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.

Worcester 6-32 Northampton: Saints beat poor Warriors to ease Gallagher Premiership relegation fears

22 Dec

Northampton eased some concerns of being relegated from the Gallagher Premiership with a comfortable 32-6 win at Worcester Warriors.

Warriors, who surprisingly rested England centre Ben Te’o, were poor as Saints fly-half Dan Biggar kicked a creditable 20 points.

Biggar helped Saints claim a good win

Second-half intercept tries from Cobus Reinach and Luther Burrell added gloss to the scoreline, but Saints were deserved winners.

All Worcester could manage were two penalties from Duncan Weir who had an off night.

After Weir put the kick-off out on the full, Northampton dominated the early exchanges and Taqele Naiyaravoro had an early try ruled by TMO Rowan Kitt out for a foot in touch.

The giant wing was tackled under pressure by Bryce Heem, but Biggar rewarded his team’s impressive start with two penalties either side of a simple miss from his opposite number.

Weir had kicked 19 straight attempts going into this game, but he somehow skewed a simple attempt wide of the posts early on.

Saints’ attacking intent was clear in the opening quarter, Biggar spreading the ball wide from his own 22 where Tom Collins sped away down the right wing.

And when scrum-half Reinach ripped the ball from GJ van Velze, Biggar made it 9-0 to the Saints with his third kick of the night.

The home crowd were far from happy with referee Wayne Barnes, but he did penalise Burrell for a high tackle which allowed Weir to put Worcester on the scoreboard.

Biggar put a drop goal wide and Tom Wood’s charge down of a Francois Hougaard box-kick bounced dead, but Saints turned around 12-3 ahead.

Biggar’s fourth penalty and a second miss from Weir had left Worcester with plenty to do.

Saints had a 100 per cent tackle success before the break, but Worcester’s only comfort was their impressive scrum. Weir narrowed their deficit to six when the game resumed, but even though they were improved in the second period, things just did not quite go their way.

Josh Adams chased down a kick ahead, but it ran away into touch when a kinder bounce would have led to an almost certain try.

Then, Worcester turned the ball over in a prime attacking position. Biggar led the Northampton riposte by superbly claiming an up and under, but he was forced from the field with Wood after both suffered blows to the head.

Worcester pounded away in search of a try using their scrum, but as they pushed on their opponents’ line, Hougaard saw his pass intercepted by opposite number Reinach.

The scrum-half ran the length of the field to score the game’s decisive try. Piers Francis converted with Biggar absent to put Northampton in the driving seat.

Luther Burrell also went over for Saints

There was still time for Biggar to return to the field and kick two more late penalties before Burrell intercepted following a poor Weir pass.

Biggar rubbed salt in opposition wounds with the conversion on a night to forget for Worcester.

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: Exeter continue brilliant start, Saracens remain unbeaten, Newcastle claim first win of season

15 Sep

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

Exeter Chiefs 35-18 Sale Sharks

Exeter maintained their exemplary start to their season with a third bonus point victory in succession to remain at the top of the Gallagher Premiership table.

However, their latest success, 35-18, was far from straightforward as Sale battled hard throughout and were unlucky to come away from Sandy Park with nothing.

Santiago Cordero got things up and running for Chiefs

Exeter scored five tries through Santiago Cordero, Jack Maunder, Jonny Hill, Tom Lawday and Alex Cuthbert. Joe Simmonds converted three and Gareth Steenson two.

Marland Yarde and Bryn Evans scored Sale’s tries with Alan MacGinty adding two penalties and a conversion.

Northampton Saints 27-38 Saracens

Saracens overcame a slow start to score five tries and secure a 38-27 victory over Northampton in a thrilling Gallagher Premiership encounter at Franklin’s Gardens.

In a game which swung back and forth, two tries in three minutes from David Strettle late on secured a bonus-point win for Mark McCall’s men.

Strettle’s try helped the champions secure a bonus point win

The visitors claimed the spoils despite seeing Jamie George and Billy Vunipola yellow-carded in either half as Alex Lewington crossed for a brace with Ben Spencer also on the scoreboard.

