Aviva Premiership: Bath 63-19 London Irish

5 May
Aviva Premiership: Bath 63-19 London Irish
Matt Banahan (C) is carried from the pitch by his teammates

Matt Banahan scored three of Bath’s nine tries on his farewell appearance as the West Country club sneaked into next season’s European Champions Cup after a 63-19 win over London Irish.

Since Sale and Gloucester both lost without a losing bonus point, Bath leapfrogged both to clinch sixth place in the Aviva Premiership having been all but written off just a couple of weeks ago.

It took them only three minutes to open the scoring through Taulupe Faletau, who had signed a new contract at the Rec this week.

Banahan combined on the right with Cooper Vuna, who found the Wales number eight with an inside pass.

Rhys Priestland converted and added the extras again when right wing Vuna crossed unopposed.

The home side then conceded five penalties in succession close to their line, with skipper Matt Garvey sin-binned as referee Matt Carley finally lost patience. The visitors spurned easy kicks for goal on each occasion, however, and Bath eventually punished them for their generosity.

There was a huge roar from the capacity 14,509 crowd as Banahan crashed over from a Kahn Fotuali’i pass on 22 minutes and an equally good, hard line by fellow centre James Wilson provided the bonus-point try nine minutes later.

Priestland had been kicking immaculately from the tee and obliged again on the stroke of half-time with his fifth conversion after hooker Tom Ellis had blasted through the Exiles defence and popped the ball to Elliott Stooke to touch down.

Even at 35-0 down, the Irish kept pilfering the odd breakdown and scrum-half Scott Steele broke clear but had only prop Ollie Hoskins in support.

Bath resumed normal service when Banahan joined a maul close to the Irish line and claimed his second try on 52 minutes. Freddie Burns, on for Priestland, converted, and then juggled a pass to create a second try for Wilson who ran in from 40 metres.

No-one would have begrudged the visitors a try and it came just short of the hour as flanker Josh McNally stretched over the line, but Greig Tonks hit the post with his conversion attempt to leave the score at 49-5.

As both coaching teams emptied their benches, the game became scrappy. But there was another huge roar when Banahan claimed his hat-trick, again from a driving maul, to bring his club tally to a tantalising 99.

Replacement prop Will Vaughan leapt acrobatically over a pile of bodies to score a ninth try, again converted by Burns, but the Exiles went down fighting with late tries by Ben Loader and McNally.

Aviva Premiership news: London Irish 14-51 Saracens – Billy Vunipola hands Eddie Jones and England huge boost with return

29 Apr
Aviva Premiership news: London Irish 14-51 Saracens - Billy Vunipola hands Eddie Jones and England huge boost with return
Saracens were absolutely dominant at the Madejski on Sunday

Billy Vunipola handed England a big boost with his first match in three months as Saracens sealed second place in the Aviva Premiership with a 51-14 victory at already-relegated London Irish.

Fit-again Vunipola came off the bench in Saracens’ seven-try victory in Reading, tasting his first action since breaking his arm in a 15-15 Champions Cup draw at Opsreys on January 13.

The 25-year-old has not played Test rugby since March 2017, with knee and shoulder problems contributing to a wretched 18-month injury run.

But now Vunipola can chase full match sharpness ahead of both Saracens’ play-off campaign – and England’s three-Test June tour to South Africa.

Saracens hardly needed to drive beyond second gear to cruise past Irish, whose second Premiership relegation in three years had been confirmed on Saturday with Worcester’s 44-13 win over Harlequins.

Brad Barritt, Duncan Taylor, Michael Rhodes, Marcelo Bosch, Richard Barrington, Alex Goode and Schalk Brits all crossed in Sarries’ bonus-point victory, which secured the north Londoners a home Premiership semi-final, while Owen Farrell kicked five conversions and added two penalties.

The visitors comfortably shrugged off a yellow card for Maro Itoje, even though tries from Joe Cokanasiga and Johnny Williams had Irish trailing by just two points at half-time.

An outclassed Irish will now kick-start the rebuilding process in a bid to make another immediate return to the top table, with new coaches Declan Kidney and Les Kiss expected to remain on board in the Championship next term.

Irish lock Josh McNally’s yellow card sparked Saracens’ early try glut, the visitors crossing through Barritt and then Taylor.

Farrell missed a snatch drop-goal conversion from Barritt’s score, to avoid any chance of a Television Match Official (TMO) review.

First Taylor’s wide pass to Liam Williams looked possibly forward, then the latter fumbled a pass that could have fell forward too.

The score stood though, and Sarries quickly doubled their try tally thanks to Farrell’s lovely step and wide pass, with Taylor coasting over.

Just when Sarries should have cut loose though, Irish hit back. Cokanasiga raced in at the right corner after Mako Vunipola’s loose pass, before team-mate Johnny Williams crossed on the stroke of half-time.

Itoje was harshly sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on, and Irish seized full gain when Johnny Williams wriggled home, and Greig Tonks converted.

Saracens led just 16-14 at the break then, but negotiated the remainder of Itoje’s sin-binning without leaking further score.

