Aviva Premiership Round 7

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Northampton Saints 23 Gloucester Rugby 20

Tom Kessell came off the bench to earn Northampton Saints a much-needed Aviva Premiership Rugby victory over Gloucester Rugby, in a topsy-turvy encounter at Franklin’s Gardens.

The hosts earned themselves a ten-point advantage at the interval, courtesy of Louis Picamoles’ powerful effort and three from the tee from Stephen Myler – the first of which took him past 1500 Aviva Premiership Rugby points.

And while two tries for Gloucester’s Jacob Rowan and Charlie Sharples turned the match on its head, up popped scrum-half Kessell to burrow over the whitewash for what proved to be the decisive score from Picamoles’ offload.

Gloucester started well as Richard Hibbard combined with Mariano Galarza, but as the visitors bore down on Saints line, the ball was lost forwards.

The Cherry & Whites were piling pressure on at the breakdown, and when full-back Ben Foden was caught stranded after a chip through, Matt Scott was straight over the top to win an eighth-minute penalty – although Laidlaw uncharacteristically slid his kick wide across the posts.

Saints threatened on 11 minutes when centre Harry Mallinder found some space which George North exploited to finish brilliantly, but Northampton were then called back for forward pass in the offload.

Saints were again pinged for not releasing on 13 minutes, but the radar was well and truly off for Laidlaw who again failed to make them pay from the tee, this time pushing his effort right.

And the breakthrough finally came after 25 minutes when Ben Foden’s brilliant sniping run allowed Louis Picamoles to take on the ball just five metres out, and the French powerhouse muscled his way through the Cherry & Whites’ defences to score the first try of the game – with the try eventually awarded via the TMO.

Myler made no mistake with the conversion, and that was a significant kick from the fly-half as it took him to 1,500 Aviva Premiership Rugby points.

And the No.10 turned the screw moments later with an arrow-straight 40-metre penalty after John Afoa played it on the floor to make it 10-0 to the Saints.

Laidlaw came good with his third penalty of the night to reduce arrears after Picamoles was pinged on 34 minutes, but Myler restored the ten-point advantage before the break after Alex Waller forced a Gloucester infringement in the scrum.

But some harsh words at half-time from David Humphreys clearly did the trick for Gloucester, who came roaring back five minutes into the second half.

Billy Twelvetrees took advantage of some indecision from the hosts to collect Laidlaw’s box-kick, and the Cherry & Whites spread the ball wide for Rowan to go over in the corner for his first Aviva Premiership Rugby try.

Laidlaw’s touchline conversion bisected the posts, and although another Myler penalty gave Northampton some breathing room on 52 minutes when Tom Savage was offside, the Scottish scrum-half soon cancelled that out when Gloucester won a scrum penalty deep in Saints territory.

England skipper Dylan Hartley was introduced just before the hour mark, but the Cherry & Whites were on the charge and after a brilliant passage of play involving carries from Matt Scott and Ross Moriarty, Twelvetrees put Sharples over in the corner to send his side into the lead for the first time.

Hibbard put in a try-scoring tackle on Harry Mallinder moments later after another thrilling Foden burst, but Northampton were not to be denied.

An excellent lineout play saw replacement Kessell cross the whitewash after Hartley threw long, and Picamoles again was the man to offload at the perfect moment.

James Hook’s penalty attempt from halfway was on target but fell just short on 73 minutes, and Northampton clung on in the dying embers of the match to inflict a first away loss of the season on Gloucester.

Saracens 24 Leicester Tigers 10

 

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Saracens have enjoyed a great recent run against Leicester Tigers and the Aviva Premiership Rugby champions extended that run with a convincing 24-10 win at Allianz Park.

With just one loss all season, Mark McCall’s side are once more positioning themselves as the team to beat in England, and ran in three tries to extend their lead at the top of the table.

First-half scores from wing duo Chris Wyles and Sean Maitland allowed them to open up a comfortable 17-3 lead at the break.

Billy Vunipola then went over early in the second before brother Mako was sin-binned but Leicester struggled to take advantage initially.

However with virtually his first involvement George Catchpole crossed and the rest of the half saw the visitors on the front foot but unable to go over again, and have still not won away to Saracens since 2012.

