By Rugby World reader Alex Shaw

Sale Sharks vs. Leeds Carnegie

Both teams went into this game knowing that a win was vital for their chances of surviving relegation, a defeat for Leeds would spell almost certain doom for the Yorkshire side, whilst Sale knew that a loss for them would put them under pressure, and give Leeds a much needed confidence boost. The visitors made an optimistic start, replying to Charlie Hodgson’s early penalty with a try from Henry Fa’Afilli which was converted by Adrian Jarvis. Jarvis then had the opportunity to extend the visitors lead, but the fly-half hit the post not once, but twice, with his penalty attempts, whilst Hodgson had no such problems, registering another two penalties for the Sharks, and ensuring the home side took a lead into the break. Hodgson got Sale off to a good start in the second half, adding six more points to their total with two more penalties. Leeds attempted to get back into the match, and almost did when Michael Stephenson crossed the line, and with Jarvis’ missed conversion, Leeds managed to secure a losing bonus point and keep alive the slimmest hopes of Premiership survival. For Sale it was once more the story of Hodgson, the fly-half putting in a resplendent performance, leaving Saracens fans licking their lips at the prospect of what he can bring to their side, whilst Sale fans will be hoping the club management can get on with recruitment and procure a player of Hodgsons ability, otherwise they may find themselves in an even tougher position next season.

Sale (9) 15
Pens: Hodgson 5
Leeds (7) 12
Tries: Fa’afili, Stephenson Cons: Jarvis

Sale: MacLeod, Cohen, Bell, Tuilagi, Cueto, Hodgson, Peel, Imiolek, Briggs, Thomas, C. Jones, Lewaravu, Gaskell, McMillan, Koyamaibole.

Replacements: Tonetti for Tuilagi (34), Cliff for Peel (75), E. Roberts for Imiolek (28), M. Jones for Briggs (78), Cox for C. Jones (63), Seymour for McMillan (54).

Sin Bin: Cueto (78).

Leeds: Stephenson, Blackett, Fa’afili, Burrell, Wackett, Jarvis, Mathie, MacDonald, Thompson, Swainston, Browne, Hohneck, Myall, Fourie, To’oala.

Replacements: Tadulala for Fa’afili (78), Hardy for MacDonald (32), Freer for Thompson (55), Gomez for Swainston (62), Paul for Hohneck (71), Oakley for To’oala (66).

Att: 6,972

Ref: Wayne Barnes (RFU).

Saturday 26th March 2011

London Irish vs. Exeter Chiefs

These two clubs positions in the league failed to portray their recent form accurately, Exeter coming into this game off the back of a highly impressive win over Northampton Saints, whilst London Irish were looking to bounce back after a surprise defeat to a previously resurgent Leeds side. And they made a good start to this aim, with Delon Armitage going over in just 39 seconds, and although Tom Homer couldn’t convert, he had no trouble slotting home the kick minutes later when Steffon Armitage followed his brothers suit and scored a try minutes later. Exeter tried to work their way back into the game, and looked to have succeeded when Chris Budgen powered over to reduce the deficit to 12-5 as the teams went into the interval. Gareth Steenson continued Exeter’s revival in the second half as he brought the teams within four points as he nailed a penalty, and the first points of the second half. Whilst Steenson went on to score three more penalties, Irish never looked in danger o f giving up their lead, and the four points, as David Paice and Steffon Armitage broke through a tired Exeter defence to add two more tries, and secure a bonus point for the home side. Homer’s boot continued to be on good form for the rest of the game, and the final score ended up at 39-17 to Irish. News of Leeds’ defeat will have done much to lessen the disappointments of the Exeter players, who will now be assured of their place in the Premiership next season, barring a miraculous set of results going against them. Irish on the other hand will not be looking behind them, but instead ahead, as they use this as the perfect momentum to launch a late push for the top four, and a playoff place.

London Irish (18) 39
Tries: D Armitage, S Armitage 2, Paice Cons: Homer 2 Pens: Homer 5
Exeter (8) 17
Tries: Budgen Pens: Steenson 4

London Irish: D Armitage; Ojo, Seveali’i, Mapusua, Homer; Bowden, Hodgson; Dermody, Buckland, Rautenbach; Kennedy, Casey; Gibson, S Armitage, Stowers.

Replacements: Thompstone for Ojo (74), Lamb for Bowden (74), Allinson for Hodgson (56), Paice for Buckland (48), Corbisiero for Rautenbach (48), Thorpe for Kennedy (78), G. Johnson for Casey (20).

Exeter: Arscott; Jess, Shoemark, Naqelevuki, Sestaret; Steenson, Thomas; Sturgess, Clark, Budgen; Hayes, Hanks; Johnson, Scaysbrook, Baxter.

Replacements: Nadolo for Jess (60), Poluleuligaga for Thomas (24), Alcott for Clark (62), Tui for Budgen (60), Slade for Hanks (18), Phillips for Johnson (56).

Sin Bin: Scaysbrook (56).

Att: 20,011

Ref: Greg Garner (RFU).

Harlequins vs. Gloucester

Gloucester travelled to the Stoop in an optimistic mood following their LV= Cup win a week previously, and their opponents, Harlequins, were eager to put their semi-final loss in the same competition, to Newcastle, out of their minds. Quins set about attacking the visitors right from the off, and after a successful Rory Clegg penalty, Joe Gray found a mismatch, and the hooker powered through the tackle of Nicky Robinson. Clegg and Robinson then traded a penalty apiece before George Robson and Ugo Monye both crossed the line to demonstrate Quins domination over a tired looking Gloucester side. Quins attack did not relent in the second half and soon Monye was going over for his second and the home sides fourth, securing an important bonus point, before George Lowe scored his first try of the day. Gloucester managed to summon up some strength however, and hit back through Henry Trinder, although it was too little too late for the Cherry and White’s as Quins responded with two further tries, one from Monye as the winger sealed his hat-trick, and another from Lowe, his brace completing a fantastic day for the Harlequins wingers. The action was not over though as the last play of the game saw Tim Molenaar try salvage some pride for the side from the West Country as he touched down to end a game to forget for Gloucester. The win will have hurt Gloucester, who would have hoped their LV= Cup win could spur them on and help their impressive form, yet they are still firmly in place for a playoff place come the end of the season and will hope to get back to winning ways soon. Harlequins on the other hand will have gained from this game everything that Gloucester had hoped to take from it. The bonus point win moves Quins closer to the elusive top four, and the manner of the victory will have done them no harm as they come to business end of the season.

Harlequins (24) 53
Tries: Gray, Robson, Monye 3, Lowe 2 Cons: Clegg 6 Pens: Clegg 2
Gloucester (3) 15
Tries: Trinder, Molenaar Cons: Robinson Pens: Robinson

Harlequins: Brown; Camacho, Lowe, Turner-Hall, Monye; Clegg, Care; Marler, Gray, Andress; Kohn, Robshaw; Fa’asavalu, Robson, Easter.

Replacements: Williams for Brown (71), Urdapilleta for Turner-Hall (58), Moore for Care (67), Jones for Marler (55), Brooker for Gray (55), Lambert for Andress (55), Vallejos for Kohn (58), Skinner for Robshaw (64).

Gloucester: Burns; Sharples, Molenaar, Fuimaono-Sapolu, Voyce; Robinson, R Lawson; Dickinson, S Lawson, Doran-Jones; James, Attwood; Strokosch, Qera, Narraway.

Replacements: May for Sharples (13), Trinder for Fuimaono-Sapolu (51), Pasqualin for R. Lawson (73), Thomas for Dickinson (60), Azam for S. Lawson (56), Harden for Doran-Jones (51), Brown for Attwood (67), Cox for Qera (56).

Sin Bin: James (58).

Att: 14,282

Ref: JP Doyle (RFU).

