Lifeline for Worcester
A review of the weekend's action in the Aviva Premiership.
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Worcester gave themselves a glimmer of hope in their relegation battle by ending a 22-match Aviva Premiership losing run with a hard-fought 17-12 victory over fellow strugglers Newcastle at Kingston Park.
The Warriors, thanks to a try 10 minutes from time by winger Josh Drauniniu, cut the gap between themselves and the Falcons, who picked up a losing bonus point, to nine points to give themselves a Premiership lifeline.
Harlequins revived their play-off hopes by dispatching London Irish 23-9 with the vision of Danny Care inspiring the decisive act of a hard-fought clash at Twickenham Stoop.
England trio Chris Robshaw, Mike Brown and Care returned after being rested for last Saturday's rout by Saracens, but Quins still struggled to dispatch the Exiles.
It was only when Care floated a superb scoring pass to wing Sam Smith in the 70th minute, establishing an 18-9 lead, that Irish were beaten.
Saracens maintained their position at the top of the table with a bonus point 32-20 win over local rivals Wasps at Adams Park.
Wasps, without Joe Launchbury and Matt Mullan in their pack, were second best to a strong Saracens line-up with the visitors scoring four tries through Jamie George (two), Jackson Wray and Alex Goode. Charlie Hodgson kicked a penalty and two conversions with replacement, Owen Farrell, kicking a further penalty and conversion.
Wasps, inspired by scrum half Joe Simpson, managed three tries from Tom Howe, Jonah Holmes and Carlo Festuccia. Andy Goode did kick one penalty but missed four other kicks which prevented his side from remaining in contention.
Leicester made it eight league games unbeaten as they consolidated their place in the title play-offs with a 22-16 win over Northampton at Franklin's Gardens.
And there could be fall-out for second-placed Northampton, who suffered another Premiership reversal following defeat against Sale Sharks last weekend, with Leicester's England hooker Tom Youngs having allegedly claimed he was bitten on the hand at a collapsed scrum during the first half.
Referee Wayne Barnes consulted television replays and a lengthy delay ensued, but he took no action following inconclusive re-runs.
Centre Anthony Allen's 16th-minute try - converted by fly-half Owen Williams, who also kicked five penalties - ensured east Midlands bragging rights for the Tigers, as they moved third in the table above Bath despite finishing with 13 men following yellow cards for Ben Youngs and Vereniki Goneva.
Gloucester leapfrogged Exeter to move up to eighth in the standings as they claimed a 14-13 win at Sandy Park - but the Chiefs left with a valuable losing bonus point.
The opening 40 minutes had few memorable moments as Exeter went in at half time 8-6 ahead after a try from wing Matt Jess and a Henry Slade penalty, with Gloucester's reply being two Rob Cook penalties.
Gloucester took an early grip on the second half with Cook's third penalty before he gave the final pass for Charlie Sharples to cross out wide.
Exeter came back in the final minutes, against 13 men, through a Don Armand try - but could not convert it to claim victory.
On Friday, In-form Sale snatched a typically gritty 12-11 victory at third-placed Bath to press their claims of an play-off place.
It was the Sharks' fifth win in the last six away games in all competitions and only Bath's second league defeat at home since December 2012.
Bath claimed a losing bonus point but are now in a three-way fight for third and fourth place with Leicester and the Sharks, lurking in fifth.
Sale's match-winner was fly-half Danny Cipriani, who scored four penalties from four attempts to outshine Bath's George Ford, with England's newest cap missing three of his five place-kicks including, crucially, the conversion of Ross Batty's 75th minute try.
Ford might still have won it for Bath at the death but the 21-year-old had one drop goal attempt charged down and fired another just wide to end the match.