Saracens were first on the scoreboard with their ability to do the basics well crucial to Wyles’ score. Winning the ball from a Leicester lineout, they went through three phases in the 22, before was played out to the wing through the hands with Jackson Wray delivering the final pass to the American to cross in the left corner. Owen Farrell converted from the touchline to make it 7-0.

Leicester responded with a penalty from Owen Williams after the home side had failed to roll away at the breakdown while inside their 22.Farrell added a first penalty of the afternoon to stretch Saracens’ lead back to seven, and they had soon extended it with a fine try for winger Maitland. After Alex Goode and Farrell had combined brilliantly, the fly-half drawing the defender before putting Goode through a hole, the full-back then floated the ball out to Maitland to cross. Farrell duly converted to stretch the lead to 17-3.

He could have stretched the lead even further just before the break, but his penalty attempt bounced away off the outside of the post.

Deprived of injured duo George Kruis and Maro Itoje, the pressure was on the Saracens pack to show what they were made of, and they did just that early in the second half.

With a lineout inside the Leicester 22, Saracens turned to their maul, and quickly identified a weak point, powering through a crumbling defence before Billy Vunipola reached over. Farrell again converted.

It looked a long way back for Leicester, but their task was made a little easier just after the hour when Mako Vunipola was sent to the bin for taking out Freddie Burns after a little kick over the top.

Richard Cockerill replaced World Cup winner JP Pietersen with Catchpole and the move paid off. Burns spotted a gap in the Saracens defence and made the initial break and after quick ball from the next phase, Catchpole held off three defenders to crash over. Owen Williams converted.

The victory looked beyond them but there was still a chance of a losing bonus point. However a huge tackle on Ellis Genge from Brad Barritt forced a knock-on and the Tigers never got back into position to score.

Harlequins 36 Worcester Warriors 14

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Joe Marchant’s intercept try brought up the bonus point as Harlequins brushed aside Worcester Warriors in a dominant second half.

Worcester were bright for much of the first 40 and went into the break at 7-7 after Jackson Willison had responded to Danny Care’s early opening try.

But James Horwill and Mike Brown caught the Warriors cold within the first ten minutes of the second half, and despite a try for a lively Ben Te’o, Marchant killed off the game in the final quarter before Tim Visser finished off proceedings.

The Warriors, who won in Aviva Premiership Rugby at the Stoop last season, looked full of vim and vigour from the off – with England prospect Te’o in particular making great strides through the Harlequins line.

But Harlequins opened the scoring and it was gift – Lamb, moments after missing a drop-goal, found a lurking Tim Visser and no one could catch the Scotland international before he sent Care over.

By the tenth minute Worcester were level as a well-crafted lineout move ending up in the hands of Te’o, who shrugged off a tackle and gave Willison a simple finish.

Big carries from Marland Yarde and Luke Wallace helped Harlequins get on top of the visitors for a spell, but a combination of poor passing and rugged defence – with wing Dean Hammond a standout – quelled the threat.

With Joe Marler sin binned for collapsing a maul, Worcester ended the second half on the ascendancy but could add no further points.

The best chance fell to Alafoti Fa’osiliva and, despite his superb break, the Samoan flanker missed a wide open Willison perched on his shoulder.

Quins raced out of the blocks on the turnaround and Hammond denied Visser before the hosts made the breakthrough.

Former Australia captain Horwill plunged over following an irrepressible rolling maul and Nick Evans’ conversion made it a seven-point lead.

And it seemed as if the Warriors were sinking without trace when Brown scythed through from just inside the 22-metre line and finished.

But to their credit the away side came roaring back as Lamb caused hesitance among the Harlequins ranks with his delayed pass to Willison – with Te’o then getting the try his general play deserved.

Jamie Shillcock, taking over kicking duties from Lamb, reduced the deficit to seven.

Phil Dowson’s intercept nearly gave Worcester parity on the hour but the 35-year-old did not quite have the legs of Visser and was caught five metres short of the line.

Shortly after, Evans penalty stretched Quins’ lead out to beyond a converted try before Marchant slammed the door shut on Worcester.

From the restart, Lamb was again intercepted deep into Worcester territory and the speedy Marchant streaked clear to put Harlequins 29-14 to the good with 15 minutes to go.

Visser then grabbed the try his performance deserved after replacement Alofa Alofa put him through at the death.

