Aviva Premiership wrap: Quins edge past Saints in forgettable tie
Aviva Premiership wrap: Harlequins edge past Northampton Saints in a forgettable game. James Thompson reports
Quins win the battle of the boot
At a very wet Franklin Gardens, Harlequins emerged victorious over a Northampton team buoyed by its recent European results. Quins will now go into the Christmas period at the top of the table following their 18-9 win and have proved their success last season wasn’t a one off. Northampton always provides a serious examination of anyone with title aspirations but didn’t adjust to the conditions as well as the champions and remain just outside of the top four. While Quins’ England stars draw continuous praise, it is their Nick Easter – currently out-of-favour with the Red Rose – who has driven this team forward this season. England head coach Stuart Lancaster won’t pick anyone deemed too old to be part of the next World Cup squad – and at 34 Easter falls into that category. There is some debate as to how effective Easter is at international level anyway but he remains a very good domestic player and his leadership and performances have been an example to the rest of the squad. With youngsters such as Joe Gray, Tom Casson and Matt Hopper being integrated into the side, Quins look well covered for the rest of the season and remain the team to beat.
Saracens thrash Bath
While Harlequins are top, they are followed closely by Saracens who registered an impressive 22-0 win at Bath on Saturday. Fly-half Charlie Hodgson kicked 17 points in a match that was low on quality due to appalling weather conditions. By the end of the game, the pitch resembled more of a bog rather than a professional sports ground and Bath will be disappointed not to have adjusted to the conditions better. They were unable to create any real chances and fly-half Stephen Donald missed all three kicks at goal. However, Saracens owe a great deal of gratitude to Hodgson who delivered a masterclass in how to adjust to poor conditions with a composed performance. While not the most exciting or adventurous fly-half, his dependability and his metronomic boot suit the Sarries game plan perfectly and he lived up to expectations on Saturday afternoon.
Leicester secure bonus point at Irish
Leicester delivered a masterful performance away to London Irish, running out 31-9 winners to move up to third in the table. The Tigers are always in playoff contention come the end of the season and director of rugby Richard Cockerill will be pleased to see his side deliver such an impressive performance. Winger Niall Morris was the hero with two tries of the highest quality along with the referee awarding two penalty tries. His first was the result of a quick Toby Flood cross-field kick from a penalty and his second was a fine solo effort with a 50-yard dash through the Irish defence. While Leicester can enjoy the Christmas festivities, the loss means the situation at the Madejski Stadium is much bleaker for Irish. They remain five points clear of bottom side Sale but with only two wins all season and the worst defence in the league, relegation is a very real possibility. They have been unlucky on a few occasions this season, most notably against Harlequins, but need to get the basics right as quickly as possible.
Wasps maintain 100 per cent home record
Wasps secured a close fought 25-18 victory over bottom team Sale, with several members of their youthful English contingent impressing. Much has been written about the emergence of Joe Launchbury and the threat of Christian Wade, but it was the No8 Billy Vunipola and centre Elliot Daly who shone brightest on Sunday afternoon. Vunipola was unlucky not to score following an emphatic charge up the pitch as he was snagged just short of the line and Daly topped a composed performance with a monster 54-metre penalty. Sale secured a losing bonus point which could prove vital at the end of the season and new head coach John Mitchell felt there were signs of improvement following their capitulation against Toulon last weekend. He omitted controversial fly-half Danny Cipriani, denying him the opportunity of playing against his former club for defensive reasons and has begun to put his stamp on the club. Sale looked more cohesive as a unit but the attacking invention of Cipriani was missed. There is some doubt as to how long Mitchell will remain with the club, as he may return back to South Africa in February but they look a better outfit with him at the helm.