Newcastle Falcons 30 Wasps 34
Jimmy Gopperth rose from the bench to secure a bonus-point 34-30 win for Wasps against Newcastle Falcons and ensure Dai Young’s side will start 2017 leading Aviva Premiership Rugby.
Wasps have scored more tries than any other Aviva Premiership Rugby side this season, but it was Dean Richards’ outfit who had gone over for two tries in five minutes thanks to Sonatane Takulua and Marcus Watson.
Danny Cipriani got Wasps back into contention with a chip-and-chase score after 21 minutes before Christian Wade gave Young’s men an unlikely lead a minute later when he was first to a Dan Robson kick.
But the momentum shifted again in Falcons’ favour, when Rob Vickers went over from close range and stand-off Joel Hodgson added a penalty.
Wasps had a final first-half salvo left through Thomas Young, with Cipriani’s conversion taking them to 22-21 at the break before his injury replacement Gopperth made an immediate impact with a converted try after 46 minutes.
Gopperth and Hodgson traded penalties, before Elliot Daly fired over a long-range penalty and the inspirational Mark Wilson scored Falcons’ bonus-point try.
It was the most breathless start at Kingston Park, Richards’ side gaining possession and full-back Alex Tait plucked a fine line to carve through the unsuspecting Wasps defence before shifting the ball to Takulua for the score.
Hodgson missed the conversion, but from the ensuing conversion the ball was allowed to bounce and Olympic silver medallist Watson collected the bobbling ball before hitting top speed in a flash and then hitch-kicking past the flat-footed Rob Miller.
A try-saving tackle from Opeti Fonua was followed swiftly by a superb rip on Kyle Eastmond by Takulua, with the Wasps centre over the line and a score seemingly certain.
Cipriani made the most of a ragged Newcastle defence to score Wasps’ first try of the evening after 20 minutes.
Falcons had set off on a counter deep in their own territory through Fonua, but when he found Watson, the winger’s offload went astray and as the ball was moved wide for Wasps, Cipriani spotted space, chipped in behind and scored a memorable individual score, which he converted.
In another flurry of action, Wade got Wasps’ second a moment later. Daly broke from deep, shifted to Robson and when the scrum-half put a kick ahead, Wade was first to the bouncing ball.
Cipriani’s conversion took Wasps ahead for the first time after 23 minutes, but Falcons were undimmed, coming straight back into the game after capitalising on a Wasps’ knock-on in their 22.
Fonua was again prominent as Falcons flooded forward before Vickers went over after a series of pick and goes, with Hodgson converting.
Hodgson extended the lead to 22-14 on 33 minutes after Eastmond was penalised for a dangerous tackle, but Young hit a plum short line off Robson to punch over for Wasps on 40 minutes, with Cipriani knocking the conversion over before leaving the field at half-time with an ankle injury.
A Fonua knock on had gifted Wasps possession just after the break and Gopperth finished smartly after six minutes of the first half, before his conversion took the visitors 28-22 ahead.
Hodgson pulled three points back with a penalty, but Gopperth replied two minutes later and despite Josh Bassett being sinbinned for a deliberate knock on, Falcons could not make their man advantage count.
Instead it was England centre Daly who thumped over a long-range penalty on 65 minutes, which took Wasps beyond a converted score.
Takulua had one lively break and the indefatigable Wilson bashed through the Wasps defence for a deserved score to set up a tight finish.
Bath Rugby 11 Exeter Chiefs 17
James Short’s breathtaking second-half double completed a phenomenal Exeter Chiefs comeback win as they downed Bath Rugby 17-11 at The Rec to leapfrog them into third place in Aviva Premiership Rugby.
George Ford had given Bath the lead with a penalty after 18 minutes following a scrum infringement and he doubled that from the tee ten minutes later.
But it was Semesa Rokoduguni who gave the hosts real impetus, first with a searing break that very nearly ended with a try and then by starting a brilliant counterattack before finishing powerfully in the corner.
Ford missed the conversion after 31 minutes and, other than a Gareth Steenson penalty, there was no score until James Short’s score in the 73rd minute, set up by Luke Cowan-Dickie’s superb skill before the exceptional Jack Nowell and Steenson paved the way for Short to go over and seal Exeter’s first ever Aviva Premiership Rugby win at The Rec.
Though it took nearly 20 minutes for Ford to record the game’s first points, Bath had an abundance of possession, with Chiefs holding up well in defence – their rush tactics keeping a lid on Bath’s livewire backs.
