Aviva Premiership wrap: Saracens beat Quins to prove title credentials
Aviva Premiership wrap: Saracens maintain their unbeaten start at Allianz Park with a victory over Quins, writes James Thompson
Sarries continue their winning streak over Quins
Saracens maintained their seven-game unbeaten streak over Harlequins with a comprehensive 27-12 victory, remaining undefeated at Allianz Park. Saracens started brighter and tries from Schalk Brits – his first in nearly two years – and Will Fraser sealed the victory after a dominant performance. Both sides were at full strength as they welcomed back those absent due to international duty, but it was Saracens returning stars that stole the show. Owen Farrell was once again flawless with the boot but it was the Sarries pack which really impressed. Prop Mako Vunipola further enhanced his burgeoning potential with a series of storming runs and powerful scrummaging. He was also effective at the breakdown, showing a subtlety many wouldn’t expect from a man that size. His front row team-mates, Brits and Matt Stevens ensured Quins were on the back foot at the set-piece, while back row Fraser got the better of England captain Chris Robshaw. Fraser has been nominated for young player of the season and outlined his credentials with a storming display, and having been called up for the Saxons squad already, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him tour with England this summer. The victory means Saracens are favourites to top the table with just four games to go and secure a home semi-final. On this sort of form, they will be favourites for the title as well.
Northampton move into pole position in play-off race
Northampton Saints opened up a seven-point gap between them and play-off rivals Wasps courtesy of a thrilling 26-24 injury-time victory over the Wycombe-based outfit. The Saints victory cements their position in the top four, and with a four-point gap over Gloucester and seven over Wasps, they are now favourites for that final play-off slot. The Northampton pack laid the foundations for victory as they bullied Wasps into submission, with their line-out drives proving particularly effective. They raced into the lead with scores from a penalty try, Lee Dickson and Dylan Hartley, but Wasps hit back with a Tom Varndell try and points from the boot of Elliot Daly and Stephen Jones, as the sides went in 19-16 at half-time. Daly added a try in the second half but Christian Day scored in the last minute and Stephen Myler’s injury-time conversion secured a bonus-point win. Northampton boast one of the most impressive packs with players such as Hartley, Brian Mujati, Soane Tonga’uiha and Courtney Lawes, and they must utilise this asset if they are to remain competitive at the business end of the season. For Wasps, such a loss is a huge blow to their play-off aspirations, as well as losing their unbeaten home record this season. But they have really developed this year, and with the core of the side still in the ascendancy of their careers, they will remain competitive for years to come.
Sale stun Bath
Sale secured a vital victory over Bath on Friday night by a 14-13 scoreline. With London Welsh facing the prospect of a five-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player and losing to Gloucester, such a victory could prove decisive in the relegation battle. It means Sale have a five-point gap over Welsh, so even if their rivals’ points are restored, Sale are no longer adrift at the bottom of the table. Although they lost to Quins in the LV=Cup final last weekend, Sale have used the momentum of that impressive cup run to cultivate an improvement in their domestic league form. They now travel to fellow strugglers London Irish next weekend, and if they can secure a win there, they will have taken a massive step to ensuring their Premiership survival. For Bath, the disappointing loss has curtailed their good league form where they were viewed as potential dark horses for the play-offs. This loss ends their hopes for this season, but with new signings such as Jonathan Joseph and George Ford being announced, they look like they are building well for next season.
Gloucester heap more misery on London Welsh
Gloucester kept their play-off hopes alive with a 15-14 victory over Welsh as they piled on the misery on the bottom placed side. Fly-half Freddie Burns was the hero as he returned to form by kicking all 15 points to move them within four points of the play-off places. With a home fixture against reigning champions Quins on Friday night, Gloucester know they must get a victory to keep them in the play-off hunt. For Welsh, the loss was another blow to their hopes of staying up this season. With their appeal over their points deduction still to be heard, they must not allow it to affect their performances on the pitch as they still have a chance to stay up regardless. By securing the losing bonus point, they remain five points adrift but with just four fixtures to go they can ill-afford to slip up again. If they do lose their appeal then one more Sale victory could spell the end of Welsh’s stay in the Premiership.