Gallagher Premiership Review: Saracens and Gloucester maintain play-off charges as Worcester edge relegation battle with Bristol

23 Mar

It was another busy and frantic day in the Gallagher Premiership on Saturday, with the stars of the Guinness Six Nations returning to club action.

There as a London derby at West Ham’s London stadium as champions Saracens took on Harlequins.

There was a nail-biting finale during Worcester’s trip to Bristol

Gloucester looked to maintain their push for a play-off place as they welcomed Wasps to Kingsholm.

And Bristol welcomed Worcester in what was a relegation battle with a nail-biting finish.

Scroll down to see a comprehensive review of all the action.

SARACENS 27-20 HARLEQUINS

Skleton was unplayable at West Ham’s London Stadium

Will Skelton took centre stage at the London Stadium by rescuing Saracens with two unstoppable short-range tries in a 27-20 Gallagher Premiership victory over Harlequins.

The champions fought back from a 17-6 interval deficit through touchdowns by Schalk Burger and Skelton to breathe life into a capital derby that had served up a dismal first half in front of a 42,717 crowd.

Quins were able to capitalise on the repeated mistakes made by Saracens to seize control when half-backs Marcus Smith and Danny Care crossed.

But the match was turned on its head from the moment the second half began and the fightback was done the hard way after Billy Vunipola and David Strettle had tries disallowed.

On both occasions JP Doyle’s decision-making was disputed by Saracens, who claimed that the referee should have allowed the scores to stand. The second ended with Care and Liam Williams being sent to the sin-bin for a lengthy scuffle.

But the home pack had woken up and it was another muscular short-range drive by Skelton, the outstanding Australia lock who was also named man of the match, which ultimately subdued Harlequins.

GLOUCESTER 27-14 WASPS

Jake Polledri goes over for Gloucester

Gloucester maintained their push for a Gallagher Premiership play-off place after beating Wasps 27-14 at Kingsholm.

First-half tries by captain Willi Heinz and flanker Ruan Ackermann put Wasps on the back foot, while centre Billy Twelvetrees kicked two conversions and a penalty.

Wasps have won just two of their last 14 games in all competitions, and their play-off hopes effectively evaporated despite a promising start that saw them lead through wing Marcus Watson’s try and two Rob Miller penalties.

Miller booted a third penalty 17 minutes from time, and Wasps’ England back Elliot Daly sent a long-range kick well wide as Gloucester had to dig deep.

But a late Twelvetrees penalty and Jake Polledri touchdown that Twelvetrees converted ensured victory.

BRISTOL 25-27 WORCESTER

Worcester celebrated their narrow victory

Worcester completed the double with a nail-biting 27-25 win over Bristol to boost their hopes of avoiding relegation from the Gallagher Premiership.

Warriors won 52-7 at Sixways back in October but they had to work much harder for this success and by overcoming a number of setbacks and two yellow cards to pick up a crucial win.

Ted Hill, Josh Adams and Ben Te’o scored their tries with Duncan Weir converting all three and adding two penalties.

Luke Morahan and Callum Sheedy scored tries for Bristol. There was also a penalty try award with Sheedy kicking two penalties and a conversion.

Gallagher Premiership: Bath go fifth with narrow win over Leicester, Bristol beat Newcastle in bottom-of-the-table clash

30 Dec

There were just two games in the Gallagher Premiership but both were absolute thrillers.

Below you can see the best of the action from Bath vs Leicester Tigers and Bristol vs Newcastle Falcons.

Bath 23-16 Leicester Tigers

Determined Bath climbed back into fifth place by beating Leicester 23-16 in the Gallagher Premiership.

Tries from Jamie Roberts, Mike Catt and Ruaridh McConnochie gave the home side enough of a platform to see off a Tigers comeback which earned a losing bonus point.

It was a tight game at the Recreation Ground

Buoyed by the bonus-point win over Harlequins that ended a run of seven defeats, Leicester took the lead after just two minutes as Jonny May latched on to a grubber kick by England team-mate George Ford, who also landed the conversion.

Bath responded with a sustained attack which earned a succession of penalties and a hard look from the TMO, but no try. Leicester had some respite when Ellis Genge won a scrum free-kick on his own line.

