On the face of it I did pretty well with my predictions this week – 5 out of 6 ain’t bad and it helped shove my overall percentage for the season back up a little from last week.
However, the statistics hide the fact that the one game I got wrong couldn’t have been more of a disaster. I had Exeter Chiefs as a home win against the Sharks – they not only lost – they got stuffed by a record score of 12 – 55 and at Sandy Park!
I admit I have a soft spot for the Chiefs – I like their heads up, no fear brand of rugby that Rob Baxter has instilled in the team. It doesn’t always work but they are nearly always exciting to watch.
I didn’t see the match – just BT Sport’s stream of tries (8 in total!) that the Sharks ran in – to be honest there couldn’t have been much else to see.
The press has been championing the case for Danny Cipriani to be taken on the New Zealand tour as the third fly-half for some weeks now – and on Saturday’s showing he must have a pretty decent chance of making the plane.
The loss doesn’t mean that the Chiefs can’t make the 7th place for the play-off against a French side (probably the currently in-form Racing) for the new European competition, but at the moment you’d have to favour Wasps for that one.
Now my really awful prediction is out of the way – the rest.
On Friday night a sold-out Stoop saw one of the best games of the season with Harlequins just edging out the resurgent Tigers. The visitors scored first with a decidedly dodgy TMO call which featured what looked to all like a ‘forward pass’ (all except the TMO that is).
At some point this nonsense about which way the hands are pointing has to be dumped and Law 12 has to be applied. You’ll find more detailed vitriol (including expletives) about this forward momentum rubbish on my blog (www.rugbyoldbloke.wordpress.com).
Safe to say justice was done in the end with Mike Brown grabbing a try on 70 minutes to give Harlequins a lead they never relinquished. Danny Care and Brown were outstanding and Stuart Lancaster would have also been pleased to see Manu breaking tackles almost every time he got the ball. The loss, coupled with the Saints bonus point try on Sunday makes it unlikely that the Tigers will get a home semi-final – but they will be a handful wherever (and whoever) they play.
Bath also picked up a try bonus in beating Worcester and leapfrogged the Tigers into third place.
Bath looked to have the game sown up by half-time but back came the Warriors to within 5 with more than 15 to go. Big Matt Banahan barged over on 77 minutes to give the home side the bonus and to deny Worcester even a point.
Dean Ryan still refuses to accept that they cannot survive, but his side will need something special next time out – away to Saracens, if they are still to be alive going into their last game of the season.
Saturday was the ‘Stinger’ at Twickenham where Wasps triumphed over Gloucester. Wasps are now in the driving seat for the coveted 7th place and it is hard to see them not making a date against Racing. The game was notable for a couple of stand-out performances from the men in pink and brown shirts (whatever happened to the wasp-like black and yellow hoops?).
Nathan Hughes looked like an international in the making and must have given Ben Morgan something to think about on and off the field – as the Fijian is apparently considering waiting for an English residency qualification. James Haskell had a big game too – and may well be considered for a seat on an A380 for the June tests. He knows all about playing down there and could be a smart selection.
The game was strewn with errors but was good entertainment for the Easter crowd of over 38,000.
The top two sides played on Sunday – The Saints entertained London Irish at Franklin’s Gardens and had wrapped up a bonus point within a minute of the second half kicking off.
Jim Mallinder must have been tearing his hair out for the last 39 minutes as Saints generously allowed Irish back into the game with three of the softest tries you’re ever likely to see in the Premiership.
They almost got a 4th too – Marlon Yarde being called back for a pass that was at least as forward as his name! I have no idea why the TMO took so long to call it – but at least he got it right!
Saints will need to sharpen up if they are to challenge for the title at the end of May – probably against Saracens.
The final game of the weekend featured the leaders – or at least some of them. They left out a number of key players as they have a big Heineken match next weekend – plus they are now assured of a home semi anyway. Nevertheless, they still had too much on the road against Newcastle. The home side will have been pleased with the losing bonus point though – it all but makes them safe, even if Dean Ryan doesn’t agree.
Harlequins 24 – 20 Tigers
Bath 32 – 20 Worcester
Exeter 12 – 55 Sale
Wasps 38 – 30 Gloucester
Saints 36 – 21 Irish
Newcastle 18 – 23 Saracens
The table remains interesting with just two rounds to go –
Next week it’s the Heineken semi-finals with the Premiership returning in the first weekend in May