 

Bristol Rugby 13 Sale Sharks 31

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Sale Sharks claimed their first away win of the season, and a bonus point, with a comfortable Aviva Premiership Rugby victory over Bristol Rugby at Ashton Gate on Sunday.

Paolo Odogwu and Mike Haley both crossed for tries in the first half as Steve Diamond’s side – in their first meeting with Bristol since 2009 – opened up a 12-0 lead at the interval.

After the break Byron McGuigan went over while Andy Robinson’s side, who are still waiting for their first win of the campaign, only had two Shane Geraghty penalties to show for their efforts.

Bristol have conceded at least four tries in each of their last five fixtures at Ashton Gate and late on the Sharks secured the bonus point when replacement prop Eifion Lewis-Roberts barrelled over.

There was still time for young flanker Tom Curry to go over for their fifth try while the home side grabbed a late consolation through David Lemi.

The Ashton Gate crowd were in good voice from the outset and Andy Robinson’s men started brightly.

But Gavin Henson – only just back from a dead leg sustained in round one – went off injured while Sale lost their goalkicker Will Addison as well in some bruising early exchanges.

But it was the visitors – who last won on their travels on the final day of last season – who drew first blood just before the 20-minute mark.

With Addison off with a head injury, a penalty that would normally have been kickable was sent to the corner and the Sharks forward pack got to work.

They tied in defenders with a number of short range charges up to the line and when the ball went left Odogwu was too quick to slide over in the corner.

McGuigan took over the kicking duties for the Sharks and missed the tough conversion but the away side were on top and soon had a second.

This time it was Haley – who celebrated his first England call-up on Wednesday – who scythed through the middle after Sam James’ delayed pass released him and the full-back rounded his opposite man to dot down.

This time McGuigan converted and it was 12-0 to the Sharks at the break.

Andy Robinson’s men needed a boost at the start of the second half but instead it only got worse as James conjured up a superb third for the away side.

The fly-half gathered his own dink over the top on halfway, stepped past the covering tackle before firing a superb pass out to McGuigan and the winger won the foot race to touch down in the corner.

This time McGuigan could not add the conversion but the Sharks were 17-0 to the good and Ashton Gate was in a stunned silence.

The hosts needed something to boost them and Shane Geraghty slotted two penalties before the hour mark to trim the lead to 17-6 and when Sale had hooker Neil Briggs sent to the sin bin the hosts sniffed a comeback.

But the Sharks weathered the storm well when down to 14 men and when Briggs returned they had their bonus point score, replacement prop Eifion Lewis-Roberts burrowing over from short range.

McGuigan added the conversion and as the game entered the final quarter the Sharks had already done enough, leading 24-6.

And there was still time for Curry to go over under the posts, collecting Haley’s offload after another searing break from the full-back.

Bristol rallied late on and Lemi went over for a late consolation but the day belonged to the Sharks as their third league win of the season lifted them back into the top six.

Exeter Chiefs 10 Bath Rugby 13

 

Semesa Rokoduguni broke Exeter Chiefs hearts after his 89th minute try secured a famous 13-10 Bath Rugby win at Sandy Park.

Mitch Lees’ score from a powerful Exeter driving maul looked to have rescued victory for Chiefs, but Bath’s powerful scrum ensured piled on the pressure as the game built to a thrilling crescendo and Rokoduguni added the finishing touched.

George Ford missed two kickable penalties in the first half, while Gareth Steenson knocked over an easy three points to ensure Rob Baxter’s men had the slenderest of leads at the break.

Exeter reverted to their traditional strengths for their only try, but it was not enough as Bath moved clear of Leicester Tigers in third place in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table and only two points behind second-place Wasps.

Ford missed an early kickable penalty from in front of the posts and the sides remained scoreless until the 16th minute when Kahn Fotuali’i was penalised for hands in the ruck and Steenson made no mistake with the easy kick.

The Samoan scrum-half looked to make amends moments  later, tapping quickly from a scrum penalty, but after he was pulled back by Ian Tempest for going too early, Ford again missed a straightforward shot on goal.

Bath had the better of possession for the most part, but an interception late in the first half saw Exeter bombarding the visitors’ line only for Dave Lewis to throw two wayward passes that put his side under pressure.