There was no let-up though and Francois Louw thought he had scored against the post on 19 minutes, only to be denied again by the TMO. Referee J P Doyle had been playing advantage so Burns kicked the penalty.

As Bath were enjoying nearly 80 per cent of territory and possession, skipper Will Chudley was stripped of the ball on the goal-line by Manu Tuilagi. Tigers won the scrum but hooker Jake Kerr spilled a pass from the resulting ruck and this time the home side were not to be denied.

Steady scrum ball allowed Chudley to feed Roberts on the crash ball on 27 minutes and Burns converted for a 10-7 lead.

Five minutes later he chased down Jonah Holmes deep into the visitors’ 22 and Catt was driven over for a second unconverted try to establish a two-score lead at the break.

A fast and furious start to the second half saw England flanker Sam Underhill helped off with his foot heavily strapped as Leicester started to threaten, eventually earning a penalty kicked by Ford.

But Bath’s riposte was immediate as Louw again broke the defensive line and swift passing gave McConnochie just enough space to evade Genge and score in the corner.

That third unconverted try made the score 20-10 on 55 minutes but Leicester looked dangerous on the break as Ford continued to sniff out opportunities for his runners.

Ford twice brought the visitors into losing bonus-point range with two penalties while Rhys Priestland came off the bench to kick a goal from 45 metres for Bath.

Bristol 35-28 Newcastle Falcons

Bristol stormed back from a half-time deficit to pick up a valuable five Premiership points with a thrilling 35-28 victory against Newcastle at Ashton Gate.

Tom Pincus scored the match-winner three minutes from time with Bristol’s other tries coming from Charles Piutau, Luke Morahan and Harry Randall. Ian Madigan converted two and kicked two penalties with Callum Sheedy adding a penalty and a conversion.

The game went down to the wire at Ashton Gate

Newcastle’s tries came from Vereniki Goneva, Adam Radwan and Callum Chick with Toby Flood converting two and kicking three penalties.

Bristol made an explosive start to take the lead after only 75 seconds with a brilliant try. A neat handling move saw Morahan make the crucial break before Randall showed strength to fend off the cover defence and force his way over.

Madigan converted before Falcons responded with a sustained period of pressure. Stern defence from the hosts kept their try-line intact but Flood put his side on the scoreboard with a simple penalty.

However, the visitors maintained their territorial dominance for the remainder of the first quarter and were rewarded with their first try when their pack drove Goneva over.

Flood converted before he extended the lead with his second penalty after Bristol wing Pincus was penalised for not releasing.

Newcastle then lost two players simultaneously with both Micky Young and John Hardie leaving the field for injury assessments before they suffered a further setback when Madigan knocked over a penalty.

The injury disruption did not stop Falcons’ momentum as their pack possessed too much power for Bristol, illustrated by their second try. The lively George McGuigan burst away from a line-out giving Chick the easy task of picking up and driving over.

Just before the interval, error-ridden Bristol rose from their slumbers with a free-flowing 60-metre move with Piutau, Dan Thomas and Chris Vui all making telling contributions but they lacked the accuracy to finish, leaving the hosts trailing 20-10 at half-time.

Charles and Siale Piutau celebrate Bristol’s win

After the restart, Bristol continued their improvement to reduce the arrears when Madigan’s pass sent Piutau over.

The score galvanised Bristol, who regained the lead with their third try. Morahan secured a vital high ball to give his side a platform from which Harry Thacker sent Morahan sneaking over.

Madigan missed the touchline conversion but succeeded with a penalty to give transformed Bristol a 25-20 lead going into the final quarter.

Newcastle responded with their third try when Radwan won the race to touch down a well-judged kick from Flood for the wing to celebrate his 21st birthday in style.

Bristol immediately changed their half-backs with new fly-half Sheedy kicking a penalty. That was soon nullified by one from Flood, before a superb burst from Ed Holmes set up the winner for Pincus.

Bristol 29-31 Exeter: Chiefs maintain excellent start to Gallagher Premiership after leaving it late against brave Bears

18 Nov

Exeter continued their unbeaten Gallagher Premiership record with a dramatic last-minute penalty try against Bristol – winning 31-29 in a thrilling contest at Ashton Gate.

Chiefs threw eleven men into a five-metre line-out and the referee awarded the penalty try when it collapsed, leaving the Bristol player devastated.

