It all started badly for my forecasts on Friday night and looked pretty sick at the halfway point in Saturday’s games. But fortune smiled on me and come the final whistle on Sunday I had managed to get 5 out of 6 predictions correct.
On Friday at the Rec I had Bath to continue their run and knock Saracens back. It was not to be – the final score of 23 – 10 to the away side flattered them – but only marginally. The Saracens defence was rock-like and they grabbed two good tries – one following a break out having resisted sustained pressure from the home side. Alex Goode filled in for an injured Charlie Hodgson at the last minute and had a fine game. Sarries may not be the most exciting team in the Premiership, but they are bloody hard to beat. Stuart Lancaster will have been pleased with his replacements who got some game time – especially Dave Attwood who is now controlled as well as genuinely abrasive.
My predictions on Saturday all came off – but two of the results were frighteningly close.
The Chiefs saw off London Irish with a pragmatic approach – scoring two tries and shutting their visitors out. Henry Slade, starting ahead of Gareth Steenson kicked his goals, but it was Tom Johnson who made the biggest impact – he was everywhere and carried strongly. Don’t be surprised if it is the fiery Chiefs flanker who comes on for Big Ben in the last 20 at Twickenham.
Harlequins got a bit of a shock from Worcester in the first half at the Stoop and it looked for a long while that the Warriors would pick up their first win of the season.
A determined Quins fight back enabled them to catch up and pull ahead with just ten minutes to go – but Dean Ryan’s men came again and a try brought them to within a point. Connor O’Shea will have breathed a sigh of relief at the final whistle and the win pushed his side back into the top 4 – albeit for just 24 hours.
The other close game was at Wasps where Sale came on the back of a good run. The inspiration came from Danny Cipriani, who started on the bench but was brought on after just a couple of minutes when Joe Simpson clattered Nick Macleod resulting in them both leaving the pitch. Simpson for 10 minutes but Macleod for good. Cipriani kicked 11 points but it was his control and passing that kept the Sharks ahead. One sublime dummy and off load for Johnny Leota to score would have been worth the price of admission alone.
Suddenly England are blessed with a handful of excellent number 10s – Farrell, Ford, Slade, Myler and Cipriani are all looking good – as is Alex who lead Saracens from fly-half on Friday.
Saturday’s final game saw Gloucester at Franklin’s Gardens. The first half had more errors than Shakespeare’s comedy and gave us no clue to what would happen after the break. Jim Mallinder got his message through and the Saints stormed away to score 4 tries to add to the one they had picked up in the first few minutes. Stephen Myler kicked 14 points to add to tries from Pisi, Stephenson, Clark, Waller and Hooley – the last two as substitutes,
The Saints have a great squad on this showing – with Hartley, Lawes, Wood and Burrell still to return after the 6 Nations. Tom Stephenson deserves a mention for the way he side stepped through for his try.
It was a bad day for Gloucester – Freddie Burns started for the first time in a month and was largely anonymous – he will need to step up his game if he is to get back into contention for England. On present showing he can book his summer holiday without having to worry about a trip to face the All Blacks. Matt Kvesic was also below par and will not want to look at his missed tackles on the video analysis this week.
The final game on Sunday saw Leicester travel to Newcastle. Dean Richard’s team are fighters and at half time the Tigers were only just ahead at 13 – 14 after being behind early on 10-3.- and it was only a moment of magic from Niki Goneva that gave them that advantage. The second half saw the Tigers pull away and end up with a try bonus – again it was Goneva, back in his favoured wing position, who crossed the line first. Thomas the Tank added a third and with time running out Pablo Matera stretched for the line to secure the extra point.
Manu Tuilagi made a welcome return for the Tigers and lasted the full 80 – his alignment in the first half was a bit rusty but he showed his much missed strength with a couple of bullocking runs in the second half. Both Richard Cockerill and Stuart Lancaster will have been delighted to see him on the park again.
The Tigers leap-frogged back over Harlequins and are now level on points with third placed Bath
The full results from R16 are –
Bath 10 – 23 Saracens
Exeter 18 – 0 London Irish
Harlequins 21 – 20 Worcester
Wasps 17 – 21 Sale
Northampton 39 – 13 Gloucester
Newcastle 18 – 41 Leicester
The Premiership table looks like this –
Realistically there are now 4 teams in contention for just 2 play-off places – you have to believe that neither Saracens nor the Saints will falter badly enough to drop out of the top 4.
There’s now a two week break before Round 17 – and after that all the International players will be back for Round 18 and the final run in.