NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND – The Aviva Premiership now has a mere four rounds remaining, but things are just beginning to heat up at the top and bottom of the table. A top four that looked set for the better part of the campaign may yet see a party crasher, while the relegation battle, long thought to be over, was granted a breath of fresh air. RugbyWrapUp has your Aviva Premiership Weekend Review, this week and every week, from now until the Final in May.
Bites, and Tries, and Early Whistles, Oh My.
Everyone reading will surely be shocked, shocked we say, to discover that there was a refereeing controversy during the latest East Midlands derby. Wayne Barnes found himself in hot water with both camps, for missing a bite on Tom Youngs and potentially blowing the whistle early and costing the Saints a chance for a five metre lineout with only thirteen Tigers on the field. Leicester coach Richard Cockerill, hardly a shrinking violet when it comes to expressing his dissatisfaction with match officials, claimed that “you can’t always blame the referee for the result.” Someone will be sure to remind him of that bon mot the next time he starts whining. In terms of the actual rugby, the Saints continued their dip in form, lacking offensive cohesion as they sank to a 22-16 defeat. Owen Williams deserves plaudits for a perfect day from the kicking tee, converting all six of his opportunities, and making the Saints pay for ill-discipline in the Tigers half. Leicester had difficulties of their own, with Ben Youngs and Verniki Goneva both heading off in the final ten minutes for offenses. This marked the first time since 2011 that Northampton has gone down in three consecutive Premiership matches, and their grip on second place, and a vital home semi-final is less secure than it has been at any point this season. Though Jim Mallinder’s side have a seven point cushion, they cannot afford too many more slip-ups. If the season ended today, the Tigers and Saints would be dancing in the playoffs once more at Franklin Gardens, and the defending champions will be encouraged by their display on Saturday.
Sale Win Sloppy Contest
The Sale Sharks continued their meteoric ascent, winning at Bath 12-11 to slide within four points of a playoff position. Bath may have been distracted by the news that their proposal for a new stadium had been rejected once more by the town council, a major reverse for the club which desperately needs a new home. Though the Recreation Ground is one of the most picturesque venues in world rugby, the fact remains that the West Country side would not have a venue that conformed to Premiership standards without the “grandfather clause.” The Premiership fought unsuccessfully two years ago to keep London Welsh out of the league when they had a superior arrangement. Though Bath continue to try, and try again, something must be done to ensure the long-term future of the club in the rapidly monetized sport. In the match itself, controversy erupted after Sale conceded six penalties from the scrum without a penalty try awarded. Dean Richards justified his decision after the match by claiming that Bath were never moving forward, so they had not been denied a try-scoring chance. However, Bath were not exactly comforted by his explanation, and they now face a nervous run-in.
The headline we have been waiting all season to write deserves all caps. The Warriors ended their year-long losing streak with a nail-biting 17-12 victory over Newcastle. Worcester were rewarded for scoring the match’s only try, coming via winger Josh Drauniniu, in the seventieth minute, which broke a 12-12 deadlock. Though Dean Ryan’s side are nine points adrift at the bottom of the table, they now have a match to build off, following three excruciating close defeats. Ryan Lamb and Chris Pennell added two penalties each, while Phil Goodman slotted four penalties for Newcastle, who looked poor in front of their home supporters.
Best of the Rest
Bonus point victories are becoming commonplace for Saracens. With a point differential of +247, by far the best in the league, the Sarries have been the top regular season team by far. They have sixteen victories and only two defeats, with the latest coming at Adams Park when they defeated London Wasps, 32-20. Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, Owen Farrell and company will be playing a home semi-final at Allianz Park in another month. The Harlequins welcomed back their English national side contingent with an emphatic triumph over London Irish, dispatching the Exiles 23-9. Mike Brown simply cannot be contained at the moment, scoring a second half try to put the game away. Gloucester won another match, dispatching the Exeter Chiefs 14-13, and carrying momentum forward to salvage a difficult season. Exeter missed a last second conversion which would have won the game, giving the Cherry and Whites one of their first bits of luck this year.
That’s it for now, Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp,Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall and Declan Yeats, respectively.