Att: 10,522

Ref: Llyr Apgeraint-Roberts (RFU).

Gloucester vs. Sale Sharks

Gloucester will feel fairly assured of their place in the playoffs, knowing that a losing bonus point would be all that they need to maintain their place in the semi-finals, although this does not mean that the Cherry and White’s won’t be going all out for a win, as they look to ensure they finish as high as possible, giving themselves the best possible chance of getting through to the final. Sale meanwhile will be playing for little more than pride, as they effectively navigated themselves out of relegation troubles in their previous two matches.

Gloucester continued their good form of late and both Rory and Scott Lawson found themselves try scorers early in the match. Their impressive performance was added to when Henry Trinder broke through the Sale defence to add a try of his own, whilst all Sale could offer up in return was a Charlie Hodgson penalty, leaving the score at 19-3 at halftime. The Cherry and White’s then really cut loose in the second half, winger Charlie Sharples bagging himself a hat-trick 18 minutes into the half. Gloucester were not done however and added further tries from Nicky Robinson, James Simpson-Daniel and Dave Lewis in response to the two tries from Sale, leaving the final score as 68-17 to the home side.

The game will give great encouragement to Gloucester who now go into the playoffs in arguably the best form of any of the top four, and will be eagerly anticipating a trip to Vicarage Road to take on Saracens in a week’s time. Sale have been disappointing this season, yet their poor final position will not be what gives the fans the most cause for concern, it will instead be the imminent departure of fly-half Hodgson, who has been the most consistent player for Sale this season, and he will be sorely missed at Edgely Park next season, leaving the fans wondering how they will replace him.

Gloucester (19) 68

Tries: R Lawson, S Lawson, Trinder 2, Sharples 3, Robinson, Simpson-Daniel 2 Cons: Robinson 7, Taylor 2

Sale (3) 17

Tries: Rouse, McMillan Cons: Hodgson 2 Pens: Hodgson

Gloucester: Voyce; Sharples, Trinder, Fuimaono-Sapolu, Simpson-Daniel; Robinson, R Lawson; Wood, S Lawson, Doran-Jones; Attwood, Brown; Strokosch, Qera, Narraway (capt).

Replacements: Vainikolo for Voyce (56), Taylor for Robinson (68), Lewis for R. Lawson (59), Dickinson for Wood (49), Dawidiuk for S. Lawson (54), Harden for Doran-Jones (59), Hamilton for Brown (54), Deacon for Qera (62).

Sale: Macleod; Thornley, Bell, Tonetti, Addison; Hodgson (capt), Peel; Lewis-Roberts, Briggs, McIntyre; Rouse, C Jones; Gaskell, Fearns, Koyamaibole.

Replacements: Replacements: Miller for Hodgson (70), Croall for Imiolek (72), M Jones for Briggs (68), McMillan for C Jones (41).

Att: 15,000

Ref: David Rose (RFU)

Harlequins vs. Saracens

This match at The Stoop arguably provides one of the most competitive matches of the weekend, both sides desperate to ensure victory. Harlequins will be hoping that London Irish slip up and that they can capitalise, moving into the Heineken Cup places. Saracens on the other hand are only a point behind league leaders Leicester Tigers and will be similarly hoping that if the Tigers slip up, they can overtake them at the top of the table. Whatever happens, both teams will be eager to hear the result from Welford Road as they come off the pitch.

Despite the high levels of anticipation for this match, the first half failed to live up to expectations, with neither side able to dominate. If you had to give the half to one of the sides, then you’d probably say Quins looked the most likely to make something happen, however this did not change the fact the sides went into the interval with the scores tied at 6-6, two penalties apiece from Rory Clegg and Alex Goode for Quins and Saracens respectively. The second half served up an equally stale affair, at least in comparison to the other games going on, but did see the only tries of the game scored. First Owen Farrell went over for Saracens, giving them a hard fought lead, before converting his own try. Hopes of a Harlequins comeback were ignited when Saracens, down to 14 men, conceded a late try to Chris Robshaw. However it was too little too late for the home side, and Saracens triumphed 16-13 at the Stoop, sending them into their playoff match with Gloucester on the back of a well earned victory.

Harlequins were unlucky not to automatically qualify for next seasons Heineken Cup, being narrowly pipped by London Irish, but still have hopes of qualifying depending on their Amlin Challenge Cup final with Stade Francais. Saracens on the other hand will be confident heading into their playoff semi-final with Gloucester, entering the knockout stage as arguably the most complete and consistent side in the Premiership. However, that may prove to not be enough should they beat Gloucester and come up against a Leicester or Northampton side firing on all cylinders, as those sides can play with a dynamism that is nearly impossible to defend against.

Harlequins (6) 13

Tries: Robshaw Cons: Urdapilleta Pens: Clegg 2

Saracens (6) 16

Tries: Farrell Cons: Farrell Pens: Goode 2, Farrell

Harlequins: Brown, Camacho, Lowe, Turner-Hall, Monye, Clegg, Care, Jones, Cairns, Johnston, Kohn, Robson, Fa’asavalu, Robshaw, Easter.

Replacements: Chisholm for Monye (78), Urdapilleta for Clegg (70), Lambert for Jones (70), Buchanan for Cairns (70), Andress for Johnston (58), Browne for Kohn (62).

Not Used: Wallace, Moore.

Saracens: Goode, Strettle, Wyles, Barritt, Short, Farrell, De Kock, Stevens, Brits, Nieto, Smith, Botha, Burger, Saull, Joubert.

Replacements: Borthwick for Strettle (45), Mordt for Wyles (62), Cato for Farrell (74), Wigglesworth for de Kock (52), Gill for Stevens (45), George for Brits (68), Du Plessis for Nieto (62), Melck for Saull (60).

Sin-bin: Burger (75).

Att: 14,282

Ref: Tim Wigglesworth (RFU).

Leicester Tigers vs. London Irish

With Leicester sitting at the top of the table, and already guaranteed of a home semi-final, it will be interesting to see how the Tigers approach this match, possibly without the intensity that usually surrounds a Leicester performance, in the hopes that they come through this match unscathed for the coming weeks. London Irish though will definitely be giving it their all, knowing that a win for Harlequins at home to Saracens could see Quins rise above them and take their spot in the Heineken Cup for next season.

Much to the surprise of the home fans, it was London Irish who opened up a commanding lead, as a penalty from Tom Homer, was soon followed up by a Topsy Ojo try, where Homer was once more on target, this time with the conversion, all in response to Toby Flood’s initial penalty. Matt Smith’s try brought Leicester to within touching distance of London Irish’s lead, however Homer hit another penalty to re-extend it, and send the sides into the interval with the score 13-8 to the visitors. Things went from bad to worse for the home side at the beginning of the second half, Ojo running through for his second try of the day. Despite this increase in London Irish’s lead, the Tigers went on to mount an extraordinary comeback, scoring four unanswered tries through Horacio Agulla, Anthony Allen, Tom Croft and Antilea Tuilagi, denying London Irish even a losing bonus point as the scores finished 32-23 to Leicester.

The epic second half performance from Leicester means that the Tigers finish the regular season top of the Premiership, and now face a home semi-final against Northampton. Arguably the two best sides in the Premiership on their day, this semi-final offers a tantalising feast of rugby which, in my opinion, will provide us with the eventual Premiership champion. London Irish will not be completely disheartened by how this season has gone, as they have secured Heineken Cup rugby, yet their early performances this season will have given them much higher aspirations than a Heineken Cup place. They will be hoping however, that with a few key additions this summer to give them greater strength in depth, that they can pose a real challenge to the top four next season.

