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.

Gloucester Rugby produce incredible signing video after scrum-half Joe Simpson joins from Wasps

6 Feb

Gloucester Rugby have signed scrum-half Joe Simpson from Wasps and have become the next sports club to announce a new player with a superb signing video.

Burnley recently announced the signing of Peter Crouch from Stoke City with a hilarious robot video – in memory of the iconic robotics celebration he showboated for England 13 years ago.

Joe Simpson has signed for Gloucester from Wasps

It now looks as though the trend has spread to rugby – have a look at the superb video below…

The video features the iconic opening sequence of the American sitcom ‘The Simpsons’, followed by a a stunning try scored by Simpson for Wasps.

Meanwhile, Gloucester Rugby’s Director of Rugby, David Humphreys praised the signing of Simpson.

He said: “As we seek to build a squad that is capable of competing for honours at the highest level of the domestic and European game, strength in depth in our squad is crucial. And the addition of Joe to our ranks is a very significant one.”

England international Elliot Daly to sign for Saracens after leaving Wasps

5 Feb

Elliot Daly will join Saracens in the summer, the Gallagher Premiership club have announced.

The versatile back, who can play at full-back, wing or centre, will leave Wasps and has signed a deal until summer 2022.

Elliot Daly scoring against South Africa

Daly told Saracens’ official website: “At 26, I believe it is the right time in my career to explore a fresh challenge and the opportunity to do that with Saracens really excites me.

“It’s a fantastic club which has had a lot of success in recent seasons and that’s something that I want to be a part of.

“I’ve played with a few of the lads for England and the Lions, as well as enjoyed battles against them in the Premiership, and I’m looking forward to calling them club team-mates from next season.”

Daly, who has also played for the British and Irish Lions, is a former Premiership Young Player of the Season and was twice nominated for European Player of the Year.

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said: “We are looking forward to welcoming Elliot to the club next season.

“He’s a talented player and at 26, his best years are ahead of him. Everyone at Saracens is excited to see him fulfil his potential with us.”

England star Elliot Daly confirms he will leave Wasps at the end of the season as reported move to Saracens looms

4 Feb

Elliot Daly has confirmed he will leave Wasps at the end of the season, as a reported move to Saracens edges closer.

The utility back broke into the first team nine years ago after coming through the academy and is now a regular for England and is a British and Irish Lion.

Elliot Daly is expected to join Saracens before the 2019/20 season

Daly has decided to embark on a ‘fresh start’ in the sport after the World Cup in Japan, where he is expected to feature heavily for Eddie Jones’ side.

A report in the Daily Mail earlier this season suggested the 26-year-old was leaving Wasps due to broken promises about a new state-of-the-art training complex, but Daly dismissed that notion in a statement on Monday.

“This has been one of the most difficult decisions of my life,” Daly said. “Despite some of the rumours flying around, the training ground has nothing to do with why I’ve come to my decision to leave. I simply feel it is the right time for me to seek a new challenge next season after the World Cup.

“I’d like to thank everyone at Wasps, from my old Junior Academy coaches right up to Dai Young and chairman Derek Richardson, for giving me the opportunities and helping me reach the top of the game over the last 12 years.

Daly was a key member of the British and Irish Lion side which toured New Zealand in 2017

“Wasps will always have a special place in my heart and I will certainly be giving everything to the jersey to try and finish the season strongly.”

Wasps captain Joe Launchbury publicly reaffirmed his commitment to the club last month, but Daly is the fourth high-profile exit this season.

Number 8 Nathan Hughes and Willie Le Roux confirmed their departures for Bristol and Japan respectively, while Christian Wade has turned his back on the sport completely to test himself in the NFL.

Director of rugby Dai Young could only express his disappointment at Daly’s decision to leave, after watching the star become the first Englishman to score a try in Ireland since 2003 on Saturday.

“Elliot triggered a release clause in his contract and despite our best efforts to keep him at the club, unfortunately he has decided to move onto pastures new for the 2019/20 season,” Young said.

“We are really disappointed to lose Elliot, we brought him through the ranks from his teenage years and have seen him flourish into an established England international and also a British and Irish Lion.