Northampton’s points came via Piers Francis, Dylan Hartley and Ben Franks, but the boot of Dan Biggar was not enough.

Worcester Warriors 20-23 Newcastle Falcons

The boot of former England fly-half Toby Flood steered Newcastle to a first Gallagher Premiership victory of the season.

Last year’s play-off semi-finalists held on to beat battling Worcester 23-20 at Sixways.

Flood scored 13 of Newcastle’s 23 points

Flood kicked three second-half penalties to add to first-half conversions of tries from scrum-half Sonatane Takulua and wing Sinoti Sinoti.

But the Falcons let Worcester off the hook as Scottish fly-half Duncan Weir scored a try, conversion and penalty, with full-back Chris Pennell landing a long penalty – while the hosts were also awarded a penalty try.

Harlequins 32-37 Bath Rugby

Joe Cokanasiga scored two tries as Bath ran out 37-32 winners during an entertaining Gallagher Premiership match at Harlequins.

Cokanasiga’s two tries helped Bath claim a narrow victory at the Stoop

The wing scored either side of half-time, while number eight Zach Mercer also added two tries as Todd Blackadder’s men claimed their first win of the season.

However, Bath were made to work by the hosts late on as Joe Marler and Charlie Mulchrone scored to give the home fans some hope following earlier scores from Danny Care and Joe Marchant.

Eddie Jones says Worcester centre Ben Te’o should be fit for start of next season

30 May
Eddie Jones says Worcester centre Ben Te'o should be fit for start of next season
Ben Te'o

Eddie Jones insists Ben Te’o should be fit for the start of next season after suffering a thigh problem that has ruled him out of England’s tour to South Africa.

Jones has revealed the powerful Worcester centre aggravated an injury first sustained in the Six Nations, requiring surgery that prevents him from facing the Springboks.

Te’o, who was set to start at outside centre in the series opener at Eden Park on June 9, suffered the damage in the gym.

“Benny was tight after a weights session – during the weights session when he was doing a lift he felt some tightness about his knee,” Jones said.

“He was scanned and it showed he had an old tear from the Six Nations game against France, and therefore it was too big a risk to take him on tour.

“The injury is one of those corks and when you’ve got a cork you’ve always got damage to the muscle. Sometimes they repair and sometimes they don’t. He’ll be back for the start of the season.”

Aviva Premiership: Northampton Saints 32-24 Worcester Warriors

5 May
Aviva Premiership: Northampton Saints 32-24 Worcester Warriors
Ben Foden crosses over for the hosts

Northampton finished a difficult Aviva Premiership season with a rousing 32-24 victory over Worcester at a sunny Franklin’s Gardens.

Tries from number eight Mitch Eadie, centre Nafi Tuitavake, full-back Ben Foden and wing Tom Collins ensured a bonus point victory which means Saints end the campaign ninth. Fly-half James Grayson kicked three conversions and a penalty and replacement Stephen Myler added another penalty.

Worcester centres Will Butler (2) and Ben Te’o grabbed their side’s tries, with fly-half Dorian Jones converting all three and adding a second-half penalty.

Northampton said goodbye to 17 of their squad on Saturday including 34-times capped England international Foden – who has not announced his future intentions yet – and Wales wing George North, who is returning to his homeland to join Ospreys.

Worcester’s faithful bid farewell to Irish legend Donncha O’Callaghan at Sixways last week, but 10 more are leaving – with more to be announced during the week.

But far from being an end-of-season run-out for the clubs, the match was intense. Foden spent time in the sin-bin after two minutes for a high tackle on Worcester captain GJ van Velze.

While the full-back was cooling off, former England Under-20 cap Butler, on his first Premiership start for the Warriors, grabbed two tries in the space of five minutes which – improved by Jones’ conversions – put Worcester 14-0 to the good

There was needle between the teams as well with some pushing and shoving at times.

The erratic Saints finally found some form and Eadie touched down under a pile of bodies next to the Worcester posts which, with Grayson’s conversion, reduced the arrears to seven points.

