Newcastle Falcons 5-66 Northampton Saints
Northampton thrashed Newcastle at Kingston Park on Friday night, running in ten tries. It was one-way traffic as the Saints produced a ruthless, clinical display as Newcastle struggled to cope with their pace and physicality. The evening had started brightly for the Falcons, with Adam Radwan giving them an early lead with a spectacular airborne finish after a typically mazy break from Mateo Carreras. However, that would be as good as it got for Newcastle as their night went rapidly downhill.
Alex Mitchell sparked the Saints’ scoring-fest with a lovely dummy allowing him to stroll under the posts, and Fin Smith’s conversion gave the visitors a lead they would never relinquish. Northampton’s second try came after Tom Collins had intercepted a promising-looking Newcastle move before hacking the ball downfield and showing neat footballing skills to score in the corner. Collins’s third try was all about power, receiving the ball on the edge of the 22 and smashing his way over in the corner. Mitchell, who was outstanding all night, produced a superb cover tackle to stop Radwan from reducing the deficit, and Newcastle’s misery was compounded when Juarno Augustus scored on the stroke of halftime, sealing the visitors’ bonus point.
Northampton kicked off the second half in a similar vein, Paul Hill crashing over after some typically enterprising play from the backs. Things got worse for Newcastle when Carreras was sent to the sin-bin for a no-arms tackle three minutes later. The Saints ran riot, with Fin Smith slicing his way over before the excellent Collins’s scything break allowed Mitchell to waltz over unopposed. The avalanche continued when flanker Sam Graham showed some nice footwork to blast over in the corner while Tommy Freeman scored one of the simplest tries of his career as Newcastle’s defence struggled to stem the tide. The try-fest was complete when Dave Ribbans crashed over from short range to end a sorry evening for the Falcons.
Exeter Chiefs 22-21 Bristol Bears
Exeter secured a place in next season’s Champions Cup with a narrow victory over Bristol, despite playing over sixty minutes with fourteen men. The match was still scoreless when Dafydd Jenkins was sent-off for a shoulder-to-the-head tackle on Max Lahiff, but the Chiefs dug deep, and Joe Simmonds’ late penalty ensured a fitting send-off for the large clutch of departing players. The match had an end-of-an-era feel for the Chiefs, with several bastions of their totemic Premiership rise making their last appearances at Sandy Park.
Victory looked a long way off when George Kloska burrowed his way over shortly after Jenkins’s red card, and many Chiefs fans may have feared the worst after last week’s fourteen-man drubbing at Leicester. But the Chiefs were quickly level, Ian Whitten fittingly scoring his first Premiership try in two years on his Sandy Park swansong. Another departing figure gave Exter a halftime lead, flanker Dave Ewers showing the kind of brute power the Chiefs will miss when powering over from close range.
But Bristol reclaimed the lead shortly after the restart, James Williams making the initial break before feeding his centre partner Joe Jenkins to score. When Yann Thomas flung himself over for the Bears’ third try, it appeared that the visitors would run away with things comfortably. However, they proceeded to gift the Chiefs a try, Joe Batley fumbling a line out on his own line and prop Josh Iosefa-Scott reacted quickest to score, reducing the deficit to two points. The Chiefs’ dogged determination was rewarded in the 78th minute when Simmonds nudged them ahead with what proved to be the winning penalty.Embed from Getty Images
Gloucester 25-22 Sale Sharks
Sale earnt themselves a home semi-final with a hard-fought victory at Kingsholm, condemning Gloucester to their fifth successive Premiership defeat. Gloucester struggled to break down Sale’s stubborn defence in the first half, with Louis Rees-Zammit denied from going over in the corner by Aaron Reid’s superb cover tackle. Even when Tom Curry was sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball after a typically scything Rees-Zammit break, the hosts couldn’t break down the visitors’ defence. Sale led 10-3 at the break thanks to the long reach of Jean-Luc Du Preez, who scored the half’s only try.