“He has really developed his all-round game in the Black and Gold, having been a tremendous performer for us over the years and I am sure he will continue to give his all for the club till the end of the season.”

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.

Wasps announce Christian Wade has retired from playing amid talk about moving from rugby union to the NFL

25 Oct

Wasps have announced Christian Wade has retired from rugby amid reports he is to try to make a move into the NFL.

The 27-year-old winger has been released from his contract on confidential terms, the club said in a club statement.

“After playing nine years of professional sport for Wasps, I’ve decided to leave for personal reasons,” said Wade, who won his only England cap against Argentina in 2013.

Wade won his only England cap against Argentina in 2013

“I would like to thank Wasps chairman Derek Richardson and Dai (Young, director of rugby) for their support, consideration and understanding in what is the most difficult decision of my life.

“I have loved the sport since I was introduced to it at the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe.

“I would therefore like to thank everyone who has played a part in shaping my career.

“Rugby has privileged and honoured me with so many wonderful memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

“Finally, I want to thank my Wasps family: the club, my team-mates and especially the fans – you have always been superb to me. I wish everyone here all the very best for the future.”

Wasps are currently third in the Premiership and bottom of their Champions Cup group after Saturday’s 35-35 draw with Bath.

“It’s very disappointing to lose a player of Wadey’s quality at this stage of the season,” Young said.

“The club held numerous discussions with him to try and convince him to keep pushing forward with Wasps but in the end it was clear this is the path he wished to go down.

“The club nevertheless wants to wish him all the best with his future career path and put on record our thanks for the contribution Christian has made to Wasps Rugby.”

Slough-born Wade spent his entire senior rugby career at Wasps and is third on the Premiership’s all-time try scorer list with 82.

Wade has spent his entire rugby union career at Wasps and is third on the Premiership’s all-time try scorer list with 82

As well as his one England cap, he was part of the 2013 British and Irish Lions squad on the tour of Australia.

But he has not won senior international honours since, with his size – he is 5ft 8ins tall and weighs just over 13-and-a-half stone – and defensive attributes said to have counted against him.

During a holiday to America in June, Wade posted a video of himself on Instagram doing a NFL-style fitness workout, which he signed off with the hashtag #OnlyTheBeginning.

Instagram Photo

Wade would not be the first rugby union player to try his hand at Gridiron.

Christian Scotland-Williamson moved from Worcester to join the Pittsburgh Steelers, while last year Alex Gray left Yorkshire Carnegie to link up with the Atlanta Falcons.

The NFL’s International Player Pathway Programme allows overseas players to be fast-tracked into American Football.

Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Jordan Mailata, a former NRL Under-20s rugby league player in Australia, and Carolina Panthers defensive end Efe Obada this year became the first two members of the pathway programme to make a final 53-man NFL roster.

 

Wasps wing Christian Wade dramatically quits rugby union career in bid to become NFL star

19 Oct

Christian Wade has sensationally quit Wasps to pursue a career in the NFL.

The 27-year-old informed the Premiership side of his intentions this week and is understood to have played his last game in rugby union, with the club reluctantly sanctioning his exit.

Christian Wade has decided to change careers

Wade has been with Wasps since 2011 and has scored 82 tries – putting him third in the all-time Premiership try-scorers list.

He has was capped by England in 2013 and toured with the British and Irish Lions later that year.

Despite continuing to shine at club level, the speed-merchant has been unable to convince Eddie Jones to hand him more international caps.

Now Wade has made the shock decision to end his rugby career and head to the United States to try to become an American football star.

He is the latest rugby player to make the transition to the NFL and by far the most high profile.

Christian Wade has given up the chance to become the all-time leading Premiership try-scorer

Christian Scotland-Williamson left Worcester and is now part of the Pittsburgh Steelers squad, while former England Under-20 player Alex Gray captained the Atlanta Falcons during a pre-season match.

Wade has made five appearances for Wasps this season and his last outing – against Gloucester at the Ricoh Arena on October 6 – now appears to have been his farewell game in English rugby.

Wasps have yet to make an official announcement about Wade’s future.

