THE STOOP, LONDON – Bath occupied a playoff position at the end of twenty out of the twenty-two rounds contested this season. Unfortunately for the club in blue and white, this weekend marked one of the rounds where they were out of the picture, and it is these standings that ultimately decide a team’s fate. Elsewhere, major developments took place off the field on a relatively quiet weekend, and RugbyWrapUp has you covered if you missed any of the action.
Harlequins Break Hearts
Quins completed an absolutely extraordinary late season comeback by defeating Bath 19-16. As recently as a month ago, their playoff hopes had been left for dead, but victories over Leicester, Exeter, Sale, London Irish, and now Bath lifted them into the fourth playoff spot. It may be short lived consolation, as Chris Robshaw and his teammates will run into Saracens away from home this weekend, but for now, they could not be more thrilled. The match lived up to its hype as a “winner take all” clash, with both teams playing ferocious rugby. The first half was somewhat marred by errors, with both Bath and Harlequins players clearly overeager to make their mark. However, as the sides settled into the game, passes began to connect, and the second half was hugely entertaining. Mike Brown scored on a dangerous pass from Danny Care that somehow floated just enough to free the England full-back into the corner. George Ford continued to impress with an absolutely sparkling individual run from thirty five meters out that took him over the try line. Once more, Ford was responsible for all of Bath’s points on the day, kicking three penalties and converting his try. However, his drop goal attempt after time expired fell short, and Bath’s hearts were broken. Harlequins scrum was dominant in the early going, giving the team a solid platform moving forward. Next season, Bath can look forward to some major additions to their ranks, with Sam Burgess joining from rugby league, and their core of solid young backs growing a year older. Quins will take comfort in the here and now, and attempt to defy the odds once more against a heavily favored Saracens team.
For 15 minutes, it looked as though Franklin Gardens might be the sight of a nightmarish scene for Northampton Saints and their support. Down 13-0 in a match that they only needed a point from, the Saints were rocked by early tries from Tom Varndell and Charlie Davies, both coming from charge downs. However, the Saints roared back with eleven consecutive tries, setting a club record for margin of victory in the process. The final scoreline, 74-13, reflected Northampton’s absolute dominance over the final sixty-five minutes. Luther Burell, Lee Dickson, Phil Dowson, Ben Foden, Stephen Myler, George North, Ken Pisi, and Tom Stephenson touched down for Northampton in their extraordinary display which guaranteed a home semi-final against Leicester. For Wasps, it was not the ideal end to the season, with their own playoff matchup against Stade Francais looming. Alex Corbesiro returned to action for the Saints, though he has been ruled out of the upcoming England tour of New Zealand.
Best of the Rest
Worcester ended their season with their second victory of the campaign, triumphing 28-27 over Gloucester at Sixways. The loss was the final nail in the coffin for Nigel Davies, who was fired from his position as Gloucester’s director of rugby following the match. Leicester booked their place in the semis with a bonus point win over Saracens, touching down four times in a controversial match marred by an incorrect red card. For all the commentary about overuse of the TMO, this was a case where it might have been properly invoked, as Sarries were forced to play almost a full half a man down after Justin Melck was sent off for an eye gouge he did not commit. Manu Tuilani, Blaine Scully, and Graham Kitchner were responsible for Leicester’s tries, with the final scoreline reading 31-27 in the Tigers’ favor. The final match of the weekend saw London Irish overcome a ten point deficit to dispatch Sale, 22-20. James O’Conner played his final match in England, accounting for a penalty and two conversions.
Talks continue to develop over bringing an Aviva Premiership match to the USA next season. According to reports in the Times, this would be a league-wide initiative, distinguishing the plan from previous attempts to bring London Irish over for an exhibition. Mark McCafferty, chief executive of Premiership Rugby, commented, “we have to find the right entry point and the right time.” The match is being represented as an opportunity to move rugby forward in the United States, and hopes are high that this will be the year a match comes to fruition after numerous mooted plans in the past.