Bristol’s Andy Uren is left crushed by Exeter’s late try

Despite Exeter outscoring them by five tries to two, Bristol were the better side as they hustled their rusty opponents with an all-action effort.

Charles Piutau and Luke Morahan scored tries for Bristol, with Callum Sheedy converting both and kicking five penalties.

Moray Low, Tom Lawday, Santiago Cordero and Jack Yeandle scored tries for Exeter before their penalty try award, with Gareth Steenson converting two.

Bristol took a fourth-minute lead with a penalty from Sheedy but the visitors soon replied with the first try of the game. A strong burst from number eight Lawday put the defence on the back foot before Low forced his way over from close range.

Steenson converted before Sheedy knocked over two penalties to give Bristol a deserved 9-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Exeter continued to infringe for Sheedy to succeed with a more difficult kick, a wide-angled shot from 45 metres, but the visitors were the more clinical in taking their chances and were rewarded with their second try.

From a line-out five metres out, the drive was halted but from the resulting ruck, Lawday saw a gap to ghost over and Exeter were level.

Three minutes before the interval, Bristol finally got the try their first-half efforts had deserved. Will Hurrell threatened with a couple of determined runs and when Exeter were penalised close to their line, Piutau caught them unawares by quickly taking a tap to force his way over.

Sheedy converted to give his side a 19-12 interval lead, which could easily have been greater had Bristol not missed a couple of clear-cut chances.

Soon after the restart, Bristol lost their captain Steven Luatua to a head injury assessment. He was replaced by George Smith but the blow did not stop the hosts’ momentum as a neatly timed pass from John Afoa provided Morahan with an easy run-in.

Sheedy fired over an excellent touchline conversion but Exeter remained in contention at 26-19 when Cordero side-stepped two players to finish in style.

Sheedy lost his exemplary kicking record by hitting a post with a penalty attempt so Exeter went into the final quarter with a seven-point lead and the game in the balance.

Yeandle barged his way over for the bonus-point try and a fifth penalty from Sheedy looked to have secured a famous victory – until that collapsed maul sealed their fate.

It was a pulsating game at Ashton Gate

Premiership Rugby Review: Saracens smash Bath, Exeter continue good form and Danny Cipriani fails to shine for Gloucester

29 Sep

Bath were punished for fielding a weakened team against Saracens as Liam Williams ran in a hat-trick of tries to help the Gallagher Premiership champions claim a 50-27 victory at Allianz Park.

Director of rugby Todd Blackadder made 13 changes to the side that toppled Northampton, including Toby Faletau, Luke Charteris, Sam Underhill and Joe Cokanasiga among the group of front-line players rested.

Liam Williams goes over for one of his three tries

Blackadder’s decision was shaped by Exeter’s visit to the Recreation Ground on Friday, but the price was paid in north London where Saracens had the bonus point sown up before half-time and amassed eight tries in total.

To Bath’s credit they trailed only 26-20 at the interval and were persistent throughout, but they were outclassed and would have finished further behind had Alex Goode and Williams not blundered in the final act of scoring.

Goode could be forgiven his mistake, however, as his lines of running, step and vision made him untouchable at times and the full-back repeatedly overlooked by England head coach Eddie Jones finished as man of the match.

Exeter continued their impressive start to the season with a fifth successive win as Worcester became their latest victims in a hard-fought 28-21 success at Sandy Park.

Jack Nowell makes a successful break at Sandy Park

The Warriors were competitive in the opening quarter but conceded three tries in the second to ensure that there was to be no repeat of last season’s shock 6-5 win at Sandy Park, which was the only occasion that Exeter were beaten in the league on their home ground.

Dave Ewers scored two tries for Exeter, Jack Yeandle and Harry Williams one apiece, with Gareth Steenson converting all four.

Two penalties from Chris Pennell and a try from Ted Hill were Worcester’s response as they now have their eyes firmly set on next week’s crucial home game with Premiership newcomers Bristol.

Bristol suffered their first Gallagher Premiership home defeat of the season as Northampton claimed a 45-40 bonus point victory at Ashton Gate.

The teams served up an 11-try spectacular in the west country sunshine to maintain this season’s trend of high-scoring encounters.

Lewis Ludlam goes over for Bristol at Ashton Gate

And Saints, without an away league success since April, had enough in the tank to deny a Bristol side that had already claimed wins on home soil against Bath and Harlequins.

