All Change – Review of Aviva premiership – Round 17

It very nearly started so well for my predictions this week – on Friday night Worcester came within a second of fulfilling my forecast of their first win of the season.

Aviva Premiership Season Launch 2013-2014

They were beating Wasps by 11 – 6 with time running out when Wasps with the final play, crossed for an equalising try. Cue Andy Goode to step up and snatch the win with the last kick of the match.

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It wasn’t much of a spectacle to be fair but a win for the home side would have set up a very interesting match next week against the Falcons. Technically the Warriors are not relegated yet – but you wouldn’t want to bet your house on them staying up.

Things got worse for my punditry on Saturday when, in the early game, Sale disposed of top of the table Northampton without too much trouble. After losing in the LV cup final last week to Exeter, I had expected the Saints to bounce back and put the resurgent Sharks away.

It was not to be and they didn’t even get close to a bonus point.

Sale have been steadily improving and the four points have given them a (very) outside chance of a play-off place. They are unlikely to make it, but Steve Diamond will be pleased with the progress they’ve made this season.

That was the low point for my forecasts this week – I managed to get the final four matches right although a success rate of only 66% brought my overall percentage for the season down a tad.

First up was the game between Saracens and Harlequins at Wembley – which set a record attendance for a club game of nearly 84,000.

For some reason Quins decided to rest the big guns and the crowd must have been disappointed not to see Chris Robshaw, Danny Care and ‘Player of the 6 Nations’ Mike Brown grace the Wembley turf.

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Without these stars it was not surprising that they were unable to hold Saracens – although it took two easily avoidable interceptions to set Saracens on their way.

The first from a Quins attack saw Chris Ashton run from his own 22 to touch down under the posts with another embarrassing dive. He may well fancy getting back in an England shirt but diving with the ball in one hand risks dropping it (and 7 points) in order to show off like a footballer.  I, for one wouldn’t take him to New Zealand – luckily for him Stuart is unlikely to ask for my opinion.

Owen Farrell picked off an ambitious pass from Nick Evans and trotted over for another 7 pointer before half time.

It was 27-10 at the break and early in the second half Sam Smith scored to bring the score to 27 – 17.

But Saracens ended it as a contest with two tries to run out comfortable winners by 39-17.

Gloucester coasted to a strong lead against Newcastle and after an hour they had 5 tries and were leading by 37 – 7. They must have had sleeping pills in their half time protein drinks as the Falcons then proceeded to score 4 more tries and to come close to catching up.

Five tries apiece and 2 bonus points for the Falcons provided a lot of entertainment for the crowd – but a worrying time for Nigel Davies. He wouldn’t have been too chuffed either with the press reports that his opposite number at Newcastle was being touted for a role at Kingsholm.

Bath completed the Saturday recovery for me at the Madejski by beating London Irish by 44 – 23 to subdue the St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Topsy Ojo’s try put the Irish ahead after half an hour but Bath are a side on the rise and Eastmond, Watson and Wilson kept the visitors well in charge after half time. At the death Matt Garvey crossed to give Bath the bonus point which consolidated their position in the top 4 play-off places.

George Ford remains in fine form and looks certain to start against the All Blacks in June, if, as expected, the Premiership final is between Saracens and Saints.

James O’Connor played well – but he will need to do a lot more if he wants to mount a serious challenge to the immaculate Israel Folau for the number 15 Wallaby jersey.

The Welford Road crowd have been waiting all season for the real Leicester to turn up – and on Sunday they arrived ‘suited and booted’..

The Exeter Chiefs are no mugs but they couldn’t have expected the storm that hit them right from the kick-off as the Tigers tore into them with menace.

As Big Loll said in the BT studio – Leicester seem to do this every season – they time their run to perfection to ensure they make the top 4.

Facing powerful runners like Manu Tuilagi, Niki Goneva and Logovi’I Mulipola wouldn’t be my idea of a fun Sunday afternoon and all three crossed for tries. Adam Thompstone added the fourth after 50 minutes and replacement scrum half David Melee sneaked over for a couple to take it to 6 for the afternoon. The Chiefs managed a couple from Yeandle and Whitten but were never really in the match. One thing you can say for Rob Baxter’s side though – they never give up and they will be back stronger next season. Henry Slade started and showed that he can tackle well above his weight – he will definitely be on Stuart Lancaster’s radar.

The results were –

Worcester 11 – 13 Wasps

Sale 19 – 6 Northampton

Gloucester 40 – 33 Newcastle

Saracens 39 – 17 Harlequins

London Irish 23 – 44 Bath

Leicester 45 – 15 Exeter

The Table after R17 looks like this –

premiership table

The big game next weekend will be at Franklin’s Gardens where second placed Saints entertain the Tigers. It’s on BT Sport at 3.15 pm on Saturday – have your Ginsters and Fosters at the ready!

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