LONDON, ENGLAND – The Premiership playoff race is in chaos after fifteen rounds. Though Bath and Northampton have home semi-finals almost wrapped up, third through seventh place are separated by a mere point. Three teams will end the season disappointed, but for fans it will be a thrilling conclusion to the year.
Wasps Don’t Help Their Case With a Draw
For all the world, Wasps’ Friday match against Newcastle appeared to be an ideal opportunity to snatch five points. The rapidly improving Falcons had other ideas. Newcastle has been on a very solid run of form, and they were actually the better side for the majority of the match. Winger Alex Tait opened the Falcons’ account in the fourth minute with a try in the corner. The teams traded scores until a 67th minute try from Wasps’ substitute Kane Thompson put the teams on even footing. A tense final thirteen minutes ensued without a score from either side, and the match ended 23-23. Wasps coach Dai Young backed Elliot Daly for an England spot, and his outside center delivered a hugely impressive showing, setting up two tries and scoring one of his own.
Clash of Top Teams Ends with Northampton on Top
Both Bath and Northampton were missing key players for their top of the table clash. The result likely won’t have much bearing on the playoff race, especially for Northampton, who are 12 points ahead of third place Saracens. The Saints will have a slight mental edge in the case of a final between the teams after winning home and away. Bath got off to a quality start, scoring the first ten points of the match, led by an early try from Olly Woodburn. Northampton put the game away during a twenty minute period when they scored eighteen points, before Stephen Myler put the match away with a penalty in the 70th minute. All eyes were on Sam Burgess once more, but the rugby league convert made only six meters with ball in hand. When Bath’s England contingent return, Burgess will likely be banished to the bench for the foreseeable future.
Exeter Vanquish Harlequins
Harlequins push for a playoff spot likely ended with their 32-21 defeat to Exeter on Saturday afternoon. Nick Easter returned to captain Quins, who will take positives from Nick Evans’ return to form. Evans scored thirteen first-half points after enduring a difficult season thus far. Despite his improvement, he was surpassed by Henry Slade, who slotted six penalties and scored twenty-two points in an extraordinary display. Exeter won in spite of themselves, after three yellow cards, including two in the first fifteen minute. Quins dominated possession, but Slade’s brilliance and the London team’s indiscipline in their own half put the Quins ten points from a playoff place with six teams ahead of them.
London Welsh Dominated Once More
Gloucester scored six tries in a dominant 48-19 victory over the London Welsh. Henry Purdy took advantage of Jonny May’s absence by scoring a brace. The match was effectively over by the twenty-fifth minute, when Matt Kvesic crossed to give the Cherry and Whites a 27-3 lead. The Exiles continued their abysmal form. A victory this season is far beyond them; they have now lost their first fifteen league matches, and have a single losing bonus point to show for the season. Piri Weepu will flee to the Top 14 next year, and massive turnover seems the likeliest result for the Welsh.
Sale Upset Saracens
Danny Cipriani signed a new two-year contract for Sale last weekend, spurning the advances of Toulon. His faith was rewarded in an impressive 14-10 triumph for the Sharks in Manchester. First half tries from Jonathan Mills and Sam Tuitupou put Sale in the driver’s seat, and Sarries were unable to respond with an under-strength team. For the third time this season, Saracens were forced into a late reshuffle when Charlie Hodgson pulled up with a hamstring injury during warm-ups, and Alex Goode was forced to move into the playmaker role. Goode is under serious consideration for an England spot this weekend, thanks to Mike Brown’s concussion. He did his chances no harm with a solid performance, but Saracens lacked an incisive attacking edge that might have put them on top.
Leicester Scrum Dominates Messy Game
Leicester set a new team record for try-scoring futility in an error-strewn match. The Tigers have crossed the try-line since January 4th, but they continued to secure league victories after a 12-6 display in Reading. Leicester ended the match with their third-choice scrum-half, David Mele, playing fly-half thanks to an injury to Freddie Burns. Burns was solid in the first half, setting a platform with two penalties and a drop goal. The Tigers scrum was dominant, securing seven penalties against an over-matched London Irish outfit. Though Richard Cockerill claimed after the match that victories are the only thing that matters, the Tigers will have to start scoring tries if they are to remain in the hunt for yet another playoff berth.
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