A review of this weekend's action in the Aviva Premiership.
Aviva Premiership results
Friday, February 16
- Newcastle 29-12 Bath
- Sale 3-13 Saracens
Saturday, February 17
- Leicester 33-18 Harlequins
- Northampton 25-17 London Irish
- Worcester 25-15 Gloucester
Sunday, February 18
- Wasps 13-7 Exeter
Exeter missed the chance to return to the top of the table as injury-hit Wasps gained revenge for last season's Aviva Premiership final defeat.
Wasps lost that game 23-20 after extra time but they were celebrating on Sunday as they overcame the loss of four players in the second half for a deserved 13-7 victory against the toothless champions.
Marcus Watson crossed for a try which Danny Cipriani converted, with Jimmy Gopperth adding two penalties.
Luke Cowan-Dickie scored Exeter's try and Gareth Steenson added the extras.
Despite having the majority of possession, Exeter went down to their second defeat in a row as frequent errors and a lack of an attacking spark cost them the match.
Exeter dominated the opening exchanges to such an extent that Wasps made 42 tackles in the first eight minutes with the visitors not having to make a single one.
However, Chiefs could not take advantage of all that possession, despite bursts from Cowan-Dickie and Lachie Turner threatening the home line.
It was therefore against the run of play when Wasps took a 13th-minute lead when Willie Le-Roux's well-judged pass gave Watson the opportunity to get outside Olly Woodburn and score.
It became a double blow for Exeter when Jonny Hill was yellow carded for a tip tackle on Le-Roux as he delivered the scoring pass.
Wasps looked to have extended their lead when a long pass from Gopperth saw Josh Bassett touchdown only for the TMO to decide that the pass was forward.
Hill returned from the sin-bin to see good runs from Cowan-Dickie and Will Chudley secure Exeter a five-metre scrum but the visitors repeatedly conceded soft penalties to allow the pressure to be relieved.
Just before half-time, Tomas Francis was adjudged offside for Wasps to have a good opportunity to increase their advantage by kicking the penalty. However they opted for an attacking line-out and the chance was lost so it remained 7-0 to the hosts at the interval.
That meant the champions had played 120 minutes of rugby and scored only five points, a try from lock Mitch Lees in last week's shock defeat to Worcester.
After the restart, Wasps suffered three big blows when Cipriani (ankle), Watson (leg) and flanker Jack Willis (shoulder) all left the field with injuries but they overcame those setbacks to pick up the next score when Gopperth kicked a penalty.
The home side were hit with another serious injury when replacement Alex Rieder was stretchered off, which was cruel luck on the flanker as he had only just returned from a shoulder injury that had kept him out since September.
The setbacks kept coming for the hosts as Ashley Johnson was sin-binned for a high tackle and Exeter immediately capitalised when Cowan-Dickie finished off a driving line-out.
However Exeter could not take any further advantage of Johnson's absence and Wasps' performance of huge spirit was rightly rewarded when Gopperth sealed victory with his second penalty.
Leicester maintained their hopes of a 14th consecutive appearance in the end-of-season play-offs with a 33-18 win over Harlequins in the Aviva Premiership at Welford Road.
Australia international Matt Toomua's first-half accuracy with the boot put the Tigers ahead at the break before he inspired the home side to a second-half comeback.
He scored a try of his own and made another as the hosts got their stuttering season back on track with three second-half tries.
With under three minutes gone, Quins took advantage of a knock-on in the middle of the park and Aaron Morris broke clear before releasing a perfectly-timed pass to Alofa Alofa to go over in the corner.
The Tigers were sparked into life by a break from prop Greg Bateman and they took an early opportunity to cut the lead with Toomua slotting over a penalty having missed an earlier effort.
A second penalty for Toomua after the visitors were adjudged to have strayed offside gave the home side the lead for the first time, though Marcus Smith put Harlequins back in front 8-6 just after the half-hour.
With half-time seconds away, Quins were dealt a double blow as Smith was yellow-carded for offside right on their own line and from the resulting penalty Toomua put the home side 9-8 in front at the break.
The game opened up after the interval as both teams went in search of the win which would keep them within touch of the play-off places and it was the visitors that moved back ahead.
Luke Wallace found space out wide to force his way over the line to give Harlequins a 13-9 lead.
Tigers pushed back once again, piling on the pressure deep in the Quins half and it was Toomua that made the break, spotting a gap in the centre of the park to go over before adding the conversion.
