The Aviva Premiership and Guinness PRO 12 produced an embarrassment of riches this weekend, with plenty of players putting their hands up for inclusion as a Saint, but there were a few individuals and teams who have some wrongs to right next time.
The weekend started in some style with a humdinger of an Aviva Premiership clash between Gloucester and Saracens at Kingsholm. There were enough incidents, both good and bad, to fill an entire Saints and Sinners column, so choosing the best and worst of them has been tricky. Fabulous tries from Dan Robson and Callum Braley have been overlooked to crown James Hook this week’s ultimate Saint.
Trailing 21-23, Gloucester were attacking relentlessly during the last five minutes but could not break Saracens’ defensive line. Hook tried and failed with a drop-goal attempt, then Saracens broke away and thought they had nabbed a decisive try, but the officials spotted Chris Ashton offside and so brought play back for one last penalty.
Hook had missed three first-half kicks in windy conditions – two of them relative sitters – but he bravely lined up the penalty from just beyond halfway. Hook’s longest penalty so far this season had been from 43 metres, so the odds were very much against the Welshman.
However, he belted the ball high, long and true through the uprights to secure an astonishing win for Gloucester and send the city into raptures. See the highlights here.
On the day he made his 250th first team appearance for Harlequins, 36-year-old Nick Easter proved there’s life in the old dog yet as he produced the most sublime offload under great pressure in a tackle from Tom Youngs. He flipped the ball sideways to find Danny Care, who raced through for a try.
Harlequins were 9-3 down at the time against Leicester Tigers, but the try and conversion took them into the lead and they kicked on from there to win 32-12. Easter was the deserved Man of the Match.
Sam stops Connacht
Conditions are rarely easy at Connacht’s Sportsground home and they hadn’t lost a match there this season until Edinburgh rolled up on a wet and windy Friday evening for their Guinness PRO12 clash.
The Irish side led 13-7 at half-time, then Edinburgh scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne produced a second half kicking masterclass, defying the gale to slot three penalties and take the visitors to a 16-13 win.
One of the kicks went over from 50 metres and the nerveless display from the 21-year-old enabled Edinburgh to move up to seventh in the table.
Late, late show
James Hook wasn’t the only player to snatch a win with a last-second kick, as Shane Geraghty took London Irish to a 28-26 win over Exeter Chiefs with a drop-goal coolly slotted from just outside the 22.
Exeter had led 13-5 at the break but Tom Guest and Alex Lewington hit back for the Exiles with tries early in the second half before Blair Cowan, who had already crossed the whitewash in the first half, grabbed his second try.
A converted Dave Ewers try and two Gareth Steenson penalties gave Exeter the lead again before Geraghty won it.
Dan’s the man
Wales fly-half Dan Biggar was once again the hero for the Ospreys as they held onto top spot in the Guinness PRO12 with a 22-11 win over the Newport-Gwent Dragons. Biggar defied the wet conditions to create a first-half try for Tyler Ardron, then kicked the conversion and five penalties, not missing from the tee at all. The Dragons boss Lyn Jones called the performance of Biggar and his half-back partner Rhys Webb “faultless” and Wales fans will hope that continues right through the spring.
They might have lost their 13th Aviva Premiership game on the trot, but there is still plenty of fighting spirit at London Welsh and that was epitomised by former All Blacks playmaker Piri Weepu, who played on through the pain barrier during their match at Newcastle on Sunday afternoon.
He turned his right ankle badly in a tackle just as the last half-hour started and looked all set to be stretchered off, but the medics strapped him up and Weepu played on, gingerly at first, right to the end. He couldn’t stop his team losing 38-7 but that wasn’t for the want of trying.
Later, Weepu Tweeted it had been one of his toughest days ever, as he had received the news before the game that his grandmother had died.
Red for Blue
Cardiff Blues had won three of their last four Guinness PRO12 matches and were looking to grab another victory at home against Leinster. They were leading 13-5 on Saturday afternoon after 33 minutes, then Blues lock Jarrad Hoeata was deservedly sent off for a brutal high tackle around the head of Rob Kearney.
Fortunately the Irish full-back was not hurt, which is more than can be said for Cardiff’s chances thereafter, as they were unable to hold out a Leinster side with the wind at their backs in the second half, and the Blues lost 22-13.
Billy Twelvetrees will be mighty relieved that Gloucester beat Saracens in a match which produced so many talking-points on Friday evening, as it means his horrendous butchering of a certain try was forgotten (or very nearly) amid all the brouhaha.
Gloucester were trailing 7-0 after 14 minutes when Jonny May charged down a clearance kick from Saracens, Matt Kvesic caught the ball and put Twelvetrees through on a searing run up the left. May was tracking outside him as Twelvetrees drew the two defenders, but the centre inexplicably held onto the ball in a bid to score himself, instead of passing to the entirely free May. Richard Wigglesworth hauled Twelvetrees down from behind as the other two defenders also piled in and the scoring chance became a penalty instead of a try.
Ulster let it slip
Ulster have already blown their chances of winning the European Champions Cup this season and they very nearly put a severe dent in their Guinness PRO12 hopes when they almost slipped up at Benetton Treviso on Sunday.
The visitors came out of the traps at great speed and were 24-0 up after just 25 minutes, but from there they let Treviso back into the game big-time, allowing the Italians to score 20 unanswered points.
Ultimately, Ulster hung on for the 24-20 win and so remain in fifth spot in the table, just two points outside the playoff places, but a careless loss in Italy would have left them trailing.