Northampton fans

Northampton fans

The round-up of the 19th round of Aviva Premiership action from Alex Shaw

Saturday 2nd April 2011 – Northampton Saints vs. Sale Sharks

Saints came into this game on the back of a very impressive home win over London Wasps, and with their full Six Nations contingent so impressive in that victory, were full of confidence for the visit of the Sharks. Salerecorded a critical victory over fellow Premiership strugglers Leeds. Although Sale took the lead, rather predictably, through the boot of Charlie Hodgson, a fired-up Northampton soon took over, with scrum half Lee Dickson and wing Chris Ashton, celebrating with his now infamous swallow dive, both going over for the home side, Stephen Myler converting the first of the two tries. Saints dominance began to tell even more as Sale conceded a penalty try following Neil Briggs trip to the sin-bin, with Northampton opting for a scrum from the resulting penalty, and the Sale scrum could just not compete, collapsing as it retreated towards Sale’s try line. Myler then had no problem converting the easy kick. Sale were not down and out however, as Marc Jones pulled back a try for the visitors, with Hodgson converting, before going on to hit two penalties before the break. Despite this revival, the bonus point, and arguably the game, were tied up for Northampton when Brian Mujati powered through the Sale defence for his sides’ fourth try, and Myler kicked the extras to leave the score at 26-16 as the teams went into the interval. However, Sale fought back valiantly as Wame Lewaravu battled through to record his sides’ second try and bring them to within just four points of the Saints, although the aftermath saw a mass brawl which resulted in the sending off of previously sin binned hooker Briggs. Despite this resurgence, Lewaravu’s try and Briggs’ dismissal served only to open the flood gates for Northampton, and following a successful penalty from Myler to keep the two teams apart on the scoreboard, four more tries were chalked up for the home side. The first came from Tom Wood, the flanker continuing his impressive England form for his club side, and once more the Sale defence crumbled as Northampton’s try took the form of a penalty try, Myler reliably converting both. Although Myler couldn’t add the extras for the last two tries, it did nothing to detract from the impressive score line for the Saints, as both Bruce Reihana and Phil Dowson  compounded the misery for the Sharks, adding another 10 points to Saints tally. With two impressive home victories on the bounce now for Northampton, their position in the playoffs is looking more likely with each week that passes, and it would take a brave man to now bet on London Irish or Harlequins being able to break into the top four. Sale meanwhile will be looking on, perhaps not anxiously just yet, at both Leeds and Newcastle’s’ results later this weekend.

Northampton (26) 53
Tries: Dickson, Ashton, penalty 2, Mujati, Wood, Reihana, Dowson Cons: Myler 5 Pens: Myler
Sale (16) 24
Tries: Jones, Lewaravu Cons: Hodgson Pens: Hodgson 4

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

Replacements: Reihana for Diggin (69), Geraghty for Myler (62), Commins for Dickson (63), Waller for Tonga’uiha (62), Sharman for Hartley (62), Mercey for Mujati (58), Sorenson for Day (62), Dowson for Clark (52).

Sin Bin: Wilson (33).

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

Replacements: Thornley for Tonetti (72), Miller for Hodgson (71), Cliff for Peel (13), Croall for Imiolek (61), Forster for Thomas (61), Rouse for Lewaravu (72), M. Jones for Seymour (50), McMillan for Koyamaibole (61).

Sin Bin: Briggs (18).

Sent Off: Briggs (45).

Att: 13,312

Ref: David Rose (RFU).

Gloucester vs. Newcastle

Despite their embarrassing loss at the hands of Harlequins last week, Gloucester were still in a very impressive position in the Premiership, and with two games in hand over Leicester and Saracens, could use this match against Newcastle as a great platform to put pressure on the leaders and attempt to sneak into a position for a home playoff place. Newcastle though have priorities of a different kind, wanting the points to try and help themselves secure Premiership rugby next season by distancing themselves from Leeds, the Yorkshire side just six points below them. Much like their LV= Cup clash recently, Gloucester soon raced ahead with Freddie Burns managing to score a penalty, a try and the conversion all himself, and the balance of play indicated that once again a quick start for Gloucester may result in a one-sided match. However, unlike their recent Cup outing, Gloucester were not the dominant side going into the break, and the score line was not as one sided as they would have liked, as Jimmy Gopperth managed to land three penalties to ensure Newcastle came out for the second half just one point behind Gloucester at 10-9. It seemed that the dominance that Gloucester’s start promised was not lost, just slightly delayed, as the Cherry and White’s came out in fine form after the interval. Burns once again got the scoreboard ticking over with a penalty, before Henry Trinder collected a clever pass from Luke Narraway and secured Gloucester’s second try, substitute Tim Taylor converting. With Ally Hogg resigned to the sin bin for the Falcons, Gloucester began to turn the screw and both Jonny May and Rory Lawson crossed over the whitewash for the home side, the latter the recipient of good work from man of the match candidate Narraway, and once again Taylor was on target with the conversions as his team-mates celebrated the bonus point their endeavours had earned them. Gloucester will now be hoping that either Leicester or Saracens slip up, and that they can maintain their largely good recent form and really push for a home match come the playoffs. Contrastingly for Gloucester, although Burns had a good game, it was noticeable at times during the match how much they missed the tactical kicking and leadership that Nicky Robinson brings, and with the fly-half bound for Wasps at the end of the season, fans will be eager to see who, if anyone, the management bring in to replace him. Newcastle will now be hoping that Leeds don’t capitalise on the Falcons loss, by winning at home to Exeter, which would close the gap between the teams to just two points, and cause a certain degree of anxiety in the North-East of England.

