Saracens survive fightback
A review of the weekend's action in the Aviva Premiership, with Saracens edging out Northampton
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A review of the weekend's action in the Aviva Premiership.
Saracens survived a late fightback from Northampton to land a psychological blow on their closest Aviva Premiership rivals ahead of the looming play-offs with a 28-24 victory.
The possible dress rehearsal for the Twickenham showpiece on May 31 ended in a tight victory for the 2011 champions that extends their lead at the summit of the table to 10 points over second-placed Saints.
David Strettle, Kelly Brown and Marcelo Bosch crossed for tries to celebrate captain Steve Borthwick's record-breaking 263rd Premiership appearance at a sun-drenched Allianz Park.
Bosch, Owen Farrell and Charlie Hodgson weighed in with points from the kicking tee, but the victory came at a cost as Farrell failed to appear after the interval because of a foot injury.
London Irish wing Andy Fenby scored a hat-trick as a poor Newcastle side were crushed 40-12 at the Madejski Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
In ideal playing conditions, the Falcons had no answer to the free-flowing play of the Irish, who scored a total of six tries. Fergus Mulchrone, Eamonn Sheridan and Gerard Ellis also touched down, while James O'Connor kicked five conversions to complete the rout.
The visitors were totally outplayed in the first half and were already 40-12 down at the interval. The second half saw them put in a much-improved performance as Irish took their foot off the gas, but they could not had to their first-half points - all via the boot of Rory Clegg.
Leicester maintained the pressure on second-placed Northampton with a four-try 27-15 victory over Wasps at Welford Road.
The bonus point win meant Leicester closed the gap on Northampton, who meet leaders Saracens tomorrow, to just two points with just three games left.
England centre Manu Tuilagi starred for Leicester, scoring two of his sides four tries to take his total to three in five games since his return from injury.
Fiji winger Vereniki Goneva celebrated signing a new contract with a try and replacement scrum-half David Mele got the fourth. Wasps scored two tries through Guy Thompson and Tommy Bell.
Bath maintained their play-off hopes after claiming a dramatic late 18-17 victory over 11-man Gloucester at Kingsholm.
The home side had two players sent off - substitute prop Sila Puafisi and scrum-half Tavis Knoyle - while they also finished the game with centre Mike Tindall and hooker Huia Edmonds in the sin-bin.
Bath, who had three players yellow-carded themselves, prevailed through a 79th-minute penalty try - converted by fly-half George Ford - after Gloucester collapsed a maul. It was Bath's first league win at Kingsholm since 2006.
Centre Harry Trinder's 71st-minute try looked to have edged Gloucester home - fly-half Billy Twelvetrees chipped in with four penalties - while Bath captain Stuart Hooper scored a try and George Ford kicked two penalties before an incident-packed finale.
Bath forwards Carl Fearns, Matt Garvey and Dave Attwood were all yellow-carded, meaning Bath played 30 minutes of the game a man down, while the game went to uncontested scrums shortly after Puafisi departed.
Tonga international Puafisi received a red card from referee Tim Wigglesworth for a dangerous high tackle on Bath full-back Nick Abendanon, then Wales international Knoyle was sent off after he threw punches at Bath number eight Leroy Houston.
Exeter took five points from a 38-33 victory at Worcester, although the home side came within a converted try of grabbing a dramatic win in a thrilling encounter.
Worcester were languishing 21-3 behind at one stage but fought back bravely to get two bonus points, through four tries and finishing within seven points of the Chiefs.
Scrum-half Dave Lewis, centre Sam Hill, fly-half Gareth Steenson and hooker Jack Yeandle got first-half tries for Exeter, while full-back Chris Pennell and David Lemi crossed for Worcester.
But the home side, bottom of the table and facing relegation, battled brilliantly in the second half through tries by hooker Agustin Creevy and Lemi's second against another Yeandle try.
Ryan Lamb kicked three penalties and two conversions as well while Steenson ended on 18 points by adding a penalty and five conversions to his touchdown.
Nick Evans scored 12 points as Harlequins kept their play-off hopes alive with a dominant 27-12 victory over Sale Sharks on Friday night.
The Sharks took an early 5-0 lead through Tom Brady's try, but Quins responded through Evans and Danny Care touchdowns to give them a 15-5 advantage at the interval.
Conor O'Shea's men continued their good work after the break with Sam Smith going over to take them further ahead.
Although Sale made a couple of incursions into the visiting rearguard following Smith's score, they struggled to make any headway on the scoreboard and the Twickenham Stoop-based team sealed the bonus-point through Maurie Fa'asavalu.
Referee Wayne Barnes awarded the home side a penalty try late on as they had the final word, but it proved scant consolation.