Wasps 41-35 Leicester Tigers: Eight-try thriller spoiled by Will Spencer’s dismissal

16 Sep

Wasps laboured to a 41-35 victory over Leicester at the Ricoh Arena in a game that was marred by the sending off of Tigers lock Will Spencer.

Spencer was sent off in similar circumstances to that of Bristol flanker George Smith was dismissed for a dangerous tackle at Saracens eight days ago.

Spencer was given his marching orders on the stroke of half-time

He caught Tommy Taylor with a shoulder to the head and his afternoon was over, but in his defence he was dipping low to make the tackle against a player who stands six inches shorter.

Leicester interim head coach Geordan Murphy shook his head at referee Ian Tempest’s decision and Spencer trudged off, another victim of the game’s zero-tolerance policy on high tackles in the hope of reducing instances of concussion.

The incident happened in first-half injury-time and despite being a man down for the remainder of a pulsating Gallagher Premiership clash, Leicester produced their finest moments to lead twice, with the outstanding George Ford instrumental in their comeback.

Jonny May’s second try was dubious due to a forward pass by Ford but it set up a grandstand finish that was settled by three penalties from Wasps full debutant Lima Sopoaga.

Sopoaga had a Wasps debut to remember

Leicester’s sense of grievance was at least eased by their haul of two bonus points, but from the start it looked like it might not be their day.

Full-back Telusa Veainu charged down a clearance by Elliot Daly but unluckily the ball squirted to Josh Bassett who charged forward in broken play before Juan De Jongh crossed via a pass from Dan Robson.

Wasps stepped up the onslaught when Daly lofted a perfect kick to the left wing where Bassett outjumped Adam Thompstone to catch and score.

Leicester’s response was rapid as England duo Ford and May combined, with the former chipping ahead for the wing to grab and touch down for an expert finish.

But the try only briefly stemmed the flow of home points as Wasps turned to the bludgeon for their next breakthrough, Nathan Hughes carrying hard twice and forcing his way over the line the second time.

The Tigers continued to snap at Wasps’ heels and were rewarded when Ford accelerated on to the ball and released Veainu for a score under the posts that was made possible by an excellent pick-up by Tom Youngs.

The lead had been reduced to four points but Leicester suffered the hammer blow of seeing Spencer sent off and to compound their misery Daly landed the penalty from 53 metres.

The misfortune only served to inspire the visitors, however, as a Ford penalty was followed up by a powerful Sione Kalamafoni try from close range.

The Wasps head coach did not appear to agree with Spencer’s sending off

For the first time Leicester led, but the advantage quickly vanished as De Jongh weaved a path infield, beating four defenders en route to racing over the line.

Controversy reigned as Ford appeared to give a forward pass to May for the England wing’s second and Ford delivered a quickly-taken drop-goal for the conversion to suggest he did not want referee Ian Tempest to intervene.

Sopoaga swept Wasps to victory, however, with his three late penalties.

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.

Wasps land Georgia international prop Zurabi Zhvania from Stade Francais

2 Jul

Georgia international prop Zurabi Zhvania has agreed a deal to join Wasps, the Premiership club have confirmed.

New Wasps signing Zurabi Zhvania (right)

The 26-year-old will head to Wasps ahead of the new Premiership season, which starts late next month.

Zhvania arrives at the Ricoh Arena after six seasons with Paris-based Stade Francais.

He has won 34 caps for Georgia, making his Test debut against Spain in 2013.

Wasps rugby director Dai Young said: “We have been tracking Zura for a couple of seasons and are really pleased to finally get him on board. He is an experienced player, despite still being in his mid-20s, who I expect to bring plenty to our front-row.

“The timing of this is also good, since both Matt Mullan and Simon McIntyre are currently recuperating from long-term injuries. We look forward to his arrival in Coventry and to working with him in the months ahead.”

Tough-tackling Zhvania (right) pictured in action for Stade Francais

Zhvania added: “I have big ambitions in the game, and I believe I can achieve these with Wasps both at Premiership and European level.

“They play a very attractive style of rugby which I believe suits my game and will bring out the best in me.”

Zhvania joins a crop of new arrivals at Wasps for next term, including Brad Shields, Lima Sopoaga and Kieran Brookes.