And no sooner had the England and Lions lock returned than Saracens claimed their third try, Rhodes rising last from a penalty lineout maul.

Bosch then powered home the bonus-point score just ahead of the hour, with the visitors by then in full control.

Blair Cowan’s yellow card handed Barrington the chance to power home at the lineout tail, with Goode and Brits further massaging the scoreline at the death.

Aviva Premiership round-up: Worcester heroics relegate London Irish, Exeter finish top of regular season

28 Apr
Aviva Premier ship round-up: Worcester heroics relegates London Irish, Exeter finish top of regular season
Ben Te'o got the try which secured Worcester's safety

Worcester v Harlequins

Centre Ben Te’o grabbed the try which keeps Worcester in the Premiership for another season.

The Warriors needed just one point to condemn London Irish to relegation and they scored four first-half tries against a sorry Harlequins side which confirmed safety for them.

Indeed, Worcester looked more like play-off contenders than strugglers as wing Bryce Heem, centre Jackson Willison, lock Darren Barry and Te’o raced over the Quins line during the opening period of the 44-13 success.

Scrum-half Francois Hougaard, replacement Jamie Shillcock and Willison again took the try count to seven in the second half.

Quins grabbed a try from wing Charlie Walker, with fly-half Marcus Smith kicking two penalties and a conversion – but they were well beaten.

Exeter v Sale

Exeter ensured they would finish top of the Aviva Premiership at the end of the regular season with a hard-fought 34-19 win over Sale before a sell-out crowd at Sandy Park.

Their tries came from Nic White, Jack Yeandle, Greg Holmes and Lachie Turner, with Joe Simmonds converting all three and kicking a penalty. Gareth Steenson also added a penalty and a conversion.

Despite the defeat, Sale remain in contention for a valuable European Champions Cup place for next season – but they will need to beat Leicester at home in their final fixture to have any chance of securing it.

Gloucester v Bath 

Bath kept alive their hopes of European Champions Cup qualification by sweeping aside west country rivals Gloucester 43-20 at Kingsholm.

A bonus point victory kept Bath on course for the top six – they host relegated London Irish next weekend – after first-half tries from hooker Tom Dunn, fly-half Rhys Priestland, wing Aled Brew and full-back Tom Homer’s spectacular solo effort left Gloucester reeling.

Priestland kicked four conversions and a penalty for a 16-point haul, while substitute wing Cooper Vuna claimed a fifth Bath try after Gloucester briefly threatened a fightback, then centre James Wilson’s score, converted by Freddie Burns, confirmed an emphatic success.

Gloucester, European Challenge Cup finalists next month, saw their lingering play-off hopes disappear as a result after lock Ed Slater and full-back Jason Woodward claimed touchdowns and 10 points from Billy Twelvetrees’ boot left them well short.

Bath still need other results to work in their favour, but they have at least given themselves a fighting chance to salvage something from an erratic campaign.

Aviva Premiership round-up: Exeter thrash London Irish to clinch home semi-final and Jonathan Joseph limps off in Bath’s defeat to Saracens

15 Apr
Aviva Premiership round-up: Exeter thrash London Irish to clinch home semi-final and Jonathan Joseph limps off in Bath's defeat to Saracens
Sam Simmonds scored a hat-trick for Exeter Chiefs

Sam Simmonds’ hat-trick sealed Exeter Chiefs a home Aviva Premiership semi-final as the league leaders thumped London Irish 45-5 to push the Exiles ever closer to relegation.

Reigning Premiership champions Exeter booked themselves home advantage in the fast-approaching play-offs, with Ben Moon, Mitch Lees and Jack Yeandle also crossing.

Exeter also took a step closer to topping the Premiership’s regular-season table, maintaining their eight-point advantage over second-placed Saracens.

Irish’s 17th defeat in 20 league matches leaves the bottom club staring down the barrel of a second Premiership relegation in three years.

New boss Declan Kidney surely cannot now save the Exiles, who trail Worcester by nine points with only a maximum 10 on offer in their final two matches.

Prolific England number eight Simmonds took his Premiership try tally to 12 for the season – just one behind the league’s top scorer, Worcester’s Josh Adams.

In the day’s other game, Jonathan Joseph limped off early in Bath’s 41-6 Aviva Premiership defeat by Saracens at Allianz Park to give England an injury scare ahead of their tour to South Africa.

Joseph was on crutches after suffering what appeared to be an issue with his left ankle having been been caught awkwardly at a ruck shortly before the half-hour mark.

The outside centre, a fixture in the England team since 2015, was in obvious discomfort and Eddie Jones will await news on a setback that could prevent him from adding to his 40 caps against the Springboks in June.

It was a worrying development for injury-hit Bath, whose season continued to deteriorate as they slumped to a fifth defeat in six Premiership matches.

Wales fly-half Rhys Priestland contributed fully to the collapse in north London by assisting in three of the six tries conceded through his errant handling.

Harlequins 5-35 London Irish: Piet van Zyl stars as London Irish earn surprise victory at Harlequins

7 Apr
Harlequins 5-35 London Irish: Piet van Zyl stars as London Irish earn surprise victory at Harlequins
Van Zyl scored two tries in the 35-5 win for Irish

Piet van Zyl scored two tries as an excellent all-round display from London Irish gave them a 35-5 victory over Harlequins at the Stoop – just their third win of Aviva Premiership season.

