The battle for the play-off spots in the Aviva Premiership and the Guinness Pro12 brought out the best in a lot of players, but the worst in a few.
On a high-scoring weekend of Aviva Premiership action, Wasps scrum-half Joe Simpson produced a contender for Try of the Season in their 36-29 win over Exeter Chiefs. With both clubs chasing a top four finish, the game was in the balance with Wasps 29-26 up with five minutes to go.
Chiefs scrum-half Will Chudley hoisted a high kick into the Wasps’ half but Simpson beat the two chasing players to the ball, darted to the blindside, then back round to the left and used a combination of footwork and pace to break through the defence. He had just enough momentum to slide over the line when the tackle from Tom James came in and the ten-point lead the conversion brought was too much for Exeter to overhaul.
Biggar and better
Wales fly-half Dan Biggar produced a masterclass of all-round play to help the Ospreys beat Cardiff Blues 31-23 in the Guinness Pro12. Biggar scored 16 points at the Millennium Stadium, including the first try of the second half, when he capitalised on a strong break from Alun Wyn Jones.
A darting run from the No 10 through the middle of the park just before half-time gave the Ospreys their first points when Dan Evans finished off the try, after the Blues had taken a 9-0 lead. Biggar also created Tom Grabham’s try with a fine pass. Strong in defence, a superb goal-kicker and a great reader of the game, Biggar is on top of his form right now.
Centres of attention
England centres Luther Burrell and Jonathan Joseph both produced outstanding moments of brilliance this weekend. Burrell made a superb, arcing break through the Saracens’ defence then offloaded out of the tackle to Samu Manoa, who just had to stride over the line for a 19th-minute try for Northampton Saints.
The previous evening, for Bath against London Irish, Joseph attacked from half-way, passed out of the back of his hand to Leroy Houston who made more ground then found Francois Louw and the openside shipped the ball on to Joseph, who bet three defenders with a clever chip through and scored a cracking try. He wasn’t the only Bath player to shine in a 43-18 win, during which they made 559 metres in attack and beat 32 defenders.
Judged a success
Well done to the Welsh Rugby Union, the four Welsh regions and the 52,762 fans who packed into the Millennium Stadium, for making Judgement Day III such a success.
A total of 83 points were scored in the two matches as the Osprey beat the Blues and the Scarlets defeated the Dragons. The double-header is beginning to turn into a major event in the Wales rugby calendar and it deserves to go from strength to strength.
As the Cardiff Blues full-back Rhys Patchell said: “It was a fantastic, fantastic occasion. Long may Judgement Day continue.”
Playing a blinder
Glasgow, Munster, the Ospreys and Ulster all guaranteed themselves a top-four finish in the Guinness Pro12 with their wins this weekend and Ulster ensured Leinster failed to make the play-offs for the first time since they were introduced in 2009, as they defeated the Dubliners 26-10.
Leading the way for Ulster was blindside Iain Henderson, who sprinted onto a pass from the back of a ruck to score his team’s first points, after they had gone 10-0 down. At the centre of everything that was good about Ulster’s game in attack and defence, Henderson was deservedly named Man of the Match.
Hats off to Stephen Myler and Andy Goode, who both broke through the 200 points barrier for this Aviva Premiership season this weekend. Myler’s haul of 20 against Saracens took him to a total of 210, while Goode is just behind him in second spot in the table with 207.
In third place is Gareth Steenson with 180. His chances have been limited in recent months as Henry Slade has often been picked ahead of him and when he came off the bench yesterday he missed a pretty simple penalty which was crucial to Exeter Chiefs as they chased a losing bonus point.
However, Steenson showed great composure and courage to line up and land a drop goal with the last kick of the match and make sure Wasps only won 36-29.
Liam Williams was the Man of the Match as the Scarlets beat the Dragons 29-10 in the second part of Judgement Day III. The Scarlets full-back created a try for Scott Williams with a brilliant chip and run from his own half and a deft pass off the floor, and he scored a try of his own, darting round the back of a ruck. He made 161 metres with 17 carries and caused the Dragons all kinds of problems.
Burns hot to the last
Gloucester’s record of being unbeaten at Kingsholm in 2015 looked set to end as Newcastle Falcons led 40-37 with the clock in red time, but 20-year-old fly-half Billy Burns became the home side’s hero when he sprinted up the left and dived through three would-be tacklers to score the winning try.
The 20-year-old, making only his sixth Premiership start, had missed a sitter of a penalty early on but bounced back to create a try for Billy Twelvetrees and to score a total of 22 points in a game in which Gloucester came back from 40-23 down with 11 minutes to play to win 42-40.
Bristol beat their main Greene King IPA Championship rivals Worcester Warriors on the last weekend of the regular season and so, arguably, go into the promotion play-offs with a slight psychological advantage.
The 30-26 win at Worcester’s Sixways Stadium ended the unbeaten home record of the Midlands club and ensure Bristol topped the table with 21 wins out of 22 games. But, having lost to London Welsh in the play-off final last season after topping the table, the South West side know there is all still to play for.
A final “well done” goes to Shane Williams, for running the London Marathon in three hours, 36 minutes and 52 seconds. The former Wales wing even retained his sense of humour through the pain, telling BBC TV’s Gabby Logan at the finish line: “I was in the lead for about 60 metres!”
Exile pushed the boundaries
A moment of madness from London Welsh No 8 Chris Hala’ufia resulted in him being sent off during their match against Leicester. Referee Tim Wigglesworth was about to wield the yellow card for an illegal tackle on Laurence Pearce when TV replays showed Hala’ufia then grabbing the prone Tiger by the back of the neck and pushing him face first into the floor.
Wigglesworth promptly got out his red card instead and Welsh had to play the last 25 minutes with 14 men.
Hala’ufia had an eventful afternoon as earlier in the game he tackled a streaker who thought the sun-kissed afternoon was ideal for a bit of naked exercise. He probably had second thoughts after the Tongan tackled him.
When Billy Vunipola charged down a Northampton kick just outside the Saints’ 22, he created a clear-cut try-scoring opportunity for himself. He raced after the loose ball and gathered it safely, but when he fell to the ground just short of the line and bounced forward, the ball slipped out of his hands and away, under his body. His despairing reaction immediately gave away the fact he had not scored the try and his mistake cost Saracens and probably seven points which could have made all the difference to the final result.
There was embarrassment for someone in the Northampton Saints or Saracens backroom staff after the two teams turned up with clashing kits for Saturday’s match. The Saints, who were the home side at Stadium MK, decided to wear special St George’s Day kit for the day. Their red shorts and red and white tops might have looked natty on paper, but as Saracens’ away kit is all-white, there was something of a problem, which, for some reason, had not been anticipated in advance.
Saracens were forced to get their black shirts rushed from their base in St Albans to Milton Keynes in time for the second half. It was an amateurish mix-up – the kind of breakdown in communication which shouldn’t really happen.
Clanger from Clancy
Dragons fans weren’t best pleased with referee George Clancy after he allowed a try from Scarlets hooker Ken Owens to stand, even though Owens had run into the ref on his way to the line.
The laws of rugby state that “if the ball or the ball carrier touches the referee and neither team gains an advantage, play continues. If either team gains an advantage in the field of play, the referee orders a scrum”. On this occasion the Scarlets gained an advantage as at least one potential tackler was impeded by Clancy. As the Scarlets won the game 29-10 it could be argued that the try wasn’t decisive, but coming as it did when the Dragons were 10-3 up, it did help turn the tide against them.