Aviva Premiership Round 10 Wrap
Northampton Saints 24 Sale Sharks 5
First-half tries from Ben Foden and Tom Wood helped Northampton Saints battle past Sale Sharks to their fifth Aviva Premiership Rugby win of the season at Franklin’s Gardens.
The hosts started quickly and were ahead within four minutes as Foden fought his way over in the corner, following some neat passing out wide.
Wood added a well-constructed second just before the half-hour mark, but Sale started to control territory and possession as the half wore on.
Denny Solomona scored an excellent debut try to give Sale hope late in the second period, but they paid for their wastefulness in front of the try line as Luther Burrell crossed in the final minute to confirm a Saints win.
There were celebrations before kick off as Alex Waller led the Saints out on the night of his 200th game, while winger Juan Pablo Estelles made his first Aviva Premiership Rugby appearance.
Louis Picamoles, Christian Day, Courtney Lawes and captain Tom Wood all returned – while Sale Sharks handed a debut to Solomona.
But the home fans were going crazy early as full-back Foden dotted down in the corner after some powerful Saints running created space for him to dive over on the right.
It was almost worse for Sale minutes later as Picamoles charged through their defence before handing off to Ken Pisi. The winger spilled the ball near the try line and the referee deemed it was knocked forward after Nic Groom touched down.
Sale settled down after that and almost created a moment of their own, as Solomona threatened to escape down the right wing.
But the Saints remained in control and scored a second try following a line-out, as Wood crossed from a few yards after a neat inside pass from Waller.
Sale surged forward looking for a response as Solomona caught a neat cross-field kick, but the Saints remained strong and turned the ball over.
And things got worse for Sale just before half time as scrum-half Mike Phillips was sin-binned for a neck role on Waller.
The Sharks continued to pressurise Northampton’s defence after the break but yet again they thwarted the visitors – with Sale going through multiple phases at the five-metre line but unable to convert.
Northampton had a chance to make them pay as Stephen Myler lined up a penalty, but the fly-half dragged his effort wide from the right – his first miss at Franklin’s Gardens in three months.
And minutes later they were left frustrated once more as Groom tried to sneak over from a yard out, but he lost control of the ball and knocked on.
Myler kicked a penalty shortly after but Sale continued to show plenty of fight as they created a try-scoring opportunity straight after.
Some neat passing created space on the left, but they failed to keep their composure at the vital moment and the ball went out of play.
But they finally broke through with 15 minutes left as Solomona brilliantly finished in the corner.
Sale pushed hard to get back into it but Northampton’s strong defence did the business, and Burrell powered his way through several tackles in the last seconds to round it off.
Wasps 40 Bath Rugby 26
Wasps stayed hot on the heels of Aviva Premiership Rugby leaders Saracens with a 40-26 victory over Bath Rugby in a scintillating Christmas Eve encounter in Coventry.
A whopping 26,292 people – the largest Aviva Premiership Rugby crowd of the season outside the London Double Header – were at the Ricoh Arena to see Christian Wade break his seven-game try drought in style, scoring a first-half double as Wasps built a big lead.
Dai Young’s son Thomas also went over while Ross Batty and Dave Attwood kept the score respectable for Bath, but Wade completed his treble shortly after the interval to give them a commanding advantage.
Bath were down but not out as Tom Ellis and Ben Tapuai made sure they would take home at least a losing-bonus point, but Jimmy Gopperth was relentless from the tee in the second half as Wasps eased to a win that saw them stay second in the standings and complete 2016 unbeaten at home.
It was also a record-breaking day personally for Wade, who smashed the record for the most tries in a calendar year, with his treble taking his tally to 18.
Both Joe Launchbury and Matt Mullan were making landmark appearances, with the skipper notching up his 100th game in a Wasps shirt while the front row made it 150 Aviva Premiership Rugby games.
And it was Wasps who claimed an early lead when Bath spilled a Joe Simpson box kick, Thomas Young recovered the ball and sent Wade racing over for a try which Gopperth converted.
Better followed five minutes later when Wade popped up on halfway from a set move, stepped three defenders and scorched over for his second score, again upgraded by Gopperth.
An end-to-end first quarter saw Bath hit straight back through hooker Batty, who raced in from 30 metres in support of Jonathan Joseph’s break.