The visitors thought they had their first points in the fourth minute, but Alex Lewington’s effort was chalked off after referee Ian Tempest adjudged James Marshall’s final pass to have been forward.

Irish eventually did get the first points, with Tom Fowlie bursting through the hosts defence before offloading to Van Zyl to finish off.

They doubled their lead less than 10 minutes later, Marshall’s cross kick was collected by Lewington and his kick over Mike Brown bounced its way into Van Zyl’s hands for his second.

Quins had a great chance to close the gap minutes later, but scrum-half Danny Care’s knock on from the back of a five-metre scrum ensured the gap stayed at 14.

The visitors extended their lead even further when Max Northcote-Green finished off a move in the corner after some excellent build up play by the Irish backs.

A Tommy Bell penalty on the strokes of half-time saw the Premiership’s basement club take a well-deserved 22-0 lead into the break.

And the visitors extended their advantage with the first points of the second half, Bell once again slotting a penalty through the uprights.

Harlequins did eventually get on the scoreboard through Jack Clifford, the flanker diving on Care’s chip into the corner, but only after the TMO had had a long look at the grounding.

That try could have been the catalyst for a comeback, but more sloppy passes constantly stopped them gaining any kind of momentum.

The visitors on the other hand, seemed a lot more composed and disciplined in their play, epitomised by their fourth try.Centre Fowlie touched down Van Zyl’s inch perfect chip into the back of the in-goal area to put the game out of sight of Harlequins.

The try itself only came about after Care was sent to the sin bin for failing to retreat 10 yards, yet another sign that the hosts were not quite at the races.

Another penalty by Bell soon after pushed London Irish’s lead to 30 points.

Despite being down to 14 men for the last 10 minutes following Charlie Matthew’s sin bin, the hosts had a chance to get a consolation try, but Chris Robshaw dropped the ball with the line at his mercy.

Aviva Premiership round-up: Exeter Chiefs beat Saracens to extend lead at the top while Harlequins claim first victory of 2018

4 Mar
Aviva Premiership round-up: Exeter Chiefs beat Saracens to extend lead at the top while Harlequins claim first victory of 2018
A comprehensive round-up of all the action from Sunday's Aviva Premiership fixtures

Exeter extended their advantage as Aviva Premiership leaders and took another major step towards a home play-off by subduing Saracens 24-12 at Sandy Park.

A top-of-the-table clash – despite both sides being deprived numerous players through injuries and international commitments – did not disappoint.

Chiefs fly-half Joe Simmonds – younger brother of England back-row forward Sam Simmonds, who featured off the bench after suffering a shoulder injury three weeks ago – kicked four penalties and provided a key assist for full-back Phil Dollman’s try.

Exeter’s superior scrum was rewarded with a second-half penalty try, while Saracens claimed touchdowns from flanker Ben Earl and centre Marcelo Bosch, with scrum-half Ben Spencer converting Earl’s 33rd-minute touchdown

Tom Cruse’s 76th minute charge-down try enabled Wasps to seal a nervy 24-16 home win over London Irish.

Wasps claimed three tries to the visitors’ two, but were pushed all the way by opponents who produced a spirited second-half display.

As a result, Dai Young’s team are unbeaten in their most recent four-match block of Premiership action, and have climbed above Newcastle and Saracens into second place with five rounds of regular season action remaining.

After Irish’s Greig Tonks was wide with a 40-metre penalty attempt, they also lost hooker David Paice to the sin-bin for an obstruction on Guy Thompson.

And the home side took full advantage of their temporary numerical superiority to drive Cruse over from a close-range line-out.

Danny Cipriani added the conversion, after which the visitors twice failed to convert field position into points

England prop Kyle Sinckler was among the try scorers as Harlequins claimed their first Aviva Premiership victory of 2018 with a hard-fought 20-5 success over Bath.

It ends a four-game losing streak in the league for Quins, who were much-improved defensively in a match which was admittedly short of top quality.

While they can hope to use this result as the start of a better run of form, the loss is a damaging one for Bath’s play-off hopes, as they remained five points adrift of the top four following a wasteful display.

Fly-half Demetri Catrakilis made just his second start of the season for Harlequins after his recovery from a throat injury, while Bath were able to welcome back Wales number eight Taulupe Faletau.

Leicester kept alive their hopes of an Aviva Premiership play-off place with a convincing 34-5 win over Worcester at Sixways.

Tigers’ bonus-point success lifted them to within three points of Newcastle, who occupy fourth position with five league games remaining.

The impressive Telusa Veainu scored two tries for Leicester, with Jonah Holmes, Greg Bateman and Manu Tuilagi each grabbing one and Matt Toomua converting three and kicking a penalty.

Worcester’s best player, flanker Alafoti Faosiliva, scored the home side’s try but it came in an error-ridden team performance.

Fortunately for them, London Irish’s defeat means the gap at the bottom remains at 12 points.