The third weekend of the Aviva Premiership began with teams from opposite ends of the early league table with Gloucester vs Exeter starting off the weekend’s action with the on Friday night.
Gloucester started off strong with tries from winger Jonny May, on 9 minutes and prop Dan Murphy 3 minutes later. Gloucester were kept from running out to a large early lead though by consistently handing opportunities to Gareth Steenson and Henry Slade who kept the scoreboard ticking over and were within 2 points before the half hour mark and ahead following a try from open side flanker Ben White with 7 minutes remaining in the half. The torture was not over however, as Slade added a long penalty just before the break leaving Gloucester trailing 22-12. After coming out for the second half all of Gloucester’s early promise disappeared, even with Exeter down to 14 men following Kai Horstmann being sent to the sin bin. Even with Sione Kalamafoni’s try on 64 minutes and James Hook’s penalty in the 72nd minute were mere consolations as Exeter defeated Gloucester to temporarily go top after a 22-25 win.
On Saturday we had 4 matches, with 2 hugely competitive games 2 routs and not in the games you would expect.
We began our Saturday experience with newly promoted London Welsh taking on a Sale Sharks team that are hoping to finish in the playoffs this year.
Sale started strongly with a try in the second minute from winger Tom Arscott on what would be a red letter day for him. Olly Barkely drew the Exiles within 4 points with a penalty, but that was as close as the visitors ever came to matching the rampaging Sharks. A try from Vadim Cobilas before the break, which was converted by Cipriani, hotly followed by a penalty gave the home side a 15-3 halftime lead.
Three minutes after play was resumed play, a resurgent Cipriani, added another penalty to the Sale lead, before Welsh showed a spark through Nic Reynolds; leaving them 10 points adrift. With the substitutions from Sale made however, the home side accelerated away from the Premiership new boys. After the introduction of Chris Cusiter; Arscott was through again to score his second try. 10 minutes later his opposite wing, Tom Brady, was scoring the Sharks fourth and bonus point try with Arscott himself rounding off a great day, two minutes later adding his hat-trick try to the mix. The last of the back three Luke Mclean must have been feeling left out of the act when he scored his own try 2 minutes from time to give Sale a commanding 46-8 win, moving them up to seventh in the table.
The second match of the afternoon saw Harlequins take on the London Wasps. Harlequins desperately needed to rebound from their humiliating defeat last weekend against Saracens losing by a score of 39-0.
It was however Wasps who started the brighter of the two; Guy Thompson running in a try in the 14th minute. Harlequins responded through two penalties from Ben Botica bringing the home team within one. Andy Goode had something to say about that; slotting two penalties of his own to stretch their lead which was again cut into on the stroke of half time by Botica to bring the halftime score to 13-9 to Harlequins. After the break Harlequins started to assert control with both Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown running in tries with Botica adding the extras.
The visitors did fight back though with former England winger Tom Varndell going over in the 58th minute to cut the lead. His former England colleague Danny Care however added a drop goal of his own which would prove important. Following a yellow card for Lock Charlie Matthews, Thomas Young went in to score a try after coming off the bench and bringing Wasps within 2 points of their hosts. Unfortunately for Wasps fans there would be no miracle, as Harlequins hung on to win the game by a score of 26-23; however the result did new Wasps a loser’s bonus point which could prove invaluable throughout the season.
The third game of the weekend between London Irish and last year’s runner up Saracens was another hotly contested match which was snatched from defeat after a tremendous game had been played by both sides. Tim Streather ran in a try in the opening minutes with Owen Farrell adding a penalty 10 minutes later to bring the early lead to 10. Blair Cowan however responded for London Irish with a try of his own to bring them within 3, Farrell however again slotted a penalty to put the hosts behind by 6. This is when the action really started heating up however; Richard Wigglsworth campered in to score in the 25th minute putting the visitors ahead by 13. Winger Alex Lewington scored a pair of tries in as many minutes to leave London Irish reversing fortunes now only behind by 1. Farrell again though kept the scoreboard ticking over bring Saracens within 3 at the half with the score sitting at 23-19 to Saracens.
The matches frenetic pace did slow in the second half and London Irish began to take control, Shane Geraghty added 3 points just after the break to take the lead, the lead was extended further four minutes later when Lewington added another score and the advantage now stood at 9 points. Alex Goode, having taken over kicking duties after Farrell’s substitution, punished the London Irish indiscipline to bring the scores within 3; Geraghty added his own penalty and with 15 minutes to go the match seemed to be decided. However in the dying moments of the match Billy Vunipola rumbled over with the conversion being slotted by Charlie Hodgson to give the visiting Saracens a 36-32 last gasp victory over there cross town rivals.
The most surprising result of the weekend however came from the game at the Recreation Ground where Bath romped to victory over the traditional powerhouse Leicester. This match was over as a contest inside the first half with Semesa Rokoduguni starting the scoring in the 7th minute and Johnathon Joseph adding his own try 10 minutes later. George Ford also appeared to be in imperious form scoring 2 penalties, 2 conversions and slotting a drop goal all before half time.
After the teams emerged for the second half there was no relief for Leicester as Ford continued to make his case for an England Jersey adding another penalty before Kyle Eastmond would go over to score. The game over as a contest by this point with Bath leading by 31 both teams rang the changes and pulled the starting players allowing for a more even contest which never truly materialised. Olly Woodburn and Peter Stringer both added their own tries before the game was out and shutting down Leicester with the final score of 45-0 Bath have announced they mean business this year.
The final game of the weekend showed little signs of being competitive either pitting the Newcastle Falcons against Northampton. The saints jumped out to an early lead and would never surrender it. The score was 18-0 before Newcastle showed life following tries from, Will Hooley and prop Alex Waller, Juan Pablo Socino converted his chance at a penalty but minutes later Ken Pisi would run in another try and the halftime score was 28-3 in favour of the Saints. The second half showed Northampton stepping off the accelerator with the game already won, this allowed the Falcons to get a consolation try by way of Noah Cato before the door was slammed firmly shut by Northampton with George North scoring in the 78th minute to bring the final score to 10-35 in favour of Northampton.