Saracens’ clear reliance upon defensive organisation and goal kicking has been frequently derided, but they did their best to silence the doubters with a rousing 45-9 victory away at Sale. The win consolidated their position in second place behind Harlequins and also contained five tries to help them claim a bonus point and warn rivals of their potential. A crucial top-of-the-table clash lies ahead next week against Harlequins at Wembley, and the thrashing of Sale will have been the perfect preparation. The Saracens back division was rampant, with Charlie Hodgson also producing a near perfect kicking performance. The Sharks defence left a lot to be desired however, and, despite recent positive performances, all is clearly not well at Sale, with coach Tony Hanks’ sudden departure after the game leaving more questions than answers.
Leicester racked up a fine 41-31 victory over London Irish at a sun-drenched Madejski Stadium but the win was overshadowed by the continued demise of their 22-year-old England scrum-half. Youngs’ performance was largely without fault until his uncharacteristic display of fury aimed at flanker Jamie Gibson – featuring a knee to the head followed by a flurry of punches – which was lucky to go unpunished on the field though it’s unlikely the citing officer will be similarly forgiving. Youngs aside, things are beginning to look better for the Tigers, who cemented their spot in the play-offs and will hope to put the pressure on Saracens and Harlequins when they face Worcester next week. Toby Flood is beginning to run with the same verve that characterised his performances pre-World Cup, and with the likes of Manu Tuilagi and Tom Croft returning to the fore, their seemingly annual trip to the play-offs looks set to continue. It will be intriguing to see whether Youngs is allowed to join the party.
Friday night’s match at Sixways pitted the Premiership’s two bluntest attacks against each other and it was Worcester who ran out victorious – with a late penalty ensuring Newcastle went home without a point as they went down 19-9. It is the second consecutive game that the Falcons’ attack has drawn a blank and they cannot keep relying upon the boot of Jimmy Gopperth to keep them in contention. Gary Gold’s side now lie eight points behind Wasps at the foot of the table – and must be thankful for a spate of injuries that has currently beset their nearest rivals. They do have threats of their own in the back division, with James Fitzpatrick always a threat going forward, and the recent acquisition of Peter Stringer should help ensure quick ball from the ruck area but things must improve very quickly if the one time Premiership champions are to avoid relegation for the first time in the club’s history.
Exeter’s last-minute victory over Gloucester was remarkable for a number of reasons. It was the Chiefs’ first ever victory at Kingsholm, maintaining their very real hopes of getting into the Premiership play-offs for the first time in the club’s history, and, most importantly, it was the first game where TV replays were used at an untelevised match. The match itself was exhilarating; both sides sharing six tries in a game that swung back and forth throughout. The win is Exeter’s seventh away win in their last eight, and a win next weekend against London Irish could see them move into a play-off spot if Northampton fail to beat Bath. With rugby almost as guilty as football of producing ‘yo-yo clubs’, a huge amount of credit must go to Rob Baxter and his players for such a strong performance since their promotion in 2010.
Centre Dom Waldouck’s injury was almost a snapshot of Wasps’ season. Going down in seemingly innocuous circumstances, Waldouck attempted to return to his feet – meaning Wasps were down to 14 men for longer than necessary – before looking on in horror as Northampton planted a kick straight down his 13 channel which Ben Foden gratefully snapped up to open the try scoring. Saints eventually ran out comfortable 32-15 winners at Franklin’s Gardens and Wasps must now balance their Premiership commitments with the Amlin Challenge Cup with a hugely depleted side. A final day match at home to Newcastle could prove to be a winner-takes-all encounter, though Wasps may hope their current eight-point lead over the Falcons will prove to be enough of a cushion. If they do survive, they will be hopeful of better fortunes next year. They started this season excellently, but with the retirements of Tom Rees, Joe Worsley, Dan Ward-Smith and Steve Thompson – all of them England internationals – and long-term injuries to Tom Varndell, Joe Launchbury, Dom Waldouck, Rob Webber and Premiership leading try-scorer Christian Wade they have struggled.
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