George Ford converted, but the hosts soon restored a 10-point advantage through Gopperth’s 40-metre penalty after a high tackle on Elliot Daly.
But another impressive Bath attack, again led by Joseph, ended several phases later with Attwood charging over for a score which Ford upgraded.
Bath dominated possession and territory for much of the second quarter, only to concede a third long-distance try on the stroke of half-time.
The influential Young was again at the heart of the action, this time spotting a gap in the away defences on the fringes of a ruck and outpacing the cover from just inside his own half.
Gopperth’s conversion gave the hosts a 24-14 interval advantage, which they soon extended when Wade completed his hat-trick with a score of sublime quality. Elliot Daly’s slashing break was continued by Kurtley Beale, who then sent the speedster to the posts.
Gopperth converted, and the Kiwi No.12 almost immediately further extended Wasps advantage with a 45-metre penalty after Bath failed to release in contact, then a 35-metre effort after the visitors’ front row fell foul of referee Luke Pearce.
Bath struck back on the hour mark with a driving lineout score, touched down by replacement Ellis, but the visitors infringed direct from the restart, to hand three of these points straight back to Gopperth.
However, Todd Blackadder’s team kept their faint hopes alive when Tapuai claimed their bonus-point score, converted by Ford, with 14 minutes remaining.
But despite a lengthy late period in the home 22, that was as good as it got for the away team, who remained in third position in the standings.
Exeter Chiefs 31 Leicester Tigers 10
Exeter Chiefs leapfrogged opponents Leicester Tigers into the Aviva Premiership Rugby top four as early Jack Yeandle and Thomas Waldrom tries set them on their way to a 31-10 victory at Sandy Park.
Chiefs – last season’s Aviva Premiership runners-up – are once again in the play-off places at Christmas, thanks largely to perhaps their best first-half performance of the campaign so far.
Yeandle and Waldrom went over from close-range in the first quarter before further persistent pressure was rewarded with a penalty try when Graham Kitchener deliberately knocked on, for a 21-0 lead at the break.
Exeter’s defence had also been impressive when called upon and although Harry Thacker and Jono Kitto crossed for Tigers after the interval, Ollie Devoto’s effort in between wrapped up the four-try bonus point.
The victory means Chiefs have lost just one of their last seven matches in all competitions, while it was only a second win over Leicester in the last nine contests between the sides.
A lively start at Sandy Park saw Exeter push into Tigers territory almost straight from kick-off and when the visitors were pinged for a deliberate knock-on, Henry Slade’s unerring boot found touch five metres out.
A classic catch-and-drive then saw Chiefs rumble over the line with Yeandle at the bottom of the pile and Gareth Steenson added the extras for an early 7-0 advantage.
The hosts continued to dominate territory following the opening score but with a returning Mike Williams leading from the front, the Leicester defence repelled the swarm.
Yet back-to-back penalties in their own 22 kept the pressure on and the second try came on the 20-minute mark as persistent hammering at the line ended with Waldrom touching down at the base of the post.
Steenson was again perfect from the tee and with Jack Nowell breaking tackles for fun, the hosts looked the more likely to increase their advantage.
Seeking to parlay dominance into further tries, Exeter spurned a number of kickable penalties and their aggressiveness in booting to the corner was rewarded when Kitchener deliberately knocked on – the Tigers man being yellow carded and the penalty try awarded.
Chiefs then demonstrated some solid defence of their own to stop Leicester narrowing the 21-0 deficit before the break and Steenson stayed perfect from the tee by slotting a penalty shortly after the interval.
With a fire lit under them, the visitors enjoyed their best spell of the match as they pounded away at the Exeter line, earning penalty after penalty on the five-metre line.
Ed Slater lost the ball as he went over the whitewash but on 56 minutes Thacker, who had only just come on, got the try his team deserved by finishing a line-out drive.
Phil Dollman charged down Owen Williams’ conversion to keep the lead at 19 points before Devoto crashed over down the other end, following six high-quality phases, to secure the four-try bonus point, with Steenson familiarly metronomic from the tee for the extras.
To their credit, Leicester responded immediately as Jack Roberts took advantage of weak defence on the left to burst through and release Kitto for a 68th-minute score but it was Exeter’s day as they ensured they will spend Christmas in the top four.
Bristol Rugby 28 Worcester Warriors 20