The Aviva Premiership is coming to a climax and the Super Rugby run in is just round the corner. Here is my review of the weekend’s action.
Harlequins 26 – 27 Bath
Sale Sharks 34 – 28 Newcastle Falcons
Gloucester Rugby 35 – 13 London Irish
Northampton Saints 46 – 0 London Welsh
Wasps 21 – 26 Leicester Tigers
Saracens 20 – 24 Exeter Chiefs
4 from 6, I got both the key playoff battles wrong.
Bath secured their home playoff berth with a hard fought win over Quins. This officially means Quins are in the Challenge cup for next season. This is quite a fall from the last few years where they have been making the playoffs. Not everything is bleak for next year though as their performances have improved recently but it’s been too little too late. For Bath it’s revenge for missing out to Quins for last year’s playoffs.
Sale kept their slim hopes of a top 6 finish alive with a regulation win over Falcons. They got themselves into a strong first half lead and secured the TBP with just under half an hour to go. Flacons did mount a late comeback and were back within a score with 5 minutes to go. Sale though saw out the game to give retiring Cueto a suitable send off.
The result of Gloucester against Irish really didn’t matter but events in the game could have a large impact. Kvesic for Gloucester was red carded after 22 minutes and if he is suspended for the Champions cup playoff games will be missed. Against Irish though Gloucester were able to get in front and comfortably stay there. This Gloucester side has gelled and will cause teams a lot more trouble next season. Gloucester’s season could very well be an indicator to Irish’s next season, as they have a new coach and several high profile new signings arriving. Patience is the advice that the cheery and whites fans would give their green friends.
Saints got the expected big win and will top the table at the end of the season. I guess the only surprise is that it took them over an hour to secure the TBP.
Wasps were the leading try scorers going into this game which shows you what an impressive performance this was from Tigers. With nearly all the Tigers starting pack getting into double figures for tackles. This was a massive effort especially after a player red carded after 36 minutes. On attack they were clinical getting 3 tries from their 3 visits deep into Wasps territory. For Wasps this was a lesson on end of season rugby and something they will grow from. Being able to challenge for the playoffs this close to the end of the season is a solid improvement.
The Chiefs got a very important victory through their forwards. The Tank picked up another 2 tries as he heads for the top try scorer prize. Even though this lifts Exeter above Saracens in the table those positions should be reversed next week. The teams are equal on points and only 5 points seperate their points difference. With London Welsh up next for Saracens they should improve by 40-50 points. Whilst Exerer will come out all guns blazing at home, I don’t think anyone is expecting Sale to give up that many points.
Crusaders 58 – 17 Reds
Rebels 42 – 22 Blues
Hurricanes 32 – 24 Sharks
Force 18 – 11 Waratahs
Lions 28 – 23 Highlanders
Stormers 25 – 24 Brumbies
4 from 6, a fairly average performance with only the Force winning being an upset.
Crusaders backup their flat track bully credentials. Nadolo was involved in most of there work adding 2 tries to some unselfish passing but he got lucky when spilling a high ball early on. The Reds were poor again and even a late consolation try didn’t add any respectability to the score. Both Slade and Carter looked good as they tried to stake a claim for the All Blacks 10 shirt but it was against the Reds.
The Rebels continued a good season and could sneak into the playoffs. They deserved their victory but we’re helped by some poor officiating. You are not allowed to take a quick line out if anyone off the field of play touches the ball. Yet even after going to the TMO they missed that the ball boy provided the ball. That try meant that the Blues were having to chase the game making it easier for the Rebels but they are still the better side. It looks like JK is going to get an extension which is very surprising. When you get to a certain level it’s about getting the right people around you and that’s something he has clearly been unable to do. He has lost too many quality players and I hope it really is a change of direction from him as culture is driven from the top.
The Hurricanes came through a tough came against the Sharks. With key leaders back the Sharks are a better side than their position in the table suggests. Even so this added to rather than answered questions about the Canes. Again they were naive giving up a try from a poor line out on their own try line and so slow tracking back by their wing allowed another. Having played the better rugby they just couldn’t put the Sharks away and giving up 18 turnovers to only 7 allowed the Sharks to keep in this game. They did get the result in the end with a wonderful try down the line but were helped by some questionable officiating the disallowed a Sharks scrum form a line out maul.
The upset of the round came from the Force who managed to do the double over the Waratahs. This was a game won by the back row who not only put in double figure tackle counts but also help force a massive 20 turnovers. A lot is begin made of Naiyaravoro’s try but in reality the Tahs were rarely able to get their wide players into the game.
The Lions staged a massive comeback to keep their playoff hopes alive. This game should have been done and dusted by halftime as the Highlanders opened up a 17 point lead. In the second half the Lions were running much better supporting lines and won the breakdown battle. As the Landers didn’t see so much of the ball they kept it in hand at the wrong times and got isolated meaning they were giving up too many penalties. Yes they have a very dangerous set of backs but when you have a big lead, play in the other half.
The Brumbies lost an attritional kicking contest to the Stormers. Even though everything they did upset the ref (5 v 19 penalties) the Brumbies should have won this one. There were very few opportunities for both sides but the Brumbies managed to score 2 tries and with about 10 minutes to go had an easy conversion to take the lead. Leali’ifano missed (his only miss of the game) and it could be such fine margins that decide the Australian conference.