Bath kept their Heineken Cup qualification hopes alive with a stunning 27-26 win over Leicester Tigers in glorious sunshine. Both sides seemed buoyed by the weather and were willing to run the ball from deep in what was a great advert for the advocates of switching the league to a summer season. The attrition that has affected Premiership games in recent weeks was blown away as both sides threw caution to the wind. Most of the scoring occurred in the first half as Bath scored three tries to Leicester’s two, but it was the boot of Toby Flood gave the Tigers a 20-19 lead at the break, while Semesa Rokoduguni and Ben Youngs scored the pick of the tires. Rokoduguni intercepted a loose Matthew Tait pass to score, while Youngs took a quick tap penalty from deep inside the Tigers’s half and showed great speed to race down the length of the pitch to score. It was a great reminder of his undoubted ability and how he likes to implement a fast-paced game and will definitely have got the attention of the Lions selectors. Despite Youngs heroics, Bath were easily the better side and got the try that gave them the win with just minutes left. Francois Louw was released on the wing and the flanker evaded the last ditch tackles to dive over and keep Bath’s European dreams on track.
Harlequins continued their impressive return to form as they blew Worcester away in a 42-16 victory. The reigning champions have an outside chance of booking a home semi-final if Leicester slip up next weekend and they beat Northampton. Regardless of the location, if Quins play to their ability then they have a great chance of defending their title. They also benefited from the fact that the grounds have begun to harden and the conditions are conducive to the attacking rugby their back-line is so found of. Indeed, it was the backs who stole the plaudits, with fly-half Nick Evans scoring two tries, Danny Care adding two and individual scores from Tom Williams and Mike Brown. The only negative for Quins was the sight of captain Chris Robshaw hobbling off after 55 minutes. The flanker landed awkwardly from a line-out and appeared to injure his ankle. O’Shea was quick to downplay the severity of the injury but Robshaw is very much his side’s talisman and if he is forced to miss the play-offs their challenge could be affected. From a personal point of view, Robshaw’s injury could also see him miss out on the Lions tour this summer. With the squad due to be announced in just over a week, he will need to prove to coach Warren Gatland that he is able to shake off any ailments if he is to tour.
Northampton booked their play-off place with a comprehensive 47-7 victory over Sale as Franklin Gardens bid goodbye to influential props Brian Mujati and Soane Tonga’uiha. Sale surprised Gloucester last weekend but Northampton were utterly dominant with their physical game finding holes in the Sale defence time and time again. The Saints strength lies within their pack and Sale’s young front row were brutally exposed by the sheer physicality of Tonga’uiha and Mujati. Similarly they seem to have finally found a replacement for the departed James Downey, with Luther Burrell back to his rampaging best at inside centre against his old club. Burrell has endured an injury-hit campaign but his last two performances suggest he has real potential, and his ability to get over the gain line and create space for his team-mates is something that cannot be ignored. Much like Manu Tuilagi, he has been accused of a one-dimensional game with his off-loading ability questioned but while it may not be pretty it is certainly effective. Northampton’s seven-try victory was a massive warning to their play-off rivals and next weekend’s trip to Harlequins will really test both sides title credentials before they travel away to either Saracens or Leicester.
Saracens charge to the title was abruptly halted by a spirited Gloucester display as the Cherry and Whites registered a 28-23 win. Unfortunately for Gloucester, their play-off aspirations ended with Northampton’s victory over Sale but it was an impressive win none-the-less. Their star man was No8 Ben Morgan, who made his first start in three months following an injury and served notice of his undoubted potential with a fantastic individual try as he stormed 25 metres to score. While his return to form and fitness may be too late for this year’s Lions tour, he will undoubtedly be on the England tour to Argentina and if he can maintain this level of performance then England will have real balance in their back row moving into next season. For Saracens, the loss will wound their pride more than anything else as they still remain on course to finish the season at the top of the table and have already booked their home play-off spot. Their biggest concern will be the loss of flanker Will Fraser, who went off with a shoulder injury. While he has been in great form, they have a ready-made replacement in the form of Jacques Burger, who is beginning his return from a long injury lay off.
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge