Harlequins 23-19 Leicester: Tigers steal vital losing bonus point at the Stoop to put pressure on Newcastle Falcons

3 May

Newcastle clung on to their place in Gallagher Premiership for another day at least after Leicester fell to an ugly 23-19 defeat by Harlequins.

The Tigers needed two points from the penultimate round of the regular season to condemn Newcastle to relegation, but fell short on a hard-fought evening at the Stoop.

Harlequins scrum half Danny Care makes a break at the Stoop

Victory over Gloucester on Saturday will allow the Falcons to survive until the final weekend when they host Bristol, but they would still remain overwhelming favourites to go down.

Harlequins replaced Northampton in fourth to lift their hopes of securing a semi-final, in the process ending their five-match losing run in the Premiership.

Flanker Alex Dombrandt was a constant threat in the carry, prop Kyle Sinckler rampaged around the pitch and scrum-half Danny Care marked his return from a hamstring injury with a lively display, but it was an evening of few highlights.

Replacement lock Semi Kunatani delivered the knockout blow seven minutes from time when he scooped the ball from a ruck and galloped through a gigantic hole to finish under the posts.

Semi Kunatani scores what proved to be the winner

All of Leicester’s points were delivered by the boot of George Ford until Mike Fitzgerald drove over three minutes into overtime, securing a bonus point that could yet be critical in condemning Newcastle to relegation.

Former Australia captain James Horwill led out Quins in his final home appearance before retiring at the end of the season and his team were quickly into their stride though a piercing attack launched by Mike Brown.

It took six minutes for the first try to come, strong carries from Dombrandt and Horwill at a line-out creating the chance for Care to cross from close range.

Two penalties by Ford kept Leicester in touch and a period of dominance followed as Quins spent increasingly lengthy spells defending in their own 22.

George Ford was as reliable as ever with the boot for the Tigers

For all their possession, the Tigers could not breach the try-line but as half-time approached their prospects improved when opposition number eight Jack Clifford was sent to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle on full-back Telusa Veainu.

Back chat from Quins cost another 10 metres and although the home side rallied superbly at a threatening line-out, Leicester’s assault continued with waves of attacks forcing a penalty that was landed by Ford.

Veainu departed for a head injury assessment a full two minutes after he had been flattened by Clifford, but he passed the test.

A stilted start to the second half produced few thrills but a pair of Smith penalties propelled Quins back in front and Leicester’s chances faded when Dan Cole conceded a penalty just as his side were building a head of steam.

England flyer Johnny May could not find a way through the strong Quins defence

The visitors lacked cohesion and their lack of threat was summed up when Ford sent an attacking kick straight into touch.

And typically they were at fault for the try that finished them off as they left a ruck unguarded, allowing Fijian giant Kunatani to touch down.

The last word was had by Leicester, however, as replacement second row Fitzgerald used his bulky frame to force his way over and secure the losing bonus point.

Harlequins 23-19 Leicester: Tigers steal vital losing bonus point at the Stoop to put pressure on Newcastle Falcons

3 May

Newcastle clung on to their place in Gallagher Premiership for another day at least after Leicester fell to an ugly 23-19 defeat by Harlequins.

The Tigers needed two points from the penultimate round of the regular season to condemn Newcastle to relegation, but fell short on a hard-fought evening at the Stoop.

Harlequins scrum half Danny Care makes a break at the Stoop

Victory over Gloucester on Saturday will allow the Falcons to survive until the final weekend when they host Bristol, but they would still remain overwhelming favourites to go down.

Harlequins replaced Northampton in fourth to lift their hopes of securing a semi-final, in the process ending their five-match losing run in the Premiership.

Flanker Alex Dombrandt was a constant threat in the carry, prop Kyle Sinckler rampaged around the pitch and scrum-half Danny Care marked his return from a hamstring injury with a lively display, but it was an evening of few highlights.

Replacement lock Semi Kunatani delivered the knockout blow seven minutes from time when he scooped the ball from a ruck and galloped through a gigantic hole to finish under the posts.

Semi Kunatani scores what proved to be the winner

All of Leicester’s points were delivered by the boot of George Ford until Mike Fitzgerald drove over three minutes into overtime, securing a bonus point that could yet be critical in condemning Newcastle to relegation.

Former Australia captain James Horwill led out Quins in his final home appearance before retiring at the end of the season and his team were quickly into their stride though a piercing attack launched by Mike Brown.

It took six minutes for the first try to come, strong carries from Dombrandt and Horwill at a line-out creating the chance for Care to cross from close range.

Two penalties by Ford kept Leicester in touch and a period of dominance followed as Quins spent increasingly lengthy spells defending in their own 22.

George Ford was as reliable as ever with the boot for the Tigers

For all their possession, the Tigers could not breach the try-line but as half-time approached their prospects improved when opposition number eight Jack Clifford was sent to the sin-bin for a dangerous tackle on full-back Telusa Veainu.

Back chat from Quins cost another 10 metres and although the home side rallied superbly at a threatening line-out, Leicester’s assault continued with waves of attacks forcing a penalty that was landed by Ford.

Veainu departed for a head injury assessment a full two minutes after he had been flattened by Clifford, but he passed the test.

A stilted start to the second half produced few thrills but a pair of Smith penalties propelled Quins back in front and Leicester’s chances faded when Dan Cole conceded a penalty just as his side were building a head of steam.

England flyer Johnny May could not find a way through the strong Quins defence

The visitors lacked cohesion and their lack of threat was summed up when Ford sent an attacking kick straight into touch.

And typically they were at fault for the try that finished them off as they left a ruck unguarded, allowing Fijian giant Kunatani to touch down.

The last word was had by Leicester, however, as replacement second row Fitzgerald used his bulky frame to force his way over and secure the losing bonus point.

Bloodgate: It was as bad as drug taking, says Brian O’Driscoll, while George Robson reveals Harlequins scandal not a one off

11 Apr

It was the scandal that rocked rugby, a sport which saw its values questioned.

And it all centred around blood capsules bought at a joke shop in Clapham Junction, south west London.

During the 2009 Heineken Cup quarter-final on 12 April, as Harlequins stared at defeat to Leinster, replacement Tom Williams used a fake blood capsule to engineer a blood substitution.

Williams pretended to be hurt and bit on a blood capsule so he could be replaced by Nick Evans

Biting on the capsule would allow director of rugby Dean Richards to bring fly-half Nick Evans – one of the game’s best kickers – back on to try and win the tie.

Evans had gone off injured in the 47th minute and replaced by Chris Malone, who was subsequently also injured.

As the clock ticked down, Evans hobbled back on. However, he missed a last-minute drop-goal attempt – Quins lost 6-5.

Then the walls came tumbling down.

Television cameras captured Williams winking to the dugout as he trudged off. Something wasn’t right and soon everyone was talking about ‘Bloodgate’ – you know it’s bad when that suffix is attached.

Bloodgate repercussions

When the cheating eventually came to light, the punishments were severe

  • Quins were fined £237,000
  • Dean Richards, being the central figure, was banned from rugby for three years
  • Tom Williams was initially banned for 12 months, which was reduced to four
  • Physio Steph Brennan got a two-year ban.
  • Wendy Chapman, who had cut Williams’s lip at his own request after the game to cover up the ruse, was reprimanded by the General Medical Council

It is the worst form of cheating, according to Brian O’Driscoll who played for Leinster that day.

“This, for me, is like drug taking. I put that in the same category,” he told talkSPORT as part of an interview for a documentary due to air this evening ahead of Bloodgate’s tenth anniversary.

“For me there’s different grades.

“Is Neil Back’s ‘Hand of Back’ [in the 2002 Heineken Cup final] cheating? Yes, it’s a form of it, but do you know what? It’s gamesmanship and for me it’s acceptable, but it’s borderline.

“I think [Bloodgate] was a disgrace. Irrespective of the individual, the act of trying to take a blood capsule, create a situation that wasn’t real to get a player on is a real form of cheating.”

Yet George Robson, who was on the losing Quins team 10 years ago, revealed it wasn’t a one off, telling talkSPORT he came off with a fake blood injury once during an away game at Leicester Tigers.

“I acted as a blood substitute, having a piece of gauze with some blood on it on my head,” the former lock explained.

“That wasn’t my blood, I don’t know if it was blood, I presume it wasn’t.”

Williams is helped from the pitch by Steph Brennan with ‘blood’ pouring from his mouth

For Robson, though, it was an accepted part of the culture he was surrounded by – and he didn’t even give it a second thought 10 years ago.

He continued: “My understanding was, this is the protocol, and the rationale is that it’s going to help us win a rugby game.

“From my perspective, I didn’t see anything wrong with that. I didn’t think this is crazy or ridiculous and, 10 years on when I speak to people I work with or study with and share some of that insight, they look at me as if I’ve got three heads.”

From 8pm on talkSPORT

The story of how one blood capsule changed rugby forever, which includes new interviews with Sir Clive Woodward, Brian O’Driscoll and the man at the centre of it all, Tom Williams.

Bloodgate: It was as bad as drug taking, says Brian O’Driscoll, while George Robson reveals Harlequins scandal not a one off

11 Apr

It was the scandal that rocked rugby, a sport which saw its values questioned.

And it all centred around blood capsules bought at a joke shop in Clapham Junction, south west London.

During the 2009 Heineken Cup quarter-final on 12 April, as Harlequins stared at defeat to Leinster, replacement Tom Williams used a fake blood capsule to engineer a blood substitution.

Williams pretended to be hurt and bit on a blood capsule so he could be replaced by Nick Evans

Biting on the capsule would allow director of rugby Dean Richards to bring fly-half Nick Evans – one of the game’s best kickers – back on to try and win the tie.

Evans had gone off injured in the 47th minute and replaced by Chris Malone, who was subsequently also injured.

As the clock ticked down, Evans hobbled back on. However, he missed a last-minute drop-goal attempt – Quins lost 6-5.

Then the walls came tumbling down.

Television cameras captured Williams winking to the dugout as he trudged off. Something wasn’t right and soon everyone was talking about ‘Bloodgate’ – you know it’s bad when that suffix is attached.

Bloodgate repercussions

When the cheating eventually came to light, the punishments were severe

  • Quins were fined £237,000
  • Dean Richards, being the central figure, was banned from rugby for three years
  • Tom Williams was initially banned for 12 months, which was reduced to four
  • Physio Steph Brennan got a two-year ban.
  • Wendy Chapman, who had cut Williams’s lip at his own request after the game to cover up the ruse, was reprimanded by the General Medical Council

It is the worst form of cheating, according to Brian O’Driscoll who played for Leinster that day.

“This, for me, is like drug taking. I put that in the same category,” he told talkSPORT as part of an interview for a documentary due to air this evening ahead of Bloodgate’s tenth anniversary.

“For me there’s different grades.

“Is Neil Back’s ‘Hand of Back’ [in the 2002 Heineken Cup final] cheating? Yes, it’s a form of it, but do you know what? It’s gamesmanship and for me it’s acceptable, but it’s borderline.

“I think [Bloodgate] was a disgrace. Irrespective of the individual, the act of trying to take a blood capsule, create a situation that wasn’t real to get a player on is a real form of cheating.”

Yet George Robson, who was on the losing Quins team 10 years ago, revealed it wasn’t a one off, telling talkSPORT he came off with a fake blood injury once during an away game at Leicester Tigers.

“I acted as a blood substitute, having a piece of gauze with some blood on it on my head,” the former lock explained.

“That wasn’t my blood, I don’t know if it was blood, I presume it wasn’t.”

Williams is helped from the pitch by Steph Brennan with ‘blood’ pouring from his mouth

For Robson, though, it was an accepted part of the culture he was surrounded by – and he didn’t even give it a second thought 10 years ago.

He continued: “My understanding was, this is the protocol, and the rationale is that it’s going to help us win a rugby game.

“From my perspective, I didn’t see anything wrong with that. I didn’t think this is crazy or ridiculous and, 10 years on when I speak to people I work with or study with and share some of that insight, they look at me as if I’ve got three heads.”

From 8pm on talkSPORT

The story of how one blood capsule changed rugby forever, which includes new interviews with Sir Clive Woodward, Brian O’Driscoll and the man at the centre of it all, Tom Williams.

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 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.

Rugby World Cup glory is still well within reach for England, insists former international Joe Marler

19 Mar

England still have a shot at Rugby World Cup glory in Japan this autumn despite their slip up in the Six Nations, believes former international Joe Marler.

Eddie Jones’ side finished runners-up to Grand Slam-winning Wales, after their defeat in Cardiff and a remarkable 38-38 draw with Scotland on Saturday.

England have a big problem ahead of this year’s World Cup in Japan

The Red Rose’s mental fragility was exposed once again as they surrendered a 31-point lead to tie at Twickenham, as the Scots retained the Calcutta Cup after a thrilling second half.

The result, in their last competitive match before the World Cup kicks off in September, casts major doubt on England’s world title bid in Japan.

Despite their struggles, though, Marler – who retired from international rugby in 2018 – insists England are still a match for any team in the world.

Speaking on Tuesday’s Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast, the Harlequins prop said: “It was just carnage on Saturday, it was a nightmare watching that second 40.

“They needed to take the sting out of Scotland, they needed a bit more experience and leadership, but they’re missing a number of senior players that haven’t been involved for various reasons.

“Dylan Hartley has been out injured, Chris Robshaw was injured for the first part and didn’t quite make it back and Mike Brown wasn’t selected for this tournament – you’re looking at 200 odd caps there and I think the side really missed that experience on Saturday.

Joe Marler is confident England are still contenders for this year’s World Cup

“They finished second, so it was a more successful tournament than the fifth place last year.

“They’ve made some strides forward and hopefully they’ve got some lessons they can learn over the next few months going into the World Cup.

“But let’s not forget how good they were for that Ireland game. They’ve got the potential to absolutely challenge everyone in the world. When they’ve got their first strong XV and they’ve got their game plan right, they’re on the money.