With the Quins rocking, the Tigers hit them with a second try moments later as Toomua was again involved with a cross-kick that bounced nicely for Sione Kalamafoni to race onto.
Second row Graham Kitchener was the beneficiary as he rumbled over from the following phase to put Leicester ahead 23-13.
Harlequins fought back with a catch and drive for the line as Charlie Matthews ensured a tight finish, cutting the deficit to five points with Smith missing his third conversion.
Toomua's penalty with four minutes remaining sealed the win and they added gloss to the score in injury time as Adam Thompstone intercepted to go over unchallenged.
Fly-half Toomua added the conversion with the final kick of the game to move Tigers up to seventh in the league.
Gloucester's Aviva Premiership play-off hopes suffered a blow as Worcester sent them packing 25-15 at Sixways.
Worcester, despite going into battle with only relegation favourites London Irish below them in the table, never looked back following tries during an impressive opening 20 minutes from scrum-half Jonny Arr, fly-half Jamie Shillcock and Wales international wing Josh Adams.
Full-back Chris Pennell added two conversions and two penalties, leaving even a losing bonus point beyond Gloucester's reach.
Centre Matt Scott and wing Henry Trinder claimed touchdowns for the visitors, while centre Billy Twelvetrees added a penalty and fly-half Billy Burns converted Scott's touchdown, but they could have few complaints about the result.
Worcester's win took them further clear of Irish and completed another giant stride towards Premiership safety, but Gloucester's top-four ambitions appear inconclusive on this latest evidence.
Worcester, buoyant following an away victory over Premiership champions Exeter last weekend, blasted out of the blocks and were ahead within five minutes.
Gloucester's close-quarter defence lost concentration following a break by Adams, and Arr, in his first game after four months out because of concussion, slipped through a gap for an opening try that Pennell converted.
Gloucester, despite a Twelvetrees penalty opening their account, were at sixes and sevens, and they fell further behind in the 12th minute when Worcester handled slickly and at pace, creating enough space for Shillcock to glide over.
Another Pennell conversion took the Warriors 11 points clear, with Gloucester's woes continuing as they lost Tom Marshall through injury and then saw his fellow wing Trinder receive a yellow card following a technical infringement.
The visitors rallied through Scott's touchdown following a midfield fumble by Adams - Burns added the extras - but Worcester immediately responded with a third try when centre Ryan Mills' long pass found an unmarked Adams, who finished under no pressure whatsoever.
For a team with title play-off ambitions, it was a dismal opening quarter by Gloucester, and they ended the half 12 points adrift after Pennell kicked a short-range penalty to make it 22-10 in Worcester's favour.
Gloucester knew they had to score first during the second period, and with Twelvetrees prominent in midfield, they enjoyed a spell of front-foot rugby that ended with Trinder finishing strongly wide out for a 49th-minute try that trimmed Worcester's advantage to seven points.
Worcester's reply was to keep possession and tight and move the ball through their forwards, with Leicester-bound Scotland international flanker David Denton proving particularly prominent.
Gloucester found themselves pinned inside their own 22 as the final 15 minutes approached, and even they broke out, a penalty was conceded that Pennell kicked from 45 metres to effectively seal Worcester's victory.
Gloucester laid siege to Worcester's 22 during the closing stages as they looked to collect something from the game, but Worcester kept them out and deservedly secured victory.
George North sent Wales coach Warren Gatland a timely reminder by sparking a superb second-half fightback to earn Northampton a 25-17 win against London Irish.
Irish threatened to claim only their second Aviva Premiership win of the season at Franklin's Gardens when two opportunistic tries from Saracens-bound wing Alex Lewington put them 14-3 up at half-time.
But the Saints stormed back early in the second period, scoring three times in the 10 minutes after half-time to increase Irish's relegation fears.
North, who is yet to start in the NatWest 6 Nations this season, Rob Horne and Mike Haywood all dotted down for the home side, and Piers Francis made the game safe with a drop goal.
Greig Tonks had the chance to pick up a losing bonus point for London Irish, but he failed to slot a penalty two minutes from time.
Irish got exactly the start they wanted as, after playing the first five minutes on the front foot, they were presented with an opportunity.
Northampton's passing was poor and, after the ball went loose, wing Lewington pounced, kicking ahead and diving to score.
Fly-half Tonks landed the conversion to take his team into an early 7-0 lead and they then defended strongly, stopping the Saints from issuing an immediate riposte.
Campese Ma'afu was stopped in his tracks as he flew towards the line before another Northampton knock-on ruined their momentum.
