After their point deduction two weeks ago, it was perhaps inevitable that London Welsh would be the side that dropped out of the Premiership and their fate was confirmed as they lost 31-14 to Northampton. Despite Welsh taking an unexpected lead through Nick Scott’s try, two tries-a-piece from Tom May and Luther Burrell sealed their fate as Northampton’s play-off ambitions remained on track. For Welsh, it was the confirmation of the inevitable as their brief spell in the Premiership came to an end. While their hopes were hampered by the point deduction, Welsh haven’t been good enough this season as they struggled to compete at the highest level. They conceded too many tries and haven’t carried enough of an attacking threat to counter-act their defensive issues. Although relegation will be disappointing, any side that enters the Premiership for the first time will find it difficult to establish themselves as a force and perhaps even more worrying for the club, is the news that their benefactor Kelvin Byron has revealed he will be pulling out of the club. Byron has declared that he has “had enough” of Premiership Rugby and the RFU after their treatment of the club, and without his backing, Welsh could find establishing a renewed assault on the Premiership extremely difficult.
Sale confirmed their Premiership safety with a surprising 32-9 win over high-flying Gloucester. With their visitors looking to remain in play-off contention and Sale having a particularly porous defence, many pundits expected a backline that contains the likes of Freddie Burns, Billy Twelvetrees and Jonny May would put them to the sword. However, it was Sale that started the brighter and when Johnny Leota went over after just 54 seconds, they took a lead they never looked like relinquishing. Further scores from Dwayne Peel, who got two, Cameron Shepherd and Mark Cueto sealed the victory and moved Sale into tenth, which coupled with London Welsh’s loss against Northampton, saw the Manchester-based outfit remain a Premiership side next year. For Gloucester, this surprising loss really dented their play-off aspirations. With both Quins and Northampton winning, a gap has opened between them and the sides in the play-off places, and with games running out, they are now reliant on one of the two sides above them slipping up.
Reigning champions Harlequins came from behind to beat Bath 23-9 at the Stoop on Saturday to end their recent losing streak. Following some demoralising losses against Exeter, Saracens and Gloucester in the league, and then being outclassed in the Heineken Cup by perennial semi-finalists Munster, it was important that Quins regained their form and cemented their position in the play-offs. With Gloucester losing on Friday night, they had a great opportunity to put some distance between themselves and one of their play-off rivals and they showed great character to come from behind to seal the win. Bath took a 9-6 into half-time after both Stephen Donald and Ollie Devoto scored from penalty kicks. However, while it is usually down to Quins’ Kiwi fly-half Nick Evans to get them into a game, it was his apprentice Ben Botica, who came on for the injured Matt Hooper, who was the hero. Botica kicked with aplomb as he scored 13 points and ensured Quins were in touch at half-time. Danny Care then took a starring role as an opportunistic try from short-range which handed Quins into the lead for the first time, and when birthday boy Ugo Monye scored, maximum points were sealed. This victory should secure Quins play-off place this year and they will hope to build up a winning run to ensure they remain competitive rather than limping into the knock-out stage.
Saracens booked their home semi-final on Sunday with a 47-17 bonus-point victory over Worcester as the Warriors winless away form continued. Winger David Strettle was the hero as he scored a first half hat-trick as Sarries raced into a 23-3 lead within 25 minutes. After Gloucester failed to win on Friday night, Sarries had a semi-final placed booked but this victory ensures they will be playing in front of their own fans. After such a confident display, coupled with their impressive European form, Sarries will be favourites to reclaim their title as they have played their way into seemingly unstoppable form. Their closest challenger could be Leicester, who also booked a semi-final slot after they thrashed old rivals Wasps 35-16 in a dominant victory at Welford Road. The Tigers are always involved in the business end of the season and can secure a home semi-final next week as their victory put eight points between them and third-placed Quins. Their squad is full of experience and success is ingrained in the club’s culture so in a one-off game they can never be counted out.
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge