Rugby World reader Alex Shaw takes a look at this weekend’s LV CUp semi-finals, and the single Aviva Premiership match, which were lost a little in an exciting RBS 6 Nations weekend, but still provided two cracking, and compelling, rugby occasions.

LV= Cup Semi-Finals (and Leeds vs. Northampton)

Harlequins (13) 20

Tries: Dickson, Brown Cons: Clegg 2 Pens: Clegg 2
Newcastle (6) 21
Tries: Gopperth, Tu’ipulotu Cons: Gopperth Pens: Gopperth 3

Despite Newcastle Falcons well earned victory over Harlequins a week before at Kingston Park, the trip down to the Stoop had almost everyone predicting a Harlequins victory. However, Newcastle, with a place in the final in their sights, were to prove all their critics wrong in this LV= Cup semi-final. The game started much as expected for Conor O’Shea’s side as Karl Dickson went over for Quins, with Rory Clegg converting, before adding two further penalties, with the Falcons only able to offer two Jimmy Gopperth penalties in resistance as the sides went in 13-6 at the break. Gopperth then went on to convert his own try at the beginning of the second half, levelling the scores, which perhaps belied Quins dominance in the game so far. However, their dominance soon began to tell as Mike Brown dived over to re-take the lead for Quins, before Clegg added the extras. As the game drew to a close though, Gopperth kicked a penalty to keep the Falcons within four points of Quins, before Tane Tu’ipulotu powered over in injury time to make the score 21-20 and complete an exhilarating end to a game which Falcons fans will long remember. With the final against Gloucester just a week away, and their rampant victory over Newport fresh in their minds, the smart money will once again be on the Falcons to lose, but Alan Tait is not one for believing in the odds. If the Falcons can gain parity in the set piece, and half-backs Mickey Young and Gopperth can unleash a backline consisting of talents such as Gcobani Bobo and Alex Tait, then the Falcons can be in contention right up to the 80th minute.

Saturday 12th March 2011

Leeds (6) 13
Tries: Paul Cons: Jarvis Pens: Jarvis 2
Northampton (10) 23
Tries: Myler, Diggin Cons: Myler 2 Pens: Myler 3

After an important victory for Leeds Carnegie at home to London Irish last week, their hopes for Premiership survival had been rekindled, but these were soon doused by an efficient Northampton Saints team who looked to struggle very little from the loss of their Six Nations contingent, contrary to much of their recent form. Carrying on their impressive form from the week before, Leeds took an early lead with an Adrian Jarvis penalty, but this lead was not to last long as Leeds full-back Michael Stephenson dropped a kick from Stephen Myler, with Myler himself running on through to capitalise and score a try, before going on to convert.  The rest of the first half played out fairly uneventfully with Jarvis and Myler sharing a penalty apiece as the Saints went into the break 10-6 up. Saints class began to show in the second-half however, and two more Myler penalties took the game beyond a tired looking Leeds side. This lead was then compounded by a neat inside pass from Myler which found Paul Diggin, and the winger had no problem running in his side’s second try, and an epic performance from Myler continued as he converted the try, taking his side’s point tally to 23. Leeds managed to conjure up a consolation try through Danny Paul, and despite Jarvis registering the conversion; his last minute penalty miss meant that Carnegie failed to score themselves a losing bonus point. With Leeds unable to score back-to-back home victories, especially over a Saints side who were on a very poor run of form, it seems difficult to see them managing to fight their way out of the drop zone, and their next fixture away at Sale could seal their fate, unless they record anything other than a win over their relegation rivals.

Sunday 13th March 2011

Gloucester (17) 45
Tries: Hazell, Fuimaono-Sapolu, Robinson, Sharples 4
Robinson 5
Newport Gwent-Dragons (0) 17
Tries: Jones, Brew, Groves Cons: Tovey

An in-form Gloucester hosted the Newport Gwent-Dragons in the second LV= Cup semi-final, with the winner facing the Newcastle Falcons in a week at Franklin’s Gardens. Despite the Dragons owning the accolade of being the only Welsh region to have made it past the group stages of any cup competition this season, they were to be no match for a free-scoring Gloucester. The first half was a distinctly one-sided affair, with Gloucester going into the break 17-0 up, thanks to tries from Andy Hazell, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu and Nicky Robinson, with Robinson adding a sole conversion.  Although Gloucester seemed to switch off defensively after the break, and conceded tries to Adam Rhys Jones, Aled Brew and Jevon Groves, the second-half could best be described as the Charlie Sharples show, the winger crossing the line four times to ensure the game was well out of reach for the Dragons. Though it would be unfair to attribute no praise to the Newport offence, who began to look far more clinical in the second-half, Gloucester’s defensive frailties will have worried coach Bryan Redpath, and taken the shine off of what could have been a very pleasing win for the Scotsman. Although they go into next week’s final against Newcastle as clear favourites, Gloucester should take nothing for granted, especially in a week where the mighty French were humbled by the Italians, and will have to ensure they do the basics well before they even think about trying to exhibit their arguably more proficient brand of skilful running rugby. No matter who comes out on top next week at Twickenham, we can be assured of an exciting game from two teams determined to bring home the first silverware of the season, and will leave everything they have out on the pitch.