Just as Curry was about to return from the bin early in the second half, Manu Tuilagi was yellowed for repeated team infringements. Gloucester made the most of their narrow window against thirteen men, Jonny May’s sniping break and neat offload allowing Lewis Ludlow to score. Gloucester started to purr, and Seb Atkinson’s powerful bust and dexterous offload to Chris Harris allowed the centre to send Rees-Zammit over in the corner, giving the hosts the lead.
But Sale roared back with a stunning counter-attacking try from Ben Morgan’s hoofed clearance, Raffi Quirke’s pace kickstarting a move that ended with Jono Ross touching down, bringing the visitors level. They took the lead when the excellent Ben Curry reacted quickest to a loose ball, showing good pace before feeding George Ford, who passed onto Sam James to score. Ford’s penalty shortly after moved Sale’s lead to eight points killing the contest, and Jonny May’s last-minute try was a mere consolation. Sale will face Leicester in the semi-finals, while Gloucester are left to contemplate why their season has de-railed so dramatically.Embed from Getty Images
Harlequins 35-45 Bath
Bath continued their recent renaissance and boosted their Champions Cup qualification hopes with an excellent victory over Harlequins at Twickenham. Quins, whose slim play-off hopes had been ruined by Northampton’s thumping victory at Newcastle, produced a display that has typified an inconsistent season, with attacking prowess offset by defensive issues. Bath took the lead early on, with Tom Dunn powering over from a maul, but Quins quickly hit back, some typically slick handling allowing Cadan Murley to score. Quins took the lead in a similar fashion; this time, Luke Wallace went over after Andre Esterhuisen’s break had kicked off the move.
But Esterhuisen blotted his copybook with a high tackle shortly after, and when Murley was sent to the bin for a deliberate knock-on, Quins faced almost ten minutes with thirteen men. Bath took full advantage, with a series of powerful carries from a maul resulting in GJ van Velze crashing over. But despite their man disadvantage, Quins conjured a brilliant score, Marcus Smith’s delayed pass setting Joe Marchant free, who fed the ball back to Smith to score. Bath hit back immediately; Joe Cokanasiga’s superb pickup from Orlando Bailey’s crossfield kick allowed him to feed Ollie Lawrence to score and give the visitors the lead at halftime.
The see-sawing continued after the restart, Lewis Gjaltema sneaking over under the posts after Louis Lynagh had been stopped short of what would have been a wonder try. Bath restored their lead through replacement Niall Annett after Quins struggled to cope with another powerful maul. It was a lead they wouldn’t lose, and Cokanasiga extended it when he picked a sublime line off of the excellent Ben Spencer. Alex Dombrandt smashed over from short-range after Ted Hill’s superb tackle had denied Marcus Smith, but Bath had the final say; Max Ojomoh showed some great juggling skills to score after Ollie Lawrence had busted the Quins defence.Embed from Getty Images
Saracens 45-21 London Irish
Saracens ended London Irish’s top-four hopes with a ruthless second-half performance. It was the Exiles who looked sharper early on, Paddy Jackson slotting a penalty to give them a deserved early lead. The visitors penned Saracens back with their kicking game and scored the game’s first try when captain Matt Rogerson busted his way over. Sarries were sloppy in the opening half an hour, making several handling errors, but slowly got into the game, with Owen Farrell kicking a pair of penalties. Max Malins appeared to have given them the lead when scooping up a loose pass and diving under the posts, but he lost the ball over the line. But Sarries got a crucial score just before halftime, Ben Earl feeding Alex Goode after a quick line out had disrupted the visitors’ defence.
Sean Maitland extended their lead after the restart, dotting down after Sarries had stretched the Irish defence after Rob Simmons had been yellow-carded for a high tackle. As the game reached the hour mark, Jackson’s boot kept the visitors within striking distance, but the impressive Theo Dan’s try off the back of a maul left them chasing the game. A tight line allowed Eroni Maiwi to score Sarries’ bonus point try and put the game to bed, and the prop scored his second try shortly after off the back of a stolen line out. Mike Willemse scored a late consolation try, but Irish’s remarkable second half of the season won’t be rewarded with a place in the playoffs. Saracens will host Northampton in their semi-final.