Rokoduguni very nearly put paid to that good work with a phenomenal break from inside his own half, collecting a high ball and rolling through several tackles before racing clear.
It took a miraculous tackle from England winger Nowell to deny Rokoduguni as the Fijian born flier tied up with the line beckoning.
Ford sent his second penalty over on 27 minutes after superb work at the scrum from new addition to Eddie Jones’ England squad Nathan Catt and Max Lahiff.
Rokoduguni was Bath’s game-breaker again with just under ten minutes to go. First, receiving a kick in the back field, he coasted through three tackles to take Blackadder’s side deep into the Exeter 22.
The ball went left to Matt Garvey, who was pulled down just short and then back wide right to Rokoduguni ten metres out with two men two beat, he hitch-kicked and barrelled through one tackles and as the second challenge came in, he reached to the line to finish.
Ford missed the conversion, but Blackadder’s men went in for the break 11-0 to the good.
Chiefs looked much sharper after half-time, but small mistakes continued to litter their play and Bath produced key turnovers at vital times, with No. 8 Zach Mercer adding to his growing reputation with a resilient defensive performance.
Anthony Watson came off the bench to replace Aled Brew on 52 minutes for a first appearance since breaking his jaw in October.
Some superb midfield handling from Ford, Jonathan Joseph and Ben Tapuai very nearly put Watson in for a first score, but opposite man Jack Nowell helped deny his England colleague.
With the clock running down, Exeter’s chances looked to be slipping away, but Cowan-Dickie sent Short over in the corner as he burst through a tackle and juggled with a pass before palming the ball to his winger to cross with eight minutes left.
Man of the match Nowell then lit up The Rec as he carved through the Bath defence, the ball was then shifted wide to Steenson, who threw a pass between his lefs for Short to grab a remarkable second and Steenson completed the remarkable smash and grab effort with his second successful conversion.
Sale Sharks 23 Bristol 24
Sale were the better team in the opening quarter and they moved into a 15-0 lead through Denny Solomona’s effort and a penalty try.
Mark Tainton’s men did well to respond and were only five points in arrears at the interval after Jason Woodward’s three-pointer and Tom Varndell’s touchdown, a score which equalled Mark Cueto’s Premiership try-scoring record.
Although James Mitchell’s three-pointer and Johnny Leota’s try appeared to give the Sharks some breathing space, Rhodri Williams and Crumpton touched down to snatch the win.
Having struggled over recent weeks, the Manchester outfit needed a positive start and they eventually got it when a series of scrum infringements by the visitors ended in a sin-binning for Ryan Bevington.
With the away side under pressure referee Ian Tempest duly awarded a penalty try, a score which James Mitchell converted for a 7-0 buffer. Solomona then crossed the whitewash after he collected Mike Haley’s grubber before Mitchell made it 15-0 in the hosts’ favour with a three-pointer.
Bristol could have folded at that stage but they displayed commendable spirit and deservedly got back into the contest. Woodward initially ate into that lead from the tee before Varndell scampered over following the full-back’s impressive surge.
Sale regained control at the start of the second period when Mitchell kicked a penalty and Dan Tuohy then saw yellow for collapsing a maul. Under duress the visitors succumbed as Leota touched down but, to their credit, Tainton’s side once again displayed their character.
Varndell’s break ended in Williams going over before Rob Webber was yellow carded. Down to 14 men, the hosts failed to cope and Crumpton finished in the corner to reduce the deficit to one point. That left Woodward with a tough conversion but, having nailed pretty much every other effort in the contest, the full-back made no mistake from the tee to secure an incredible win.
Saracens 16 Leicester 12
Saracens started the new year with a win on the road as they beat Leicester 16-12 on Sunday, moving one point behind leaders Wasps.
Injury to Manu Tuilagi was cause for concern early on, the Leicester centre was brought down by three men before limping away from the action.
On the scoreboard, Owen Farrell and Owen Williams kept it ticking over with two first-half penalties apiece to send the sides in level.
Victory sees Saracens retain second place in the Premiership, behind Wasps. Meanwhile, the losing bonus point does not affect the Tigers’ league position as they remain fifth.
In front of Eddie Jones, England man Tuilagi was forced off with what appeared to be a knee injury with 11 minutes played. Owen Williams kicked a penalty for Leicester once the centre was off the pitch to send Tigers into an early lead.
An offside ruling from JP Doyle gave Saracens a chance to draw level in the 24th minute. Farrell was typically unerring in his execution of the kick to make the score 3-3.
