The fifth week of the Aviva Premiership started with a marquee matchup on Friday with Bath hosting the undefeated Saracens.
The deadlock was broken early by Bath; a high kick had the visitors under pressure with the ball bouncing favourably for Kyle Eastmond. Eastmond then gave a crisp pass to Johnathon Joseph who ran in for the first score of the game in the 12th minute.
Hodgson knocked over a penalty in the nineteenth minute to open the scoring for the visitors. Ford would add to the lead eight minutes later before Alex Goode connected on a long range penalty to bring the visitors within four. Bath produced a fine attack just before half-time which was halted by a deliberate knock on which sent Chris Ashton to the sin bin; Ford made it 13-6 at the interval with the resulting penalty.
The second half started off just as frenetic as the first with Joseph tackled just short of the line when he really should have scored. The home side would, however, break through following a scintillating move that involved the entirety of the team. Joseph was able to return the favour with a simple pass which allowed Eastmond to touch down for the try stretching the lead to 18-6.
Saracens responded when in the 58th minute they battered their way through the phases before Chris Wyles barrelled over. In the final 20 minutes of the game Bath defended ferociously and would not break in the face of the constant pressure, Ford extended the lead to give the hosts some breathing room and they would hang on to give Saracens the first loss on the year by a score of 21-11.
It took just 3 minutes for Quins to take the lead with a beautifully worked move off a lineout with Nick Evans putting in Mike Brown after a well worked move. The hosts then began what would become an outright destruction; in the 11th minute Aseli Tikoirotuma burst clear to provide Care with a simple try. With Evans adding a penalty before the break the score at half time was flattering to the visitors and sat at 17-0.
When the second half began it was clear that Harlequins had decided that they would up the gears and get the bonus point try out of the way as early as possible. They notched their third of the afternoon within seconds of the restart when Brown evaded three defenders on a 30-metre run before providing the scoring pass for Yarde; try number 4 came just minutes later, Matthew Hopper going over to seal the game early.
The game became disjointed following this score, the numerous changes by both sides and the lengthy break following the injury to prop Eddie Aholelei for London Welsh. Quins got the scoreboard ticking over again with a penalty try awarded after Seb Steggman tackled Karl Dickson high. Dickson however would not be denied though as he would collect a chip through from Mike Brown before Yarde powered his way over to complete the rout giving us a final score of 52-0.
The third game of the weekend featured a battle from the kicking tee and an all-around dull game between London Irish and Northampton.
Both sides played a cagey game in the first half but unforced errors from both sides would result in only one penalty before the half hour mark, which was knocked over by Steven Myler for Northampton. Centre Luther Burrell’s 36th minute effort was the solitary piece of excitement of the first half but did mean that Northampton went into the break leading 10-0.
When the teams emerged for the second half there were more points even though there was not an increase in quality on the field. Shane Geraghty scored a pair of penalties to bring the hosts within 4 before Steven Myler retaliated with a kicked goal of his own to stretch the lead to 13-6. The pattern would continue however as Geraghty scored and this time was answered by scrum half Lee Dickson. Geraghty would again answer to keep the home side within a try from taking the lead but that try did not materialise. Myler added a penalty to the score line in the 78th minute to give the visiting Saints the win. Geraghty’s successful kicks did net the home side a losing bonus point in a dull affair that finished 12-19.
The final game on Saturday saw Gloucester hosting a Leicester side racked by injuries.
The visitors were always going to be hard pressed to get a result against a Gloucester side which is beginning to emerge as a contender but few would have predicted the result which in many ways flatters Leicester.
The early exchanges of the match appeared to suggest that we would have another kicking duel on our hands similar to London Irish v Northampton. Matthew Tait opened the scoring for Leicester but the response was swift with Greg Laidlaw hitting 3 penalties of his own. Owen Williams would kick a penalty over to bring the Tigers within 3 and then Gloucester roared into life.
Lock Tom Savage charged down the Williams clearance kick before Nick Wood stumbled over the whitewash to touch down the opening try of the match, which was easily converted by Laidlaw. With the Leicester defence in disarray Charlie Sharples skirted down the left channel to race home a second try for the hosts and his opposite number briskly followed suit. England winger Jonny May continued his fine form by dotting down on the same flank after a well worked three on two by Gloucester.
After half time the match slowed to a crawl with Gloucester failing to capitalise on the clear advantage they possessed but Leicester were also unable to build on a stronger defence in the second half. The Tigers must have resigned themselves to defeat when Niki Goneva was sent trudging to the sin bin for an offence committed by Miles Benjamin. The extra point was there to be taken when Rob Cook and James Hook broke the Leicester defence but for the crucial offload Sharples and Dan Robinson got in each other’s way and prevented the try. Instead it was Leicester who dashed over with David Mele claiming a consolation try which Williams converted with the final act of the match giving us the final score of 33-16.
Our games on Sunday began with Sale trying to climb from the lower reaches of the table playing against London Wasps.
The Sharks started the stronger of the two sides and were able to push the visitors around early and with a penalty resulting from an early scrum elected to go for the corner and potentially an early try lead. The maul was stopped in its tracks but Sale showed good patience which would allow Tom Arscott in for his fifth try of the campaign in the 6th minute. The following 20 minutes however were dominated by Wasps although there was little to show for the strength of their play.
The dominance eventually saw Michael Paterson yellow carded after he halted a maul illegally; that yellow card allowed Nathan Hughes to power his way over from close range giving them the lead following the Goode conversion. Sale however were allowed back into the game when Will Helu took out Tom Brady in the air. The error was compounded when Charlie Davies’ attempted clearance kick was charged down by Cusiter and the scrum-half followed up to touch down. This was the first kick which Cirpiani was able to convert of the first half giving Sale the lead 12-7.
Just as in the first half Sale started strong and were able to come away with 3 points following a Cirpiani drop goal and following an infringement at the scrum was able to extend the lead further giving the hosts a lead of 18-7. Wasps again responded this time through Christian Wade bringing Wasps within 4 points however the Salford based outfit were able to hang on to the lead with Tom Brady scampering over in the closing minutes to make the score appear stronger for Sale. The final score went in favour of the Sharks; 25-14.
We round out our weekend with a truly thrilling games which most would have thought would have been easily decided in favour of the visitors. I am of course talking about Newcastle Falcons hosting Exeter Chiefs.
The match featured a lot of back and forth action with Exeter starting the stronger forcing there way over from a lineout which allowed Jack Yeandle to open the scoring. Newcastle reacted strongly and two penalties resulted from the boot of Juan Pablo Socino in the 10th and 12th minutes to take the lead. Newcastle’s attempt at expansive play turned out to be foolish; a wild pass was snapped up by flanker Ben White who broke away for Exeter’s second try. Almost immediately after this Newcastle were back on the offensive with Ally Hogg releasing Sinoti Sinoti to score in the corner; with Socino adding a long distance penalty to bring the halftime score to 14-10. The scoring for the half was not over however when Henry Slade kicked was bundled over in the corner after some heavy duty work from the Exeter forwards bringing the score at the interval to 14-15.
After the teams emerged for the second half some aggressive play from Newcastle earned them a penalty which was slotted by Socino, but that would be the Falcons only score for close to half an hour. Three successive penalties from Steenson, in the space of 13 minutes, swung then game in Exeter’s favour. Newcastle however turned the game around with a late try from replacement Tom Catterick bringing the hosts level before Noah Cato scored in the corner for the final score of the game. The score in a remarkable game came to 29-24 in favour of Newcastle.