Premiership Rugby Round Up

Newcastle Falcons 17 v 12 Gloucester

Newcastle survived an early red card to beat Gloucester and all-but end the visitors’ play-off hopes. It was a hugely impressive, gutsy win from the Falcons after a week of turmoil instigated by the departure of director of rugby Dave Walder. Ahead of the game, much of the talk was about the array of speedsters lining up, with Adam Radwan and Louis Rees-Zammit going head-to-head. But it was the hookers who caught the eye early on, Seb Blake burrowing over from short range following Seb Atkinson’s charge down to give Gloucester the lead. The Falcons hit back with a sensational score, fullback Elliot Obatoyinbo turning the Gloucester defence inside out with a mazy run before feeding the electric Radwan to score. However, Richard Palframan’s red card in the sixteenth minute for a shoulder to the head meant the Falcons would have to play the rest of the game with fourteen men, a stiff task.

They looked set for a long evening when Gloucester scored immediately after, Ollie Thorley powering over after the visitors cleverly dummied a driving maul. The Falcons were indebted to the speed of Radwan, who stopped Thorley from scoring a second minutes later, touching the ball down under the winger’s noise. Newcastle held on grimly, and after Jordy Reid had a try disallowed for a knock-on, Brett Connon slotted a penalty to move them within two points. The Falcons continued defying the visitors after the break and started pulling their own punches, the eye-catching Obatoyinbo giving them the lead. Stymied by the Falcons’ kicking game, Gloucester managed to conjure a golden opportunity late on, but Rees-Zammit knocked on Chris Harris’s pass with a huge open space in front of him. It was a deserved victory for the Falcons, who defended heroically, earning their first win since January.

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Leicester Tigers 46 v 24 Bristol Bears

Leicester cemented their place in the top four with a bonus point victory over Bristol, severely denting the visitors’ play-off hopes. Bristol opened the scoring with a try from the in-form Harry Thacker, but Leicester responded sharply, Ben Youngs’ clever dummy allowing him to race over. Ioan Lloyd almost restored the visitors’ lead, but his foot just grazed the touchline as he dived over. Leicester took the lead thanks to a beautifully weighted crossfield kick from Handre Pollard, Anthony Watson providing the finish and giving the home side a half-time lead. Bristol almost scored immediately after the restart, but Magnus Bradbury’s try was ruled out for a double movement. The Bears did take the lead shortly after, James Williams hacking the ball on for Gabriel Ibotiye to score after Pollard’s kick was charged down.

The Tigers roared back quickly, captain Julian Montoya rumbling over off the back of a maul, and when Steven Luatua was sent to the bin, the home side pressed home their advantage. Montoya scored his second try off the back of another powerful Tigers’ maul before Pollard’s extended their lead with a superb solo effort, gathering his own chip to glide over. Harry Randall’s score gave Bristol some brief hope, but a Pollard penalty moved Leicester out of reach, and substitute Charlie Clare’s late try added some gloss to another impressive Tigers performance.

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Saracens 36 v 24 Harlequins

Saracens secured a home semi-final with an entertaining victory over Harlequins, damaging the visitors’ play-off hopes. There was a host of England stars on show in front of more than 55,000 fans at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium, with several intriguing matchups, including Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith going head to head. Quins quickly flew out of the blocks, and Alex Dombrandt stretched over for the game’s first score after just two minutes. But Saracens seemed determined to entertain, and their centres, Alex Lozowski and Nick Tompkins, finished flowing moves to give them the lead. Quins survived Danny Care’s sin-bin spell, but a superb move started by Mako Vunipola on his own line eventually led to Andy Christie going over, giving Saracens a 22-7 lead at halftime.

Quins needed a score after halftime, and Cadan Murley duly responded with a powerful finish from Marcus Smith’s fizzed pass. But some more slick Saracens handling ended with Sean Maitland going over for the bonus point try. Quins refused to roll over, though, and Murley once again overpowered Max Malins (who was hugely influential in open play) to score his second try. Any hopes of a comeback were suckered by Luke Northmore’s mistimed hit on Farrell, and Maro Itoje’s resulting score sealed the result. However, Quins did manage to sneak a bonus point of their own, Care showing off his footballing skills to feed Joe Marchant, who provided a typically acrobatic finish. An excellent day for Saracens was sullied slightly by an ankle injury to Farrell, who might miss next week’s Champions Cup knockout fixture against Ospreys.

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London Irish 37 v 17 Northampton Saints

London Irish leapfrogged Northampton into fourth with a stylish bonus point victory at a packed Gtech Community Stadium. Bottom in December, a stunning run of six wins in seven games has seen the Exiles move into the play-off places. In a crucial game, Irish came flying out the blocks, and So’otala Fa’aso’o’s close-range try gave them an early lead. Fin Smith’s penalty got the Saints on the board, but the hugely impressive Tom Pearson extended the home side’s lead after busting through several tentative tackles. Northampton hauled themselves back into the game with Juarno Augustus’s try and managed to survive Tommy Freeman’s spell in the bin for a deliberate knock-on, heading down the tunnel just seven points down.

The Exiles scored immediately after the restart, Northampton coughing up the ball and allowing the pacy Ben Loader to fly in from fifty metres. However, the Saints hung in, and Freeman’s superb score on the hour mark seemed to have set up an intriguing finish. But minutes later, a powerful Irish maul ended with substitute Chunya Munga crashing over for the bonus point try. The jet-heeled Henry Arundell should have extended the lead after some fancy footwork from Loader but dropped the ball over the line under little pressure. Paddy Jackson made the game safe with a monster drop goal, and Irish held on for a comfortable win despite Lewis Ludlam’s late score.

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Bath 36 v 19 Exeter Chiefs

Bath moved off the bottom of the Premiership with a morale-boosting bonus point win over Exeter, damaging the visitors’ playoff hopes. Cameron Redpath gave the home side an early advantage with a superb individual score from the halfway line, busting and stepping through the Chiefs’ defence. The visitors responded excellently, and Solomone Kata’s try levelled the score. The Chiefs took advantage of Beno Obano’s yellow card shortly after for a high tackle, with Scott Sio burrowing over. But the home side grew in confidence, and Obano atoned for his yellow card by blasting over for their second try. Bath took the lead just before halftime, Orlando Bailey’s beautifully weighted kick after a powerful scrum allowing Joe Cokanasiga to power over.

Exter’s ill-discipline hampered them all afternoon, and Tom Dunn’s try off the back of a surging maul gave Bath the bonus point shortly after the restart. Things got worse for the Chiefs when hooker Dan Frost was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle on Bailey, and Bath took full advantage, Ollie Lawrence stretching over to give them a seventeen-point lead. Exeter gave themselves a glimmer of hope through Jack Yeandle’s try, but they were second best to Bath in all facets of the game, with the hosts kicking game penning them back. Piers Francis’s late penalty stretched Bath’s advantage, and the home side saw out a deserved victory with their best performance of the season.

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