Some superb work at the breakdown from Matt Garvey then releaved the pressure on Bath, as the half ended with a penalty kicked into touch.

Dave Atwood looked to have celebrated his England call-up in emphatic fashion as he powered home from 25 metres immediately at, but Tempest spotted a forward pass and the lock was denied.

It was Ford instead who started the second half on the right foot, putting over a penalty after four minutes, but again both sides saw their build-up play punctuated with handling errors as defence dominated.

England No. 10 Ford struck a vital blow with less than 15 minutes to play, kicking a fine penalty to put Bath ahead for the first time.

But when Chiefs’ pack started to rumble from a way out with ten minutes left, they looked unstoppable and when Lees bundled over, Sandy Park looked set for a hard-fought Exeter win.

After a series of re-set scrums, Ford almost set Rokoduguni away down the right wing with an accurate tackle, but he was collared and Bath recycled the ball.

Bath refused to wilt and Blackadder watched on as England man Rokoduguni barged through several tackles to silence the Sandy Park crowd before Ford knocked over the conversion.

Wasps 31 Newcastle Falcons 6

Joe Launchbury

Jimmy Gopperth grabbed a last-gasp try to earn Wasps a bonus point as they saw off the challenge of Newcastle Falcons to remain unbeaten in Aviva Premiership Rugby at the Ricoh Arena this season.

Wasps arrived into this game unbeaten in their last six fixtures with the Falcons, and at half-time looked odds on to extend that run as they led 17-3 thanks to a Frank Halai score, a penalty try and the boot of Jimmy Gopperth.

And it was a similar story after the interval as despite some Falcons pressure they finished the game with just two Mike Delany penalties to show for their efforts.

As for Wasps, they were able to celebrate two second-half scores from ex-Falcon Gopperth – the last coming in the final play to earn them the bonus point win.

The game started at a ferocious pace with both sides looking for an early score, but after eight minutes there was a lengthy delay in the action as Marty Moore was stretchered off, with Jake Cooper-Wooley replacing him in the Wasps front row.

When play resumed Wasps stole a Falcons lineout 25m from their tryline and charged up the field. Rob Miller went through a hole and although he was halted by Michael Young the home side were awarded a penalty and Jimmy Gopperth nailed the resulting kick for a 14th-minute lead.

That gave Wasps confidence and just moments later Joe Launchbury broke and the ball was recycled to Kyle Eastmond who’s pass was deliberately knocked on by Simon Hammersley. The Falcons full-back was sin-binned and referee Craig Maxwell-Keys awarded the home side a penalty try.

And things got even better for Wasps as just a minute later winger Frank Halai raced onto an Elliot Daly chip over the top to dot down, with Gopperth adding the touchline conversion for a commanding 17-0 lead with a quarter of the game gone.

This woke Newcastle up but after winning a penalty in front of the posts for an illegal tackle on Marcus Watson the Falcons went for the try but couldn’t find a way past some dogged Wasps defending as Ashley Johnson forced the turnover.

Next it was Wasps’ turn to go through phases but the Falcons held firm with Sinoti Sinoti bundling Johnson into touch.

And Newcastle did have something to shout about before the interval as with the last kick of the half Mike Delany slotted a penalty to get the Falcons on the scoreboard.

Visitors Newcastle started the second half on the front foot and Delany kicked his second penalty on 51 minutes to reduce the deficit.

And just after the hour mark the visitors pressed for a try with Daly holding Dominic Waldouck just short of the line on the left flank, with Juan Pablo Socino bundling over only for the TMO to rule out the score when it was adjudged he had knocked on under pressure.

The Falcons kept breathing down Wasps necks but Nathan Huges turned the ball over under the home side’s posts and Gopperth was able to clear.

At the other end it was Wasps’ turn to be denied by the TMO as Guy Thompson raced onto a Danny Cipriani kick and looked to have dotted down, only for Sinoti to have got to the ball first.

But with ten minutes left Wasps were celebrating another try as Launchbury push the hosts forward and Gopperth raced through to dot down before converting his own score for a 24-6 lead.

Wasps went in search of the bonus point fourth try and they got it with the last play of the game, with Gopperth racing through on Cipriani’s shoulder to grab his second score of the game, getting up to add the extras for the 31-6 victory.

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