Gloucester (10) 34
Tries: Burns, Trinder, May, Lawson Cons: Burns, Taylor 3 Pens: Burns 2
Newcastle (9) 9
Pens: Gopperth 3

Gloucester: Burns, May, Molenaar, Fuimaono-Sapolu, Voyce, Robinson, R. Lawson, Wood, Azam, Doran-Jones, Hamilton, Brown, Strokosch, Qera, Narraway.

Replacements: Trinder for Burns (58), Taylor for Robinson (6), Pasqualin for R. Lawson (76), Dickinson for Wood (71), S. Lawson for Azam (55), Harden for Doran-Jones (64), Attwood for Hamilton (58), Deacon for Qera (71).

Newcastle: A. Tait, Tu’ipulotu, Vickerman, Eves, Sheriffe, Gopperth, Young, Shiels, Vickers, Murray, Hudson, Swinson, M. Wilson, Welch, Hogg.

Replacements: Fitzpatrick for Eves (67), Catterick for Gopperth (71), Pilgrim for Young (67), Brookes for Shiels (55), Hall for Murray (71), Townson for Hudson (60), Graham for M. Wilson (76), Gray for Welch (60).

Sin Bin: Hogg (68).

Att: 12,931

Ref: Dean Richards (RFU).

Harlequins vs. Leicester Tigers

If both these teams carried on from where they left off in their last games, then this match had the potential to be one of the best of the season. With 12 tries between these teams in their previous matches, not many were predicting a cautious and slow tempo game. Unfortunately many people were to be proven wrong as the first half ambled on quite unspectacularly, both teams performing doggedly and giving away very little. In fact the highlights of the first 30 minutes were the mammoth hits going in from both sides, with defence clearly the priority for both sides. The game exploded into action however when Nick Easter found space on the wing and beat his man with pace before attempting to score in the corner whilst under pressure from scrum half Ben Youngs. Despite his endeavour the video referee confirmed that Easter was in touch as he placed the ball down. The deadlock was broken before halftime though as Quins spread the ball wide, and international scrum half Danny Care found a gap in the usually watertight Leicester defence, and glided over for an easy score, and gave Nick Evans a simple kick right in front of the posts for the conversion. Evans was once more on form as he added a penalty to send the home side into the break 10-0 up. No one should ever underestimate the Tigers, and they showed why minutes after the game resumed in the second half. Alesana Tuilagi powered down the wing and with almost all of the Samoan’s body outside of touch, albeit air bound, the winger reached in and placed the ball down just inside of the flag, without doubt one of the finishes of the season. Toby Flood then excellently converted the touchline kick to bring his side within three points of Harlequins. With this Leicester’s confidence grew and the visitors sought to put pressure on Quins in the scrum, and in a particular series of scrums near the Harlequins try line, the home side lost not only Will Skinner to the sin-bin, but also Mark Lambert, both leaving the pitch within a minute or two of each other. With Harlequins down to 13, and Leicester firmly entrenched in Quin’s territory, it was only a matter of time before the referee awarded Leicester a deserved penalty try, which Flood had little difficulty converting, giving Leicester the lead for the first time in the match. Things went from bad to worse soon after for Harlequins as Evans missed a relatively straightforward penalty and Joe Marler found himself in the sent off after an altercation with Marcos Ayerza, the Leicester prop also finding himself red carded. Leicester’s indiscipline then cost them as they gave away a very kickable penalty, and Evans made sure he did not miss again, closing the gap to a single point as both Skinner and Lambert both returned to the fray, meaning the sides were level with 14 players a piece. Further indiscipline from both teams meant that with a penalty each, Evans and Flood could orchestrate how the dying minutes would play out, and with Evans missing his opportunity to give Quins the lead once more, and Flood successfully widening the gap to four points, he ensured that the home side would need more than a penalty to get back in the game, and the advantage was definitely with Leicester. Despite a frantic end to the game, and Quins pressuring the Tigers right to the end, Leicester managed to hold on, and secure the victory. The victory will be welcomed by the Tigers, who see it cement their place at the top of the Premiership and increase the pressure on Saracens to secure a victory in their game. The loss for Harlequins however is likely to prove far more dramatic, and barring a large reversal in form from either Gloucester or Northampton, means that the side from the Stoop are unlikely to make a playoff place this season.