Francis hit a post with a penalty attempt he would have expected to make and Irish soon made him pay.
Lewington again got to the ball first after hesitancy from North and the Irish winger dived over to score his and his team's second try, with Tonks converting.
But the Saints were soon marching towards the Irish line in the second half as North scored within a minute of the restart.
Francis converted to cut Irish's lead to four points and Northampton soon ensured it would be they who led as Luther Burrell sent Horne over in the corner.
Francis missed the conversion, but the Saints held one-point advantage and that was soon eight as Haywood powered over and Francis converted.
Tonks responded with a penalty for Irish, but Francis cancelled it out with an intelligent and timely drop goal eight minutes from time to seal victory.
Saracens moved to the top of the Aviva Premiership table following a 13-3 triumph over Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium.
The Londoners controlled the majority of the first half and moved 10-3 ahead thanks to Liam Williams' converted try and Ben Spencer's penalty.
Faf de Klerk provided the Sharks' response in the opening period but the hosts continued to struggle after the interval.
Although the home side created a few opportunities, Sarries were the better team and sealed the win through Spencer, who kicked the only points of the second 40 minutes.
Steve Diamond's men have enjoyed a fine run of form recently and had the first opportunity though Denny Solomona but they were eventually suffocated by the Saracens defence.
Sarries duly took over and dominated the next 20 minutes. They were unrelenting and - although the Sharks initially withstood a 30-phase attack - their rearguard was eventually breached.
Good hands opened the space and Wales international Williams cut inside and scampered across the whitewash for the first try of the game.
Spencer added the conversion and had a chance to extend that advantage soon after but the scrum-half was unfortunate to see his penalty attempt hit the underside of the bar.
Sale were struggling for possession and territory, but they made a significant incursion when Josh Strauss broke through the middle. Although the move was halted, the Greater Manchester outfit were awarded a penalty and De Klerk converted to reduce the arrears.
Rob Webber and Williams were also shown the yellow card in the scuffle that followed the initial infringement as both teams had to contend with being a man short.
It was Saracens who dealt better with the setback, however, and ended the half on the front foot. They benefited from the home team being down to seven in the scrum, taking play inside the opposition 22, and Spencer kicked a further three points off the tee.
Mark McCall's men maintained their control on the encounter in the second period and threatened via Chris Wyles' break and Alex Lozowski's chargedown.
Although it did not yield a try, they were rewarded for their efforts by Spencer, who added a second three-pointer after 51 minutes.
To the Sharks' credit, they did create opportunities, with a fine set-piece move allowing Marland Yarde to break the line, but Sarries' cover defence was outstanding.
It meant that the hosts struggled to gain a foothold and the visitors secured a relatively-comfortable victory.
Newcastle completed an Aviva Premiership double over Bath for the second season running with a 29-12 victory at Kingston Park.
The Falcons, who gained a narrow 33-32 win at the Recreation Ground earlier in the season, bounced back from defeat at Saracens by racking up four tries in a bonus-point victory.
Newcastle have not lost at home since the end of November and are in the Anglo Welsh Cup semi-finals as well as the European Challenge Cup last eight.
Jon Welsh's offload released Josh Matavesi who sidestepped through and sent Sinoti Sinoti in at the corner and Toby Flood converted in the fifth minute.
Freddie Burns surprisingly missed a straightforward penalty two minutes later and it should have been another score for Newcastle when Alex Tait shot through and Micky Young raced down the wing only to throw an awful pass inside to Sinoti, who knocked on with the line begging.
A second try did come in the 15th minute, with Ben Tapuai missing a straightforward tackle on Flood who converted his own effort.
Newcastle defended well thereafter but were helped by Bath giving away penalties - eight in all in then first period - one off them leading to a yellow card for Aled Brew.
The subsequent penalty resulted in a try for Kyle Cooper when Newcastle put it into the corner and drove the line-out to make it 21-0 at the break.
Bath got themselves back in the game with a spectacular finish from winger Cooper Vuna right in the corner six minutes into the second half and Burns converted from wide out.
It was a wake-up call for Newcastle and one they heeded with Vereniki Goneva latching on to Nili Latu's looped pass to gallop in from 30 metres for the try bonus point.
Bath simply couldn't break the Falcons defence after that and there was some stunning runnning from Maxime Mermoz which almost led to a fifth try.
Newcastle were more than happy to finish with a 76th-minute Flood penalty, while a last-minute drive over try from Anthony Perenise was a mere consolation for the visitors.