Bath vs. Leicester Tigers

Both Bath and Leicester were eager to put their previous Premiership results behind them, with losses to Gloucester and Saracens respectively, and the two week break will have given them plenty of time to work on what went wrong. The returning Toby Flood broke the deadlock with a penalty, before Leicester hit Bath on the break and Anthony Allen crossed over the line, after beating Matt Banahan with a clever dummy. Leicester then compounded Bath’s misery as Ben Youngs found a gap at the back of the lineout and passed to Tom Croft, as the England internationals linked up well for the score. Youngs was once again the source for Leicester mirth as he found himself in space and fed the ball to Flood who went over in the corner. Unlike the relatively efficient kicking of Flood, Bath, and Butch James, were successful with only one out of six penalty kicks, and as such, went into the break 22-3 down. Despite James landing a penalty at the beginning of the second half, this only served to bring out the best of the Tigers, with Flood going on to add his second try, a penalty, and converting Croft’s second try to give Leicester maximum possible momentum going into the last few games of the season. Bath, although being consigned to their record home Premiership defeat, will still have hopes of making the playoffs as they have two games in hand over most of their top half rivals. With Leicester flying high at the top of the table, they arguably weren’t in need of the impetuous and momentum of the returning Six Nations stars as much as some either sides, but that means they will be no less pleased about it, the form of players such as Youngs, Flood and Croft will fill Tigers fans with confidence.

Bath (3) 6
Pens: James 2
Leicester (22) 37
Tries: Allen, Croft 2, Flood 2 Cons: Flood 3 Pens: Flood 2

Bath: Abendanon, Banahan, Williams, Vesty, Biggs, James, Claassens, Flatman, Mears, Bell, Hooper, Grewcock, Skirving, Watson, Taylor.

Replacements: Cuthbert for Abendanon (67), Hape for Vesty (60), McMillan for Claassens (60), Catt for Flatman (55), Dixon for Mears (60), Wilson for Bell (52), Fernandez Lobbe for Grewcock (60), Mercer for Watson (72).

Sin Bin: Fernandez Lobbe (68).

Leicester: Hamilton, Agulla, M Tuilagi, Allen, A Tuilagi, Flood, Youngs, Ayerza, Chuter, Cole, Mafi, Slater, Croft, Newby, Waldrom.

Replacements: Smith for M. Tuilagi (67), Staunton for Flood (74), Grindal for Youngs (58), Stankovich for Ayerza (64), Hawkins for Chuter (64), White for Cole (64), Woods for Newby (60), Crane for Waldrom (52).

Sin Bin: Slater (18), Agulla (68).

Att: 12,200

Ref: Dave Pearson (RFU).

Sunday 27th March 2011

Northampton Saints vs. London Wasps

In a weekend of high-scoring, one-sided results, this game followed the tredn. A fairly open start from both sides saw Northampton go ahead through a Stephen Myler penalty before Dave Walder equalised for Wasps with a penalty of his own.  This would be the last time Wasps were on level terms with the Saints as Brian Mujati soon went over in the corner thanks to an overlap and a Dylan Hartley pass which Myler converted well from a difficult angle. Joe Simpson then prevented the Saints from moving too far ahead with a last ditch try saving tackle on Chris Ashton, however this was only to be short lived as referee Dean Richards awarded Northampton a penalty try, duly converted by Myler, after they continuously put pressure on a crumbling Wasps scrum on the latter’s five meter line. Ben Foden then gave Northampton the perfect end to the half as he raced onto a kick which landed deep in Wasps’s territory, and outpaced Richard Haughton to dive on the ball once it was over the try line, although the post denied Myler from adding the extras. The second half fared no better for the visitors as another returning England player, Ashton, had a simple run in in the corner after Hartley drew two defenders before passing to the speedster for another five points, substitute Shane Geraghty adding the two extra. On a bleak day for Wasps, not even the appearance of club legend Josh Lewsey ten minutes before the end could bring much cheer to the visiting fans, especially as the game ended with Stuart Commins picking up a loose ball which squirmed out of a scrum and having no trouble breaking a tackle to score and add to Wasps’ misery, Geraghty once again reliably adding the extras. Although club coaches will insist to fans and players alike that they are not out of the playoff chase yet, it is almost impossible to see them challenging for a place now, and the club should remain focused on ensuring that they attain Heineken Cup rugby for next season, and look to build from there. The return of Saints’ England contingent could not have come at a better time for the side from Franklin’s Gardens, as Foden, Hartley and especially Courtney Lawes all looked in exceptional form, and the Saints will be pleased to be back in the play-off places.

