It was a good day for both Wasps and Saracens in the Premiership as the former secured their play-off qualification, while the latter will have a home semi-final.
On Saturday Bath earned bragging rights over Gloucester, Exeter sealed top spot and Worcester battered Harlequins to ensure Premiership rugby next year.
Exeter Chiefs 34-19 Sale Sharks
With a home semi-final already secured Rob Baxter’s side secured the novelty of top spot a week ahead of schedule by ending Sale’s top four aspirations for at least 12 months.
A see-saw first 40 left the game in the balance and heading into the final stages it remained that way, but Exeter’s savvy know how saw them through and score a bonus point late on.
Joe Simmonds kicked the first points of the day with the boot but it was a former Exeter man Byron McGuigan who scored the first try of the day. Working off scrum ball the Sharks worked through several phases before AJ MacGinty chipped over for the Scotsman to score.
Exeter though quickly turned the contest in the space of five minutes with tries of an Australian flavour. First scrum-half Nic White was able to benefit from a prominent scrum and snipe over from close range. Shortly after Lachie Turner was given clear grass after the Chiefs had turned the ball over and the speedy full-back evaded all in front of him to go over.
Those quick scores put the home side 17-7 in front but five minutes before the interval Sale lock Andrei Ostrikov picked and went shortly after the Sharks had retained their own attacking lineout. MacGinty adding the extras.
The visitors’ score shortly before the break had reborn the contest but Exeter were quick to kill off any Sale momentum. Jack Yeandle scoring after Don Armand had sent him over via a good set-piece move.
The game went scoreless for 20 minutes before McGuigan, a man clearly performing like someone with a point to prove, scored his second after the TMO was consulted in regards to the grounding. MacGinty missed the conversion from out wide leaving the gap at five points with just over ten minutes remaining.
Exeter, knowing full well a win would secure them their place at the Premiership’s summit, played with their heads and a Gareth Steenson penalty pushed the gap out to beyond a converted try. But in true Exeter fashion they managed to earn the bonus point thanks to plenty of forward momentum eventually seeing Greg Holmes go over. Steenson added the extras to round off another fruitful day in Devon.
Tries: White, Turner, Yeandle, Holmes
Cons: Simmonds 3, Steenson
Pens: Simmonds, Steenson
Tries: McGuigan 2, Ostrikov
Cons: MacGinty 2
Gloucester 20-43 Bath
Bath paid faith to the old cliche that form goes out of the window on derby day by delivering Gloucester just their second home defeat of the year.
A bonus point secured by half-time suggested Bath had been saving their best for their fiercest rivals following a miserable run of results. Gloucester’s top four ambitions were both hindered and helped by Newcastle’s late win at Welford Road on Friday but defeat in front of their own fans ended hopes of post season involvement.
Tom Dunn’s opening score came in the first minute when the soon-to-be Gloucester man Matt Banahan powered down the right and one phase later Dunn powered over from five metres out.
Gloucester thought they had an immediate response after the Shed watched Lewis Ludlow dot down but he was judged to have done so with a double movement. A double act then cut through the home defence when Rhys Priestland put Francois Louw through a hole before getting the ball back on the inside to dive over.
Good things supposedly come in threes and Bath’s first-half followed suit as, following a Charlie Ewels intercept and offload, Aled Brew was given the ball on halfway and raced clear despite the best efforts of Tom Marshall.
At 21-3 the game was beginning to get away from the Cherry and Whites but captain Ed Slater ran an excellent line to crash over with the ball on the Bath five metre line.
The door of hope appeared ajar but the visitors didn’t take long to slam it shut courtesy of a try of the season contender from Tom Homer. The 15 picking up on his own ten metre line, cutting inside the Gloucester defensive line and deciding to ignore his support to power over despite the best efforts of Jason Woodward on the cover.
Priestland kicked a penalty to register the first points of the second 40 but ten minutes in Gloucester scored the first try to again ignite a glimmer of hope. Ben Morgan made the initial break to send Gloucester up towards the Bath line. Working off quick ball replacement scrum-half Ben Vellacott threw a looping pass to Woodward who dived over in the corner.
That hope was again short lived and Bath scored number five of the afternoon. The forwards pushing them towards the whitewash and Priestland was able to spot Cooper Vuna one-on-one with Vellacott and the replacement was able to dot down in the corner.
Gloucester at 16 points down knew that had to play and territory was rendered irrelevant with the hosts often looking to play out from their own 22. A risky strategy eventually, and inevitably, counted against them when James Wilson intercepted with the try line five metres away and he gratefully scored.
Tries: Slater, Woodward
Cons: Twelvetrees 2
Pens: Twelvetrees 2
Tries: Dunn, Priestland, Brew, Homer, Vuna, Wilson
Cons: Priestland 4, Burns
Worcester Warriors 44-13 Harlequins
A miserable run for Harlequins shows no sign of letting up as Worcester’s late burst of form continued to put them in seventh heaven as they mathematically secured their Premiership status.
One win in their last eight has seen Quins’ season meander to a trivial ending and victory for the Warriors means they are level on points with the capital side following an inspired afternoon.
Dorian Jones and Marcus Smith initially traded penalties before Bryce Heem scored the first of Worcester’s four first-half tries. Working off lineout ball the powerful Ben Te’o found Chris Pennell and he sent his back three colleague over. Quins were swift to hit back though when Charlie Walker cut through the Warriors defence to dot down. Smith added the conversion to put the visitors 10-8 ahead.
Jackson Willison scored Worcester’s second to put them back into the lead after GJ van Velze made a break to put Worcester on the front foot. They were quickly able to recycle and with numbers over the inside centre scored.
Lock Darren Barry delivered the third score at Sixways after relentless attack and just after half an hour Te’o scored the bonus point securing fourth of the day. Heem was able to break before hitting Pennell in space. The full-back provided another assist to send the Lions centre over in the right hand corner.
At 25-13 the contest wasn’t quite over but Quins were in need of the next score. Instead, in keeping with the afternoon’s pattern, Worcester notched their fifth courtesy of Francois Hougaard. The South African running the ball off an attacking maul before side stepping and powering over.
The Sixways crowd were treated to try number six of the day when replacement Jamie Shillcock ran an excellent line to score under the posts and allow himself the easiest of conversions. With the clock in the red things got even better for Worcester as Willison scored his brace and the visitors ensured top tier status with aplomb.
Tries: Heem, Willison 2, Barry, Te’o, Hougaard, Shillcock
Cons: Jones, Shillcock 2
Pens: Smith 2
London Irish 14-51 Saracens
Saracens secured a home semi-final, scoring seven tries in a dominant 51-14 victory over already-relegated London Irish at the Madejski Stadium.
The Londoners were made to work in the first half, despite initially taking a 13-0 lead, but eventually pulled away in the second period.
Mark McCall’s men went ahead via an Owen Farrell penalty, after Josh McNally had been sin-binned for the Exiles, before Brad Barritt and Duncan Taylor went over.
Irish could have folded but they got back into the contest as Joe Cokanasiga touched down and, although Farrell added a second three-pointer, Maro Itoje’s yellow card for a deliberate knock-on provided the hosts with a further boost.
They duly took advantage of the extra man when Johnny Williams barged across the whitewash. It failed to last, however, and Michael Rhodes regained Sarries’ nine-point buffer by going over from close range.
Saracens were now well in control and their win was rubberstamped by Marcelo Bosch, Richard Barrington, Alex Goode and Schalk Brits tries.
McCall’s charges will head back to Allianz Park next weekend where they will take on Gloucester, knowing that they are safe in second position.
For London Irish:
Tries: Cokanasiga, Williams
Cons: Tonks 2
Yellow Cards: McNally, Cowan
Tries: Barritt, Taylor, Rhodes, Bosch, Barrington, Goode, Brits
Cons: Farrell 5
Pens: Farrell 2
Yellow Card: Itoje
Wasps 36-29 Northampton Saints
Wasps secured their position in the Premiership semi-finals following a tense 36-29 victory over Northampton Saints.
They move up to third position, above Newcastle Falcons, but the Coventry-based outfit were pressurised throughout by a resilient Saints.
Dai Young’s men began impressively and touched down when Willie le Roux’s long pass was finished by Christian Wade out wide.
To Northampton’s credit, they hit back via Teimana Harrison’s barnstorming run, but Jimmy Gopperth’s penalty and Elliot Daly’s try, after another slick attack, took the hosts 15-7 clear.
Api Ratuniyarawa reduced the arrears from close range but successive Gopperth three-pointers re-established the Coventry outfit’s dominance.
Although Stephen Myler kept the Saints in the contest from the tee, they suffered a setback at the start of the second period when Luther Burrell was sin-binned for a needless trip.
Wasps duly benefited from the centre’s absence and Wade and Juan de Jongh appeared to have sealed the win and their place in the last four by touching down.
However, Alex Mitchell and Ahsee Tuala crossed the whitewash to put it back in the balance going into the final 10 minutes, but Gopperth’s effort off the tee settled the nerves late on.
Tries: Wade 2, Daly, De Jongh
Cons: Gopperth 2
Pens: Gopperth 4
Tries: Harrison, Ratuniyarawa, Mitchell, Tuala
Cons: Myler 2, Grayson
Yellow Card: Burrell