By Alex Shaw

Sale Sharks vs. Gloucester

Sale went into this game hoping that home advantage might be able to help them overcome the odds and beat playoff hopefuls Gloucester. Freddie Burns opened the scoring however, registering a penalty for Gloucester, Charlie Hodgson soon cancelling it out with one of his own, as the fly-half broke the 1,000 point barrier. Burns was again at the centre of the action as he neat offload found Tim Molenaar, and the centre ran a good line, puncturing the Sale defence and going over from a short distance, with Burns converting. Burns went on to add his second penalty, however Hodgson kept Sale within touching distance, successfully kicking two further penalties. Gloucester, despite having the lion’s share of possession in the first half, went into the interval 16-13 down after Andy Tuilagi surged down the wing before finding Paul Williams, who went over in the corner, and stand out player Hodgson hit the difficult conversion. Gloucester regained parity after the break though as Burns kicked a penalty, before Hodgson predictably hit back with one of his own. Soon after however Sale ignited, and Will Addison lengthened Sale’s lead with a try, followed minutes later by Williams second of the night. The win, and the bonus point, were secured shortly after when Hodgson ran in a try to complete a virtuoso performance from the fly-half, and leave Sale wondering how they will fill the significant void he will leave at the end of the season. Gloucester managed to keep the score line respectable, despite acknowledging the game was probably beyond them, as Jonny May went over in the corner, before Gloucester were also awarded a penalty try, Tim Taylor kicking the conversion to gain a valuable losing bonus point for the visitors. Sale surely cannot be caught now by either Leeds or Newcastle, and will instead be focusing on recruitment and preparation for next season. Meanwhile, Gloucester’s loss doesn’t change too much at the top of the table, keeping them a fair distance off of Leicester and Saracens, but still beyond the reaches of the chasing London Irish.

Sale (16) 36
Tries: Williams 2, Addison, Hodgson Cons: Hodgson 2 Pens: Hodgson 4 Gloucester (13) 31
Tries: Molenaar, May, penalty Cons: Burns, Taylor Pens: Burns 3, Taylor

Sale: MacLeod; Cohen, Bell, Tuilagi, Williams; Hodgson, Cliff; Lewis-Roberts, Briggs, Thomas; C Jones, Lewaravu; Cox, Gaskell, Koyamaibole.

Replacements: Addison for Cohen (26), Thornley for Tuilagi (65), McMillan for E Roberts (71), M. Jones for Briggs (69), Rouse for C Jones (78).
Not Used: Imiolek, McIntyre, Leck.

Gloucester: Morgan; May, Trinder, Molenaar, Voyce; Burns, R Lawson; Wood, S Lawson, Doran-Jones; Attwood, Brown; Strokosch, Qera, Narraway (capt).

Replacements: Fuimaono-Sapolu for Molenaar (41), Taylor for Burns (56), Pasqualin for R Lawson (69), Dickinson for Wood (69), Azam for S. Lawson (59), Harden for Doran-Jones (56), James for Brown (73), Deacon for Narraway (62).

Attendance: 6,888

Referee: Sean Davey (RFU).

Saturday 9th April 2011

Bath vs. Exeter Chiefs

Bath’s slim hopes of making the play-offs required a long overdue victory to stay alive, ideally securing a bonus point in the process. Michael Claassens nearly gave Bath a dream start when he picked up a charge down in Exeter territory, but unfortunately the scrum-half was unable to capitalise on Exeter’s mistake. Given this let off, it was the Chiefs who were actually the first to score, Gareth Steenson steering home a penalty. Exeter’s pressure began to pay off and they scored the first try of the game when Luke Arscott evaded a tackle before kicking over Sam Vesty and collecting it himself. Arscott then had an easy run in to record an excellent solo try and give Steenson an easy conversion. Butch James, overcoming his recent poor form, brought Bath to within a score of Exeter as he kicked two penalties, and went onto help Bath take the lead when his short pop pass found the marauding Matt Banahan, and the sizeable winger stormed through the Exeter defence and went over for Bath’s first try, sending the sides into the interval with Bath 13-8 up, despite Exeter’s dominance of the first half. Bath made a far better start to the second half than they did to the first, and following a lineout in Exeter territory, Matt Carraro was able to run in a try for Bath, and extend their lead. With Exeter reduced to 13 men following the sin-binning of James Scaysbrook and Hoani Tua, Bath’s pressure finally told when Nathan Catt made 50 metres with a searing run, before passing to Claassens who was able to finish off Catt’s good work for Bath’s third try of the night. Exeter were resolute as ever though, and finished with a consolation try from Matt Jess, although it was not enough to secure a losing bonus point. While Bath will be happy to have ended their recent losing streak, and to have recorded a win whilst playing far below the levels they expect of themselves, they will be disappointed to have been so close to securing a bonus point and failing to do so, hampering their efforts to reach the playoffs. Although Exeter’s form may have taken a slump recently, they will still be overjoyed at the impact they have made in their first season in the Premiership, and will be looking for ways to improve for the coming season and ensure they can play most of their rugby whilst in the top half of the table.

