LEICESTER, ENGLAND – For the first time in months, the focus of English rugby fans returned to the Premiership, and they were rewarded for their attention. A clinical display from the champions, a shocking upset that catapulted one side back into the playoff race, and a last-gasp try deep in injury time meant that the home stretch of the season is well and truly upon us, and RugbyWrapUp has you covered for the run-in.
Leicester Clinical in Dismantling Exeter
The Chiefs may have been tired from their Herculean cup-winning efforts the week before, but Leicester looked like a side that would have been impossible to stop as they romped to a 45-15 victory. Manu Tuilangi scored an early try in the eighth minute, and things were all downhill from there for the Chiefs. Logovi’I Munipola, Veniki Goneva, Adam Thompstone, and David Mele all added scores, and the Tigers finished with an essential try-scoring bonus point against quality opposition. Bath, Northampton, and Saracens will be worried that Leicester are once again rounding into form at exactly the right time, having endured a difficult start to the season. For Exeter, the heavy defeat probably spells the end of their European Cup hopes for next season, having fallen eleven points off the pace.
Sale Completes Recovery
At this point last year, Sale were mired in a dogfight at the bottom of the table. This season, they have skyrocketed to heady heights, summoning their best display of the season when they needed it most. The Northampton Saints opted to keep their England stars in the lineup, and seemed to suffer for it. The likes of Dylan Hartley, Luther Burrell, and Courtney Lawes all started slowly, allowing a seventh minute try to Mark Cueto, followed by two more, as the Sharks prevailed 19-6 at home. Hartley and Sam Tuitupou went into the sin bin in the thirty-third minute for a brief conflagration, and Stuart Lancaster will surely be keeping an eye on his combustible hooker, who many named the top line-out operator in the Six Nations. With the loss, Northampton slipped into second place after occupying pole position for most of the season, a worrisome trend that they will try to reverse next week with their match against derby rivals Leicester.
Worcester Woes Continue
The Warriors have endured more than their fair share of heart-rending defeats over the course of the season, but this may have been the roughest of all. Ahead 11-6 in injury time, the exhausted team conceded a try, before watching Andy Goode sink the winning conversion, giving the Wasps a 13-11 triumph. Dean Ryan, subdued in his post-match press conference, admitted that the defeats were becoming more and more difficult to take, stating “Sport doesn’t necessarily give you everything you think you deserve. It hurts.” There is usually a certain schadenfruede in watching relegation-bound sides in football (think QPR’s ridiculous outlay last year). However, the Warriors have consistently put out a side that have received all of the wrong bounces, leading to one of sport’s more sympathetic winless seasons in recent memory.
Saracens put on a great display for their “world-record” crowd at Wembly, handily dispatching a rudderless Harlequins 39-17. Owen Farrell was once more immaculate from the kicking tee, going five for five. Though almost all outlets reporting on the match included the caveat that there appeared to be plenty of empty seats in the “sold-out” stadium, the annual match has clearly improved Sarries visibility in the capital. It is to be noted that ten years ago, the corresponding fixture drew just over six thousand fans, reflecting a massive (and promising) growth in the sport. Gloucester and Newcastle put on a match that delighted neutrals. The Cherry and Whites ended their season-long offensive doldrums by hanging 40 points on the Falcons, who responded with 30 of their own. Though neither side is in danger of the drop, or of troubling the top half of the table, they ran out with admirable energy and dedication to provide a spectacle in one of the more entertaining matches of the year. Wrapping things up, Bath maintained their grip on third place by beating the London Irish, 44-23, behind the boot of George Ford, who kicked for 24 points. Kyle Eastmond, Antony Watson, David Wilson, and Matt Garvey added tries in an easy win for the seemingly playoff-bound West Country outfit.
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