Northampton (22) 39
Tries: Mujati, penalty, Foden, Ashton, Commins Cons: Myler 2, Geraghty 2 Pens: Myler 2
Wasps (3) 3
Pens: Walder

Northampton: Foden, Ashton, Clarke, Downey, Diggin, Myler, Dickson, Tonga’uiha, Hartley, Mujati, Lawes, Day, Dowson, Wood, Wilson.

Replacements: Reihana for Downey (68), Geraghty for Myler (55), Commins for Dickson (68), Waller for Tonga’uiha (57), Sharman for Hartley (68), Mercey for Mujati (64), Sorenson for Day (64), Clark for Dowson (62).

Wasps: Haughton, Simpson, Kefu, Flutey, Lemi, Walder, Berry, Payne, Webber, Taulafo, Shaw, Birkett, Hart, Worsley, Ward-Smith.

Replacements: Wallace for Kefu (21), van Gisbergen for Walder (57), Lewsey for Berry (70), French for Payne (65), Lindsay for Webber (58), Cannon for Birkett (40), Betsen Tchoua for Worsley (40). Not Used: Broster.

Att: 13,385.

Ref: D Richards (RFU).

Saracens vs. Newcastle Falcons

The last match of an exciting and free scoring weekend of Premiership rugby saw Newcastle Falcons, keen to move on from their less than impressive performance in last weeks’ LV= Cup final, visit a motivated Saracens side, who were still flying high from their victory of Leicester in their last Premiership match. Saracens were definitely on the front foot from the beginning, and a try from James Short, as well as a penalty a piece from Owen Farrell and Alex Goode put the home side in a dominant position. Despite good endeavour from the Falcons, a single Jimmy Gopperth penalty was all they could muster in the first half. The second half however started far more brightly for the visitors, with Gopperth adding two more penalties, and bringing the Falcons to within two points of Saracens.  The home side kept up the pressure on Newcastle, and before long Farrell had added two more penalties, extending their lead back to eight points. Newcastle’s defence had held strong since Short had scored earlier in the game, but they finally relented as  Jared Saunders broke through and touched down to take the result beyond the reaches of Newcastle, Farrell finished the game off with a conversion, and completed a good performance with the boot from the Saracens youngster. The Falcons will now be anxiously looking over their shoulders at Leeds, especially if they cannot find some form of their own to try and get them out of their precarious position. Saracens meanwhile have concerns of a completely different manner, and closed the points gap on Leicester at the top, as they look to try and secure themselves a playoff place in what could be the most hotly contended Premiership run-in in years.

Saracens (11) 24
Tries: Short, Saunders Cons: Farrell Pens: Goode, Farrell 3
Newcastle (3) 9
Pens: Gopperth 3

Saracens: Goode, Strettle, Wyles, Barrett, Short, Farrell, de Kock, Stevens, Brits, Nieto, Borthwick, Smith, Melck, Saull, Joubert.

Replacements: Cato for Short (64), Wigglesworth for de Kock (15), Saunders for Stevens (62), George for Brits (70), Du Plessis for Nieto (53), Vyvyan for Smith (53), K. Brown for Melck (41). Not Used: Powell.

Newcastle: Catterick, A. Tait, Eves, Fitzpatrick, Sheriffe, Gopperth, Pilgrim, Golding, Thompson, Hall, Hudson, van der Heijden, Swinson, Welch, Hogg.

Replacements: Tu’ipulotu for Fitzpatrick (55), Young for Pilgrim (55), Shiels for Golding (66), Vickers for Thompson (49), Brookes for Hall (47), M. Wilson for van der Heijden (66), Gray for Hogg (70). Not Used: Hodgson.

Sin Bin: Hogg (60).

Att: 7,135.

Ref: Martin Fox (RFU).