Harlequins (10) 13
Tries: Care Cons: Evans Pens: Evans 2
Leicester (0) 17
Tries: A Tuilagi, penalty Cons: Flood 2 Pens: Flood

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

Replacements: Williams for Monye (58), Lambert for Andress (43), Vallejos for Kohn (75), Jones for Fa’asavalu (57), Skinner for Robshaw (34). Not Used: Cairns, Moore, Clegg.

Sin Bin: Skinner (55), Lambert (56).

Sent Off: Marler (64).

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

Replacements: Smith for Allen (71), Castrogiovanni for Cole (58), Stankovich for Newby (68), Waldrom for Crane (58). Not Used: Hawkins, Woods, Grindal, Staunton.

Sent Off: Ayerza (64).

Att: 14,282

Ref: Wayne Barnes (RFU).

Sunday 3rd April 2011

Saracens vs. Bath

Saracens welcomed Bath to Vicarage Road, with the West Country side looking to overcome the poor form that has dogged them of late, culminating in their record home Premiership defeat at the hands of Leicester just a week ago. Saracens meanwhile were looking to put the pressure on Leicester, and challenge for the top spot going into the last rounds of the season. Alex Goode continued his good form that has caused him to rise into the limelight this season, and punished Bath for their early errors, handing Saracens the lead with two early penalties. Butch James then attempted to keep Bath within touching distance of Saracens, and successfully slotted home a penalty. Their hopes of taking the lead were short lived however as David Strettle signalled the end of the first half when he raced over in the corner after collecting a neat offload from Matt Stevens and breaking away from the Bath defence, with Goode unable to convert on this occasion. After the interval both Goode and James exchanged penalties, and Saracens came close to adding more when Brad Barritt was prevented from scoring by an excellent tackle from England international Shontayne Hape. In what was a rather unremarkable match, James landed a further penalty whilst Goode added two more himself, ensuring that Saracens secured the win, and Bath, meanwhile, missed out on a losing bonus point. Bath will now surely have to admit a playoff place is out of their reach and, given their recent run of poor form, making sure they earn themselves European rugby next season will now be their priority. Saracens though will be content, if not overjoyed, at their performance, and will hope that if they can continue to win games, then they can put enough pressure on Leicester, and hopefully capitalise should league leaders slip up.

Saracens (11) 20
Tries: Strettle Goals: Goode 5
Bath (3) 9
Goals: James 3

Saracens: Goode, Strettle, Wyles, Barritt, Short, Farrell, Wigglesworth, Stevens, Brits, Nieto, Borthwick, Smith, K. Brown, Saull, Joubert.

Replacements: Cato for Short (71), Barrett for Wigglesworth (75), Du Plessis for Stevens (59), George for Brits (75), Gill for Nieto (41), Botha for Smith (50), Burger for K. Brown (50).

Bath: Abendanon, Banahan, Williams, Hape, Carraro, James, Claassens, Flatman, Mears, Bell, Hooper, Short, Skirving, Watson, Taylor.

Replacements: Vesty for James (78), Mercer for Claassens (78), Catt for Flatman (67), Dixon for Mears (67), Wilson for Bell (40), Fernandez Lobbe for Short (67), McMillan for Taylor (14).

Att: 9,653

Ref: Nigel Owens (Wales).