Bath (13) 26
Tries: Banahan, Carraro, Claassens Cons: James Pens: James 3
Exeter (8) 18
Tries: Arscott, Jess Cons: Mieres Pens: Steenson 2

Bath: Vesty, Banahan, Carraro, Hape, Abendanon, James, Claassens, Flatman, Mears, Wilson, Short, Grewcock, Hooper, Mercer, Watson.

Replacements: Catt for Flatman (66), Dixon for Mears (27), Bell for Wilson (66), Fernandez Lobbe for Short (72), Ovens for Watson (19).

Exeter: Arscott, Jess, Shoemark, Naqelevuki, Sestaret, Steenson, Poluleuligaga, Sturgess, Clark, Tui, Hayes, Slade, Johnson, Scaysbrook, Baxter.

Replacements: Dollman for Naqelevuki (72), Mieres for Steenson (60), Cowley for Poluleuligaga (74), Moon for Sturgess (66), Whitehead for Clark (66), Gannon for Slade (60), Phillips for Baxter (72).

Att: 12,200

Ref: Martin Fox (RFU).

Newcastle Falcons vs. Leeds Carnegie

In a match billed as the most important of the season to the two teams involved, a person could be forgiven for expecting a cautious and tight, low-scoring game. They were soon to be proven wrong. The opening minutes were error-strewn from both sides, as both teams looked to be suffering from the importance of the fixture. The home side were the first to take the lead though, firstly through a Jimmy Gopperth penalty, and secondly Mickey Young picked up the ball from the base of a ruck and raced over to extend the Falcon’s lead. Leeds managed to pull themselves back into the game however and following a good kick to touch from Adrian Jarvis, Steve Thompson broke through the Newcastle defence to touch down and give hope to the visitors. Another Gopperth penalty preceded a second try for Newcastle, Young switching the ball to the left flank and finding Jeremy Manning who went over next to the corner flag. Despite the difficulty of the angle Gopperth managed to convert the try and give his side a 13 point lead. An error from Newcastle, as they failed to find touch from a penalty, saw Leeds run the ball back in the dying seconds of the first half, and Peter Wackett crossed over the line. Jarvis was then successful with the conversion and brought the visitors to within a converted try of Newcastle as the sides went into the interval. Leeds then took control of the game at the beginning of the second half when Jarvis kicked a penalty, closing the gap to three points, before converting Gareth Hardy’s try, the prop having powered through the Newcastle defence. If the game was tense before, then the conclusion of the game brought new levels of anxiety for both sides as the score-line seesawed. Firstly Gopperth was on target with a penalty, giving his side a two point lead, only for Jarvis to return Leeds to pole position with a drop-goal. With just four minutes left on the clock, Gopperth was his reliable self and kicked another penalty, effectively winning the game for the Falcons. However, with nothing but the dying minutes left, Jarvis cemented a man of the match performance with a drop-goal which put Leeds a single point ahead and secured an invaluable win for the relegation battlers. Although spirits at Leeds will have been lifted with this away victory over fellow relegation strugglers Newcastle, the losing bonus point awarded to the Falcons will mean that Newcastle will not be entirely disheartened by the result. The result though does mean that Leeds now climb above Newcastle in the table, despite having played a game more, and the winning drop-goal by Jarvis could be celebrated with same happiness and enthusiasm by Yorkshiremen, should they escape relegation, as Johnny Wilkinson’s was in 2003 by the whole of England.

Newcastle (20) 29
Tries: Young, Manning Cons: Gopperth 2 Pens: Gopperth 5
Leeds (14) 30
Tries: Thompson, Wackett, Hardy Cons: Jarvis 3 Pens: Jarvis Drop-goals: Jarvis 2

Newcastle: Manning, Fielden, Eves, Tu’ipulotu, Tait, Gopperth, Young, Golding, Thompson, Murray, Swinson, Van der Heijden, M. Wilson, Welch, Hogg.

Replacements: Bobo for Manning (54), Pilgrim for Young (43), Shiels for Golding (59), Vickers for Thompson (35), Brookes for Murray (71), Levi for Swinson (75), Gray for Welch (61).

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

Replacements: Tadulala for Wackett (69), Denman for Hardy (59), Gomez for Swainston (29), Oakley for Hohneck (47), White for To’oala (53).

Att: 6,876

Ref: Andrew Small (RFU).