BATH, ENGLAND – The twenty first round of Aviva Premiership action was marked by sunshine and an astonishing burst of offense. Following an absolutely enthralling weekend, some pundits were compelled to wistfully imagine a Northern Hemisphere domestic season that extended through the summer. While the demands of the international rugby calendar ensure that scenario will not come to pass, rugby fans might be feeling a bit wistful after this weekend’s display. With only one round remaining, RugbyWrapUp has your weekly Aviva Premiership Recap.
Bath and Northampton Draw, Ford Shines
In the weekend’s first match, Bath and Northampton played to a standstill, ending the match with the score level at 19-19. The final minutes were not without controversy. Courtney Lawes was whistled for a late hit, and a penalty was awarded within kickable range. However, referee Matthew Carley overruled his touch judge, and declared the match over. While Bath will feel as though they snatched a draw from the jaws of victory, the result likely represents the fairest outcome for both sides. George Ford was spectacular, scoring all 19 of Bath’s points through a try, conversion, and four penalties. Stephen Myler, not to be outdone, kicked four penalties of his own. The unquestionable highlight of the match was an individual try from Ford that just may have secured his starting slot for the first match of the tour to New Zealand. Stuart Lancaster was surely watching, with a number of potential England call-ups in both squads. Reports this week have surfaced that the English camp may name as many as 50 players to the Elite Player Squad ahead of their match with the Barbarians, in order to make up for shortcomings due to the insane playoff schedule.
Leicester Get Back on Track
Richard Cockerill demanded a response to the Tigers’ defeat by the Harlequins in Round 20, and received exactly what he desired. Leicester were sharp throughout the match, scoring six quality tries in a 42-22 rout of the Sale Sharks. Not all went right for the Tigers. Anthony Allen left the match after twenty minutes with an apparent shoulder injury, just as he was beginning to exert a great deal of influence in the match. Logovi’i Munipola has proven to be an extremely effective replacement in Dan Cole’s extended absence, running over all before him and setting up a number of offensive opportunities for Leicester inside the Sale half. Following the injury to Allen, Toby Flood came off the bench to score two tries, reminding the Tigers that his days as a useful player are not quite done yet. Niki Goneva continued his spectacular form with a simple try, while Sale struck back through Michael Paterson, Henry Thomas, and Johnny Leota.
Harlequins Given a Fright
Exeter put a scare into the Harlequins, going into half-time with a 16-5 lead that would have been devastating to the Quins’s playoff hopes. Conor O’Shea’s team managed to recover, eventually pulling ahead in the 74th minute via a Tom Guest try, and winning by a final score of 30-29. Guest was joined on the score sheet by Ugo Monye, Danny Care, and Nick Evans, while Exeter saw Dave Lewis and Matt Jess cross the whitewash. The Harlequins victory set up a do or die match next week against Bath at the Stoop. A Quins win by less than seven would see Bath through to the semi-finals on point differential. In an alternate scenario, if the home team manages to secure a try-scoring bonus point victory, they will go through regardless of point differential. It should make for one of the best club matches of the year, and all eyes will be on the two teams this Saturday.
Best of the Rest
Worcester confirmed what everyone knew, falling to Saracens 44-20 to ensure they will spend the next season in the Championship. Worcester’s place will be taken next season by one of Leeds Carnegie, London Welsh, Bristol, or Rotherham. Though the team has secured summer reinforcements, they may see Chris Pennell leave on loan next season. With the 2015 World Cup a stated goal for the talismanic full-back, he simply cannot spend the season in the second-tier. London Wasps and Newcastle played a match for the neutrals on Saturday, with the Wasps running out winners 44-38 at Adams Park. The match got off to a flying start when Newcastle scrum-half Mike Blair scored a first-minute try. It was a sign of things to come, as nine more were put on the board, delighting the sparse crowd. The victory did hold significance for the Wasps, virtually guaranteeing them a play-off against Stade Francais for the final spot in next year’s European Rugby Champions Cup. Gloucester and the London Irish, not to be outdone, also ran up the scoreline, with the Cherry and Whites outlasting the Exiles 38-30. Marland Yarde showed that he is back to full health with a hat trick, while Shane Monahan matched the feat for Gloucester.
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