While most fixtures this weekend had a fairly conservative outcome, London Irish and Worcester served up a treat in a 46-24 thriller. Irish scored six tries, with winger Marland Yarde the star after a hat-trick, along with a double from Halani Aulika and a close-range effort from Danny Gray. Worcester responded with three second-half tries but could never really recover from a 22-3 half-time deficit and their interest in the cup is now over. For Irish, they travel to Cardiff next week knowing if they secure a bonus point, they will have a semi-final berth booked. Much will depend on whether or not they can repeat this performance as they simply overwhelmed their opponents. With a dependable kicker in Tom Homer, they know they can punish any indiscretions, but they will need the likes of Yarde and Sailosi Tagicakibau to hit this sort of form regularly in order to challenge in the latter stages of the competition. Yarde, who was part of the same Whitgift School side as Wasps’ Elliot Daly and Team GB discus thrower Lawrence Okoye, is capable of moments of pure brilliance, such as his third try, but he needs to remain at this level in order to reach the highest level of the game.
It may have been a weakened side for Harlequins, but it was very much a case of business as usual as they maintained their perfect record in this competition with a 23-6 win over London Welsh. Neither side really performed on the day, but Quins were able to score two tries that ultimately made the difference. Mark Lambert and Dave Ward got their names on the score board and they were complemented by the boot of young fly-half Ben Botica. He converted both scores and punished Welsh indiscretions three times from the tee as he continued his development as Nick Evans’ understudy. Although Director of Rugby Conor O’Shea will be demanding more from his side, Quins did just about enough to secure the victory. Their set-piece was too much for London Welsh, and with a backline full of attacking intent, they will be disappointed not to have further punished their visitors. Quins now visit Osprey’s next weekend knowing that they only need a draw to guarantee their place in the last four and with the entire squad in such fine form they will be the one team everyone will be hoping to avoid.
Sale continued their impressive LV Cup form with a bonus point 36-17 victory over the Scarlets. They now sit at the top of Pool 2, a stark contrast to their Premiership misery, where they are rock bottom. They were inspired by their mercurial No10 Danny Cipriani, who scored a try, four penalties and two conversions in an impressive 21-point haul. Cipriani, who still harbours international ambitions, has had a mixed return to the English game but if he can develop some consistency and influence games regularly, he could hold the key to any revival of Sale’s fortunes. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of their victory was not the bonus point but the fact they battled back from 14-3 after the Welsh side enjoyed a blistering opening twenty minutes. While Sale did well to come back into the game, they were aided by the fact that the Scarlets lost a player to the sin bin on two separate occasions. It proved costly as they shipped three of their four tries when a man down as Sale took full advantage. With the Six Nations on the horizon and top players absent with international commitments, Sale need to capitalise on weakened opposition if they have any hope of turning their season around.
Current holders Leicester put five tries past a very weak Wasps side in a 34-8 rout as they kept their interest in the competition alive for at least another week. With Sale’s victory on Saturday, the Tigers knew they needed a victory and duly delivered with a masterful performance. While this fixture used to be the pinnacle of the English game, both sides were forced into fielding weakened sides due to international call-ups – and Leicester showed they have greater strength in depth. Wasps haven’t won at Welford Road since 2008 and victory never looked likely as Leicester outplayed them all over the park. England’s forgotten man Matthew Tait continued his return to form and fitness as he looks to get his career back on track and he offered a glimpse at his potential. He scored one try and was involved in all that was good in Leicester’s backs attacking play. While his opportunity at the highest level may have been scuppered after a horrendous run of injuries, he remains a threat and is an excellent alternative to the internationals in the Leicester squad. The Tigers now travel to the Scarlets and must hope that Wasps can beat Sale in order for them to progress next weekend.
It was a momentous day at Saracens’ brand new Allianz Park as they beat Cardiff Blues 19-11 in the first match to be played on an artificial pitch. The match itself was a rather low key affair and was only watched by 3,500 Sarries’ invitees, but the pitch appeared to back up the club’s claim that it will lead to “a faster, safer and more entertaining game”. The Blues scored the game’s first try with No8 Robin Copeland stealing a line out and running through some feeble tackles from 15 metres out. The two sides traded penalties in the second half and Sarries had a point lead heading into the last ten minutes, before a last-minute try from winger James Short finally killed the game off. Saracens have an outside chance of making the semi-finals but are reliant on other results going their way in order to progress. With the club still involved in the Heineken Cup and challenging for Aviva Premiership title, they may decide that elimination from the LV Cup wouldn’t necessarily be the worst outcome but their fighting spirit ensures they remain dangerous next weekend.