Northampton often made hard work of it, but they got over the line after tries from Ehren Painter, Andrew Kellaway, Lewis Ludlam, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Alex Waller and Mike Haywood, while fly-half Dan Biggar kicked five conversions and a penalty and Harry Mallinder also landed a conversion.

Bristol only led once in the game, yet they refused to go quietly, with centre Will Hurrell (two), hooker Harry Thacker and wings Luke Morahan and Alapati Leiua all claiming touchdowns and fly-half Callum Sheedy booting 15 points.

Harlequins won for the first time in the Gallagher Premiership since the first match of the season as a thumping clash saw them overhaul home team Gloucester 27-25.

Cipriani failed to inspire Gloucester

Two tries from wing Nathan Earle plus the boots of fly-half James Lang, with two penalties an a conversion, plus his replacement Marcus Smith, who landed three penalties, saw the Londoners to victory.

Fly-half Danny Cipriani scored 15 of Gloucester’s points with a try, two penalties and two conversions with wing Charlie Sharples crossing the Harlequins line twice.

Gallagher Premiership: Billy Vunipola scores on Saracens return, Exeter continue good start, Bath and Gloucester draw in thriller

8 Sep

Here is the best from Saturday’s action in the Gallagher Premiership.

Saracens 44-23 Bristol

Billy Vunipola made a try-scoring comeback as Saracens pulled clear of Bristol in a dominant second half that underpinned a 44-23 Gallagher Premiership victory at Allianz Park.

Vunipola’s first appearance since re-fracturing his arm against South Africa in June totalled 36 minutes and the injury-ravaged England number eight was a menace throughout.

Saracens needed his firepower to subdue a resilient Bristol who led 18-13 at half time and suffered the injustice of seeing George Smith harshly sent off for a tackle on Jackson Wray when the score was delicately poised at 18-18.

Vunipola and Saracens turned the screw in the second-half

Smith’s challenge was at shoulder height and there was a clear attempt to use his right arm, but after repeated viewings referee Andrew Jackson reached for the red card. Wray departed for a head injury assessment and was unable to return.

The Australia Test centurion stared at Jackson in disbelief, received a sympathetic pat on the head from his head coach Pat Lam upon reaching the dugout and then watched as Saracens powered clear with tries from Vunipola and Liam Williams.

England lock Maro Itoje was lucky to escape punishment for a high tackle on Joe Joyce under the posts as Bristol staged a final-quarter comeback that ended when Williams plundered two additional tries to complete his own successful return from a groin problem.

Wasps 31-42 Exeter

Exeter beat Wasps 42-31 in an enthralling contest at the Ricoh Arena to continue their impressive start to the Gallagher Premiership season.

Henry Slade scored two of Exeter’s six tries

After last week’s 40-point demolition of Leicester at Sandy Park, the visitors overcame a 24-21 half-time deficit to run out deserved winners.

Sam Simmonds and Henry Slade both scored two tries for Chiefs, with Santiago Cordero and Don Armand also crossing and Gareth Steenson converting all six.

Elliot Daly, Josh Bassett, Dan Robson and Nathan Hughes scored Wasps’ tries, with Billy Searle adding three conversions and a penalty. Lima Sopoaga added a conversion.

Bath 31-31 Gloucester

Matt Banahan denied his former Bath team-mates a remarkable Gallagher Premiership victory as his late converted try secured Gloucester a 31-31 draw.

Banahan denied his old club the victory at the death

Ex-England wing Banahan, who joined Gloucester this summer following a long Bath career that saw him more than 250 appearances, struck two minutes from time, with Billy Twelvetrees’ conversion ensuring the points were shared.

Leicester 49-33 Newcastle

Leicester gave Geordan Murphy the perfect start as interim head coach as they came out on top in a thrilling 49-33 victory over Newcastle.

It had been a turbulent week for the Tigers with Matt O’Connor sacked on Monday following their 40-6 humiliation to Exeter in their Gallagher Premiership opener, leaving former Ireland and British & Irish Lions full-back Murphy in command on a temporary basis.

Murphy got off to a winning start as interim Leicester head coach

But the 40-year-old, who made 316 appearances for the Tigers, watched his men get off to a winning start against his old coach Dean Richards.