“It would have been nice to win the Six Nations, but it’s all about the World Cup this year.”

Listen back to Joe Marler on the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast IN FULL above

Rugby World Cup glory is still well within reach for England, insists former international Joe Marler

19 Mar

England still have a shot at Rugby World Cup glory in Japan this autumn despite their slip up in the Six Nations, believes former international Joe Marler.

Eddie Jones’ side finished runners-up to Grand Slam-winning Wales, after their defeat in Cardiff and a remarkable 38-38 draw with Scotland on Saturday.

England have a big problem ahead of this year’s World Cup in Japan

The Red Rose’s mental fragility was exposed once again as they surrendered a 31-point lead to tie at Twickenham, as the Scots retained the Calcutta Cup after a thrilling second half.

The result, in their last competitive match before the World Cup kicks off in September, casts major doubt on England’s world title bid in Japan.

Despite their struggles, though, Marler – who retired from international rugby in 2018 – insists England are still a match for any team in the world.

Speaking on Tuesday’s Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast, the Harlequins prop said: “It was just carnage on Saturday, it was a nightmare watching that second 40.

“They needed to take the sting out of Scotland, they needed a bit more experience and leadership, but they’re missing a number of senior players that haven’t been involved for various reasons.

“Dylan Hartley has been out injured, Chris Robshaw was injured for the first part and didn’t quite make it back and Mike Brown wasn’t selected for this tournament – you’re looking at 200 odd caps there and I think the side really missed that experience on Saturday.

Joe Marler is confident England are still contenders for this year’s World Cup

“They finished second, so it was a more successful tournament than the fifth place last year.

“They’ve made some strides forward and hopefully they’ve got some lessons they can learn over the next few months going into the World Cup.

“But let’s not forget how good they were for that Ireland game. They’ve got the potential to absolutely challenge everyone in the world. When they’ve got their first strong XV and they’ve got their game plan right, they’re on the money.

“It would have been nice to win the Six Nations, but it’s all about the World Cup this year.”

Listen back to Joe Marler on the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast IN FULL above

Harlequins 20-13 Wasps: Joe Marchant try secures Twickenham win for Quins after early disciplinary issues

29 Dec

Harlequins forward Dave Ward escaped a red card after spitting and stamping in the direction of Thomas Young in an incident that marred a 20-13 Gallagher Premiership victory over Wasps.

A sell-out crowd for Big Game 11 at Twickenham saw Ward spit towards Young in the 11th minute before stepping on his ankle, provoking an angry reaction from the Welsh flanker.

Joe Marchant goes over after Danny Care’s chip

Referee Craig Maxwell-Keys sent Ward to the sin-bin but only for treading on Young having appeared to miss the more serious offence, for which he is almost certain to be cited under the banner of acting against the spirit of good sportsmanship.

Citing officer Buster White has 24 hours to lodge a complaint against the Quins front row, who was a fringe England contender in 2014 and now faces a minimum four-week ban that could climb to 12 weeks if it is deemed high end.

White will also be interested in an earlier incident that saw Ward perform a neck roll on Young, which went unpunished.

The foul play failed to take the shine off Harlequins’ fifth win of the season, a result founded on resilience and tries by Alex Dombrandt and Joe Marchant that lifts them to fourth in the Premiership.

Wasps were their own worst enemy at times and are heading in the opposite direction, with one win in 13 games leaving them in seventh, although they will take comfort from a strong finish that yielded a losing bonus point.

Ward was fully involved in the fastest try of the Premiership season that unfolded after only 49 seconds when a clever line-out move saw man-of-the-match Dombrandt storm over after a smart interchange with his hooker.

The hosts were dominating as Dombrandt had a second try chalked off for a dubious knock-on call earlier in the move only to then suffer a setback when Ward was shown his yellow card.

Mike Brown, who was magnificent throughout, blasted through several tackles and Francis Saili produced a brilliant off-load out of the tackle as Quins continued to punch holes in the visitors’ defence.

A penalty by Marcus Smith, who had converted Dombrandt’s try, extended the lead but Paul Gustard’s men then came under sustained pressure and their resilience was rewarded with an intact try-line.

The opening sequence at Twickenham was an amazing spectacle

They could not prevent Elliot Daly landing a long-range penalty, however, and although Smith kicked another three points it was during the third quarter that the tide turned in Wasps’ favour.

Replacement prop Will Stuart barged over from close range to reward the insurgency, but it was subdued in the 64th minute when Marchant touched down Danny Care’s exquisite chip grubber

It was then Lima Sopoaga’s turn to boot a penalty that left Wasps only seven points adrift, but despite a sustained late assault they were unable to break through again.