The visitors took the lead with a fantastic penalty kick from Farrell after 31 minutes. Tom Youngs was penalised for not rolling away and Farrell’s kick from 40 metres was successful, nudging Sarries into a three-point lead.
Leicester levelled things up with a second penalty from Williams five minutes before the break. This meant that the sides went into half-time level at 6-6.
Williams nudged Leicester back into the lead six minutes after the break. A long-range effort from 45 metres needed the assistance of the crossbar to go over but it was successful and made the score 9-6.
Sarries scored the first try of the match after 54 minutes. Brad Barritt stole the ball off Williams before playing in the England man who threw a dummy before running clean through past the stationary Tigers defence. Farrell added the extras himself to make the score 13-9.
The visitors nudged themselves into a seven-point advantage with a 71st minute penalty from Farrell. Tigers hit back straight away with a penalty once more from the boot of Williams, but couldn’t find the try to salvage a late win.
Worcester 24 Harlequins 17
Worcester withstood a late onslaught from Harlequins to secure a 24-17 victory at Sixways in the Premiership on Sunday.
It was a bleak first 40 for Harlequins, who found a scoreless half send them 16-0 behind at the break at Sixways.
Dean Hammond went over for the only try of the half as Worcester dominated the first 40. Ben Te’o increased the lead with a second try after the break, and although Matthews and Alofa went over, Worcester held on for their first win since October.
A line-out five metres from the line caused havoc eight minutes in, with Hammond finding the space to cross in the corner for the first score. The conversion followed to put Warriors firmly on the front foot.
Continuing to dominate in the opening half hour, Worcester were able to turn their possession into more points before the break, with Quins struggling to get any momentum. Ryan Mills struck through two penalties to increase the advantage, before two yellows slowed down the play.
The first was issued to Worcester’s Darren Barry for an infringement, followed by Quins also falling to 14. They lost Joe Marler in a desperate defensive moment as the hosts threatened a second try. He missed the first 10 of the second half – as Worcester made it an even worse afternoon for Quins.
Te’o got try number two just after the restart, showing supreme strength to batter his way through the Harlequins backline and over the try line. The half calmed down after full numbers were restored following the late yellow cards, before Quins finally woke up as the second half wore on.
A steady burst of attacks produced their first try, Matthews grounding after the visitors continued to knock at the Warriors door. The try was converted, and the rejuvenated Quins continued to show a new lease on life as they seriously threatened a comeback.
Mills halted that hope though with another penalty edging Worcester into a 24-7 advantage, but it was far from over. Alofa reduced the arrears with a second try with five left to play, before a Tim Swiel conversion and penalty ensured the visitors would take home a bonus point thanks to their late fightback.
Northampton 13 Gloucester 12
A penalty try seven minutes from time gave Northampton a narrow 13-12 win over Gloucester at Kingsholm Stadium on Sunday.
The Cherry and Whites played much the better rugby in the opening exchanges and were rewarded for their intent with a 9-0 half-time lead. All the points came from the boot of Billy Burns.
However, the influence of Teimana Harrison dragged Saints back into the match after the break. Stephen Myler’s boot provided six points while Burns added another to keep Gloucester in the lead.
David Humphreys’ side was put under severe pressure late on and they couldn’t hold out. David Halaifonua’s deliberate knock-on meant that the visitors were awarded a penalty try. Myler was on hand to clinch the win with a conversion under the posts in his 300th Saints appearance.
Gloucester dominated the ball in the opening stages and seized advantage with a penalty from Burns after 10 minutes. Burns doubled the hosts’ lead after 31 minutes, the Saints pack was dominated by a Cherry and Whites scrum to concede a penalty. Burns was reliable in his execution to send his side into a six-point lead.
The final score of the half came from the boot of Burns in the 35th minute. Matthew Carley spotted a Northampton jersey entering a maul from the side and awarded a penalty to be dispatched once more by Burns to ensure Gloucester held a 9-0 lead at the interval.
Saints started the second-half very well and were rewarded early on with a penalty. Stephen Myler went for the posts and was successful with his attempt, cutting the deficit to six points. Myler cut the deficit even further 12 minutes later with another penalty.
However, Gloucester regained their six-point advantage in the 62nd minute, the penalty coming once again from the right boot of Burns to make the score 12-6. Northampton snatched victory late on in the 74th minute, a deliberate knock-on from Halaifonua led to Matthew Carley awarding a penalty try to Saints with help from the TMO.
Myler added the conversion from under the posts to make the final score 12-13 in dramatic fashion.