Try-scorers, points-kickers and top tacklers are all among the Saints after another exciting round of Aviva Premiership and Guinness Pro12 matches, while the Sinners produced a punch and a pout.
George Smith was named Man of the Match in Wasps’ 24-18 win over Bath in the Aviva Premiership and he was prominent with the ball in hand and in defence. One of the Australian’s 14 tackles was a real game-changer. With Wasps leading 8-3 as half-time approached, Matt Banahan was heading for the line at full tilt. Wasps had dominated territory and possession in the first half but if Banahan had scored then the whole momentum of the match might have swung in Bath’s favour.
However, Smith managed to hold him up short of the line and although Bath subsequently won and kicked a penalty, the Wasps openside stopped the home team from taking a morale-boosting lead into the break and played a major part in securing the win for Wasps.
Frank Halai also deserves a mention, for scoring two important tries.
They ain’t half good
Two outside-halves who have both been in fine form produced match-winning performances again this weekend. In the Guinness Pro12, Sam Davies landed five penalties and a conversion in the Ospreys’ 27-13 win over Edinburgh and kept Edinburgh on the back foot with his flat attacking play and intelligent kicking. His only miss from the tee was a late conversion and Davies also put in a chip which was gathered by Ben John, who then gave a scoring pass to Sam Underhill.
In the Aviva Premiership Andy Goode kicked 16 points for Newcastle Falcons in their priceless 26-25 win over Northampton, and set up a try for Alex Tait with a long, looping pass off his left hand. A chunk of the credit for this win must also go to the Falcons forwards who managed to steal the ball from an attacking Northampton lineout at the death. Mouritz Botha and Richard Mayhew both seemed to get a touch as the ball bobbled up from the lineout and Northampton were denied the chance to go for a winning score.
Points in the puddles
The Guinness Pro12 teams defied some horribly wet conditions to produce a total of 280 points in the weekend’s six matches, which is the most from a single round in the competition this season (thanks to Stuart Farmer for the stat). Connacht contributed 51 to that total with their big win at Zebre, and Matt Healy scored a hat-trick of tries for the Irish province, who are top of the table.
Glasgow Warriors and Munster amassed 51 points between them as Glasgow won their clash 27-24, thanks to a late try from Glenn Bryce, a brace from prop Sila Puafisi and a length-of-the-pitch score by Duncan Weir.
The toast of Treviso
Take a bow Alberto Sgarbi! The Treviso inside centre played a major role in securing his club’s second Guinness Pro12 win of the season when he tackled Hallam Amos into touch as the Dragons wing attempted to snatch a victory with a try at the death. Sgarbi took him out in the corner and the Italians hung on for a 19-17 win.
Botica bounces back
Three defeats on the bounce meant Harlequins were desperate for a win against Leicester Tigers on Friday and they delivered a 25-19 victory thanks in no small part to the work of Ben Botica and Luke Wallace.
Botica had more demons to exorcise than most after his schoolboy error at the death cost Quins a win against Northampton two weeks ago. He put that horror show well and truly behind him by kicking 20 points – six super penalties and a conversion – and pouncing on a turnover ball then putting through a great grubber kick to set up the match-winning try for Marland Yarde.
Wallace was heroic in defence and around the breakdown, making 15 tackles and causing the Tigers all kinds of trouble.
There could have been a place among the Sinners for the idiot in the crowd who thought it was clever to shout out and break the silence as Botica was about to kick his fifth penalty, but he doesn’t deserve the attention. Happily Botica was not put off.
He only flew into England last Monday, so whether Francois Hougaard even knew the names of all his Worcester Warriors team-mates by Saturday must be debatable, but the scrum-half enjoyed a great debut at Sixways, scoring a try and helping the Warriors to their first Premiership win since 7 November. Hougaard was lively in attack, linking well with his new pals and giving Worcester plenty of momentum and he made 16 tackles – not a bad start.
Pack power, penalties and parenthood
The Saracens pack deserves plaudits for overcoming the loss of hooker Schalk Brits to a first-half red card and taking their team to a 25-12 win over Gloucester. Charlie Hodgson played a big role by turning the penalties the pack won into points – kicking four of them in the last 25 minutes of the game – while Juan Figallo is also a Saracens hero for turning up to play the match just a couple of hours after his wife had given birth to their first son.
King bosses it
Regan King was the Man of the Match in the Scarlets’ nail-biting 21-20 win at Ulster 21-20 – the Welsh side’s first win in Belfast for eight years. Combining brilliantly with his centre partner Hadleigh Parkes, King’s silky distribution skills and great rugby brain were instrumental to the win and to both the tries Michael Collins scored. It took strong defence from the Scarlets to close out the game and secure the four points which keep them firmly in the hunt for a top two finish.
Saracens hooker Schalk Brits was sent off in the first half of Saturday’s clash with Gloucester for punching Nick Wood. The prop cleared Brits out of a ruck, leaving him in an awkward position on his back and Brits lashed out at Wood as he lay on top of him, splitting his lip and doing enough damage to mean the Gloucester man failed a head injury assessment and had to sit out the rest of the game. Brits must have feared that he had condemned his team to a loss, but in fact his 14 team-mates rallied and won 25-12. However, Gloucester’s set piece crumbled without Wood at its fulcrum, so in some ways Brits’ crime paid.
Out of reach
Fergus McFadden missed out on a try for Leinster at Cardiff Blues, but fortunately his mistake did not prove decisive as the Irish visitors still won. Ian Madigan put a grubber kick through the defence and McFadden gathered it, was hauled down short of the line but still should have been able to reach over and ground the ball. However, it pinged forward out of the wing’s grasp as he lunged for the line. Admittedly, the conditions were extremely wet so the ball was slippery, but McFadden would still hope to have done better.
It was a tale of missed drop-goals for a trio of teams in the Guinness Pro12. Dragons outside-half Angus O’Brien hit the upright with what could have been a match-winning shot from in front of the posts on the 22 in the 79th minute. Edinburgh hung on for a 19-17 win as a result, but O’Brien’s team-mates were also at fault for not chasing his kick, so not capitalising on the rebound.
Rhys Patchell had a late drop-goal charged down in Cardiff Blues’ 14-13 home loss to Leinster. The ball had barely left his boot before the defence were on him, suggesting the Blues should have been a bit more patient to set up a better chance for their full-back.
Ian Keatley was also wide of the mark with a drop-goal with six minutes remaining of Munster’s 27-24 defeat by Glasgow Warriors. Perhaps a few more hours of practice will be put in this week around the regions and provinces.
Misses and moans
Danny Cipriani had a day to forget as Sale lost 31-23 at Worcester and he missed all four conversions. None of the kicks were in front of the posts but he should have done better and the fly-half compounded those errors by failing to stop Francois Hougaard when he darted round the right of a driving maul close to the line. A big hit to drive the scrum-half back was called for, and Cipriani was brushed aside far too easily. For all his skills, it is off days like this that keep Cipriani out of the England picture.
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Alongside Cipriani on the Sinners’ seat is his boss, Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond, who moaned that referee Greg Garner favoured Worcester after the Warriors’ boss Dean Ryan had complained at the start of the week about referees giving his team a raw deal over the season as a whole. Instead of looking to his own players, Diamond said: “The first eight or nine decisions go against us. We weren’t in great shape from the first minute really, so well done to Dean Ryan – great management.”
I wonder if Diamond shared his sour grapes with Cipriani as they contemplated the defeat?