Leicester (8) 32

Tries: Smith, Agulla, Allen, Croft, A. Tuilagi Cons: Flood 2 Pens: Flood London Irish (13) 23

Tries: Ojo 2 Cons: Homer 2 Pens: Homer 3

Leicester: Hamilton, Smith, M. Tuilagi, Allen, A. Tuilagi, Flood, Youngs, Ayerza, Chuter, Castrogiovanni, Slater, Skivington, Croft, Newby, Waldrom.

Replacements: Agulla for Smith (60), Grindal for Youngs (77), Hawkins for Chuter (60), Cole for Castrogiovanni (53), Mafi for Slater (53), Woods for Newby (71).

Not Used: Stankovich, Staunton.

London Irish: Homer, Ojo, Joseph, Mapusua, Thompstone, Bowden, Hodgson, Dermody, Paice, Rautenbach, Kennedy, Casey, Gibson,

S Armitage, Thorpe.

Replacements: Malone for Mapusua (77), Allinson for Hodgson (79), Lahiff for Dermody (60), Buckland for Paice (65), Corbisiero for Rautenbach (45), G Johnson for Casey (60), Hala’ufia for Thorpe (53).

Not Used: Seveali’i.

Att: 24,000

Ref: Greg Garner

Northampton Saints vs. Leeds Carnegie

Although favourites to claim the fourth and final playoff position, Northampton will have to make sure they remain focused and beat Leeds to ensure that Bath do not pip them at the post and move into fourth. And Leeds will be no pushover that’s for sure, the Yorkshire side currently sit bottom of the table, a point behind Newcastle, and although they need results to go their way today, they will be doing their utmost to gain the win and put themselves in as good a position as possible come the end of today’s matches.

Leeds started their game magnificently, blowing Northampton away right from the off, registering tries from Hendrie Fourie, Rhys Oakley and Pete Wackett in the first 18 minutes, Adrian Jarvis converting all three tries. The Saints began to impose themselves on the game as the half went on, Phil Dowson scoring their first try, and the referee awarding a penalty try after Northampton put the Leeds defence under severe pressure just metres out from the Leeds try line. Both teams then shared penalties, sending the home side into the break trailing 15-24, and allowing the visitors to dream of another season in the Premiership. Northampton continued their comeback at the beginning of the second half, Chris Ashton going over and Shane Geraghty adding the extras. The Saints then put themselves into the lead, and extended said lead with three penalties from Stephen Myler, ensuring that Saints won the game, the final score line 31-24 to the home side.

Another thrilling comeback on the final day of the regular season saw Northampton clinch the final playoff place, much to the anguish of Bath fans who at halftime must have thought their side had done enough to steal it away from the Saints. Northampton now have to travel to Welford Road for their semi-final, an imposing enough suggestion in the regular season, let alone the knockout stages. The most anguish however will be heaped upon Leeds fans who were thrilled to have scored three unanswered tries in the first 18 minutes of the game, and will know that one more try will have awarded them the bonus point they needed to finish above Newcastle in the table. Unfortunately for Leeds it was not to be so, and they will have to contend with the threats of Championship rugby next season. Although still in disbelief at letting their significant lead slip away from them, players and fans alike will both be confident that they can bounce straight back up to the Premiership, becoming a stronger club as a result.

Northampton (15) 31

Tries: Dowson, penalty, Ashton Cons: Geraghty 2 Pens: Geraghty, Myler 3

Leeds (24) 24

Tries: Fourie, Oakley, Wackett Cons: Jarvis 3 Pens: Jarvis

Northampton: Foden; Ashton, Ansbro, Downey, Diggin; Geraghty, Commins; Waller, Sharman, Mujati; Sorenson, Day; Easter, Dowson (capt), Wilson.

Replacements: Hartley, Tonga’uiha, Mercey, Lawes, Clark, Dickson, Myler, Reihana.

Leeds: Stephenson; Blackett, Fa’afili, Barrow, Wackett; Jarvis, Mathie; MacDonald, Nilsen, Gomez; Browne, Myall (capt); Oakley, Fourie, To’oala.

Replacements: Hardy, Denman, Swainston, Denton, White, Lewis-Pratt, Oduoza.