Butler’s match was over before the half-time whistle as he came off with an arm injury. At the same time, play was held up for five minutes as Warriors scrum-half Francois Hougaard was treated by medics on the pitch before being carried off on a stretcher

Northampton ended the half on top with Grayson adding three points from a 23-metre penalty in the final moments.

Another crazy 20 minutes after the break saw four tries, with Northampton going 21-10 down before reaching the hour mark 29-24 ahead.

England centre Te’o was put in by wing Josh Adams to extend the Warriors’ lead, but Tuitavake hit back minutes later with a converted touchdown.

Foden made up for his sin-bin by finishing a sweeping backs movement before wing Collins ran 30 metres down the left touchline for the Saints’ bonus point try. Grayson added the extras to both.

With a five-point advantage, Northampton put the squeeze on their opponents, defending well to see out the last quarter easily.

Myler, who is also leaving the home side, kicked a penalty in the last minute to seal the win.

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.

Worcester 27-13 Newcastle: Warriors fight back to put dent in Falcons’ play-off hopes

7 Apr
Worcester 27-13 Newcastle: Warriors fight back to put dent in Falcons' play-off hopes
Warriors overcame a seven-point deficit to win the game

Newcastle’s Aviva Premiership play-off hopes suffered a setback as Worcester came from behind to stun them 27-13 at Sixways.

Wing Vereniki Goneva’s first-half try put Newcastle in charge, while fly-half Toby Flood added two penalties and a conversion, yet Worcester fought back impressively from a seven-point deficit.

Full-back Chris Pennell booted two early penalties before Worcester turned the game on its head with touchdowns during a three-minute second-half spell from flanker David Denton and prop Nick Schonert, both converted by substitute Dorian Jones, before Denton added his second five minutes from time and Jones again converted.

The result dropped Newcastle, who have never reached the play-offs since they began 16 years ago, outside the top four with three games left – at home to Sale Sharks and Wasps, plus an away clash against Leicester.

And they will be frustrated at playing second fiddle to a Worcester side far hungrier and organised as they recovered impressively after conceding Goneva’s try, scoring 21 unanswered second-half points.

Worcester made a bright start, going ahead after just three minutes when Pennell kicked a penalty from just inside Newcastle’s half, although he was well wide with a kick from shorter range shortly afterwards.

Newcastle, starved of possession, could make little headway as Warriors’ England centre Ben Te’o tested them through a couple of midfield surges and a deft touch finder deep inside the Falcons 22.

It took Newcastle 20 minutes to threaten Worcester defensively, and they made progress through a sharp Sinoti Sinoti break before Warriors infringed and Flood kicked an equalising penalty.

Flood’s strike settled Newcastle down, and he nudged them ahead four minutes later when several Worcester players carelessly drifted offside barely 15 metres from their own posts.

And the Falcons thought they had scored from their next attack as Sinoti broke clear, but referee Christophe Ridley brought play back for a knock-on in build-up play by centre Chris Harris.

But Newcastle finally broke through on the stroke of half-time after Pennell booted a second penalty, with Sinoti and full-back Alex Tait making key contributions before Goneva applied a decisive finish.

Flood’s conversion made it 13-6 at half-time, giving Newcastle an advantage that did not look likely following Worcester’s initial dominance.

Worcester began the second period in similar vein to the first, setting up camp inside Newcastle’s 22, but they blew a golden try-scoring opportunity when Pennell could not keep hold of the ball as he stretched for Newcastle’s line after wing Bryce Heem freed him in space.

But the Warriors drew level after 66 minutes when a period of concerted pressure ended with Denton powering over from close range after Worcester sacrificed a kickable penalty for an attacking scrum, and Jones converted.

And it got better for the home side just three minutes later as Schonert claimed a touchdown that Jones converted, leaving Newcastle suddenly up against it.

And there proved no way back for the Falcons as Denton sealed the deal, leaving them to regroup quickly ahead of hosting Sale next Friday.

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.