Leeds vs. Exeter Chiefs

Exeter may well feel that they are more than likely safe from relegation as they head into the final rounds of the season, but that certainly did not mean that they would take Leeds lightly, and a win at Headingley may prompt a late push up the table and a possible place in the Heineken Cup next season. Leeds on the other hand viewed this home game as a must win if they were to stand any chance of escaping what seemed certain relegation not too long ago, and Hendrie Fourie got them off to the perfect start as he bustled over for a try. Adrian Jarvis was on target with the conversion, as well as three penalties in the first half as Leeds tried to blow Exeter out of the water early on. Gareth Steenson, one of Exeter’s standout performers this season, was on form though and hit two penalties of his own to keep Exeter in the game, and leave the score at 16-6 at half time. Indeed this late flourish prior to the interval set the tone for Exeter going into the second half, powerhouse Nemani Nadolo sent Bryan Rennie on his way to a try, with Steenson converting and adding a penalty shortly thereafter to level the scores at 16-16. Leeds soon rediscovered their early form though and their hard work at a rolling maul was rewarded when Alfie To’oala went over, and although Jarvis was not on target with the conversion, he did add a further penalty and drop goal as Leeds took the game beyond the reaches of the Chiefs. The Exeter side will take the long trip back down to the South having to content themselves with a losing bonus point which, although effectively distancing them from the relegation battle, does leave them in a position of mid-table obscurity, something which, if offered to Rob Baxter at the start of the season, he would have taken without hesitation. The result however provides much more of a boon for Leeds, who have now closed the gap on Newcastle to just two points, an even more enticing prospect given that the Yorkshire side play Newcastle next week in a match that could very well decide who will still be playing in the Premiership next season.

Leeds (16) 27
Tries: Fourie, To’oala Cons: Jarvis Pens: Jarvis 4 Drop goals: Jarvis

Exeter (6) 22
Tries: Rennie Cons: Steenson Pens: Steenson 4 Drop goals: Steenson

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

Replacements: Gomez for Swainston (59), Paul for Browne (63), Oakley for Wentzel (45).

Exeter: Arscott, Nadolo, Shoemark, Rennie, Sestaret, Steenson, Poluleuligaga, Sturgess, Clark, Budgen, Hayes, Slade, Phillips, Scaysbrook, Baxter.

Replacements: Dollman for Rennie (64), Thomas for Poluleuligaga (63), Whitehead for Clark (41), Tui for Budgen (66), Gannon for Slade (66), Johnson for Phillips (45).

Att: 4,097

Ref: Tim Wrigglesworth (RFU)

London Irish vs. London Wasps

This local rivalry almost always promises action, and rarely fails to live up to the hype that surrounds it, and with the home side coming into it off the back of a big win over the Chiefs, and Wasps having recently suffered a deeply disheartening loss to Northampton, the smart money was on a competent win for Irish. However, as so often happens, the form book was thrown out of the window as Wasps made an explosive start, and in response to an early penalty from Tom Homer, the visitors scored the first try of the game. Centre Dominic Walduock kicked a clever ball ahead which David Lemi managed to collect and passed to Riki Flutey for the ex-London Irish player to run in the try, with Dave Walder stepping up and converting with ease. This sparked off an energy in Wasps that has been missing for the last couple of months, and soon the men in black and gold were celebrating their second try after Christian Wade, making his Premiership debut, glided past the London Irish defence before being brought down in their 22, and when the ball was recycled with urgency, Rob Webber found a large overlap and had little difficulty crossing the line to make it 12-3 to Wasps, Walder unable to convert on this occasion. This would be the zenith of Wasps performance although and soon Walduock, who had been looking like he was back to his sparkling best, was heading off with a leg injury, and Homer went on to kick four more penalties, leaving Wasps trailing by three points at the interval, the score 15-12 to Irish. The second half started in much the same way the first did, with Wasps dominating the possession and territory, however they were unable to break down the Irish defence and the first score of the second half fell to Homer who kicked his sixth penalty. The third and final try of the match fell to replacement hooker David Paice who was fed the ball by Paul Hodgson and sealed the win for Irish before Homer converted to complete a good game for the full-back. Possibly more worrying for Wasps is not another loss, although hopes of a playoff place are all but extinguished now, but rather the injury suffered by Walduock who now joins an extensive list of Wasps stars currently receiving medical treatment, and it will be interesting to see how, and if, Wasps can recover from this recent slump in form with many of their first choice players unavailable. This win for Irish however keeps the Reading-based side in prime position to break into the coveted top four places, although on current form it will be a difficult task to break into this group, with Northampton and Gloucester performing extremely well of late.

London Irish (15) 25
Tries: Paice Cons: Homer Pens: Homer 6

Wasps (12) 12
Tries: Flutey, Webber Cons: Walder

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

Replacements: Corbisiero for Dermody (50), Paice for Buckland (45) Ion for Rautenbach (54), Lamb for Seveali’i (50), Allinson for Hodgson (72), Thompstone for Bowden (78).

Sin Bin: G. Johnson (79).

Wasps: van Gisbergen, Wade, Waldouck, Flutey, Lemi, Walder, Simpson, Payne, Webber, Taulafo, Shaw, Veale, Hart, Ward-Smith, Powell.

Replacements: Broster for Payne (57), Lindsay for Webber (62), Beech for Taulafo (57), Launchbury for Shaw (57), Betsen for Hart (72), Lewsey for Walduock (30).

Att: 9,789

Ref: Chris White (RFU).