LONDON, ENGLAND – The addition of a playoff for the final spot in the European Championship has been lauded throughout England, adding interest to the race for seventh for supporters and punters alike. The twentieth round of the Premiership demonstrated that offensive fireworks come when the weather turns, and showcasing the expansive style of some of England’s best side. This week, as always, Rugby Wrap Up has your Aviva Premiership weekend recap, catching you up on what you may have missed.
The Chiefs were handed their worst defeat in years at home, falling to Sale by a final score of 55-12. The second half effort was particularly disappointing, as the home team went into the break trailing by only twelve. The result guaranteed Sale a place at the table in next season’s elite competition, while it left Exeter looking over their shoulder at the onrushing London Wasps. While Rob Baxter has done an excellent job elevating a Championship side into a true Premiership mainstay, the squad’s thin depth has told towards the end of the season. Thomas Waldom will be arriving from Leicester to take some of the burden off of an overworked pack, but the Chiefs simply ran out of gas at the end of the match. Danny Cipriani put on a masterclass, distributing impressively. Sources within the England national camp now claim that the fly-half is in serious contention with George Ford to start the first New Zealand test in June, operating under the assumption that Owen Farrell’s Saracens will be in the Aviva Premiership final. Cipriani has had a remarkable comeback campaign, and must be on any short-list for player of the term.
Quins Outduel Leicester, Might be Too Little, Too Late
The Harlequins maintained their hugely impressive run of home form with a 24-20 victory over Leicester. After an extremely broken first half, marred by continual stoppages of play, the Quins took control after half-time, using impressive ball retention to deny the Tigers the chance to put further pressure on Northampton. Despite an abysmal January and February, the Harlequins have control of their own fate: if they win their two remaining matches, against Exeter and Bath, they should be in the playoffs as the fourth seeded side. It would be a fair result, given the hugely impressive run they have put together over the past two months. No team in the Premiership relishes facing Conor O’Shea’s side at the moment. Danny Care was named Man of the Match after a great display, continually upping the tempo with tap and go’s. Ben Youngs did not play poorly, but he failed to impress enough to win back the starting No. 9 shirt, and Care will likely be on the field in June.
Bath, Northampton Do What They Must
Both Bath and Northampton won handily this weekend, maintaining their tenuous grips on second and fourth place, respectively. Bath outlasted Worcester 32-20, while Northampton put London Irish to the sword 36-21. Following his yellow card in the Gloucester farce, Nick Abendenon redeemed himself somewhat with a try, while Matt Banahan also crossed the whitewash for Bath. Chris Pennell continued to shine, scoring a try, a penalty, and a conversion. He, at the very least, should be assured of Premiership rugby next season after an outstanding campaign. The Saints put five tries on the Exiles, while the London side were made to rue missed opportunities after spurning three golden chances in the first half. The match was done at the break, with Northampton ahead by 24, but the Exiles did show some fight in scoring three second-half tries.
Wasps Mark Big Day With Win, Newcastle Prove Tougher than Expected
The London Wasps put on a big show for the 38,000 fans who trekked to Twickenham, playing out a hugely entertaining 38-30 victory against Gloucester. James Haskell scored twice for Wasps, while Tom Varndell marked a welcome return to the scoresheet with an intercept try. The Wasps offense has lacked pace this season, largely due to the unfortunate extended absences of Varndell and Christian Wade. When both return for the next campaign, Dai Young will be thrilled, and so will neutral supporters. Freddy Burns scored a try after being relieved of kicking duties, with Billy Twelvetrees handling shots at goal. In the weekend’s final matchup, Newcastle ran Saracens extremely close, only falling in the final five minutes, 23-18. The Sarries were almost made to pay for running out a second string side, but they managed to secure a home semi-final nonetheless. Charlie Hodgson’s experience saw the league leaders safely through, but it was a creditable effort from the eleventh placed team, showing fight in front of their home support.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@ :RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall,James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.