Aviva Premiership review: Wins for Wasps and Saracens

Wasps duo Christian Wade and Juan de Jongh celebrate
Wasps duo Christian Wade and Juan de Jongh celebrate

A review of the latest round of matches in the Aviva Premiership.

Aviva Premiership results

Friday April 27

  • Leicester 23-25 Newcastle

Saturday April 28

  • Exeter 34-19 Sale
  • Gloucester 20-43 Bath
  • Worcester 44-13 Harlequins

Sunday April 29

  • London Irish 14-51 Saracens
  • Wasps 36-29 Northampton

Sunday

Danny Cipriani and James Haskell marked their final home appearances for Wasps by helping to secure a place in the Aviva Premiership play-offs with a 36-29 victory over Northampton.

Cipriani, who is thought to be joining either Racing 92 or Stade Francais next season, took centre stage at the Ricoh Arena by orchestrating the downfall of determined opposition while England head coach Eddie Jones watched from the stands.

Jones has steadfastly refused to pick Cipriani but he can only have been impressed by the vision and handling he displayed in the penultimate round of the regular Premiership season.

Haskell stepped off the bench as Wasps were in the process of building a commanding lead and, while his arrival was warmly greeted by team-mates and fans, it was the prelude to a collapse from the title contenders.

Leading 33-17 with 25 minutes remaining, they lost focus and paid the price as Northampton struck twice in quick succession to cause ripples of panic around Coventry.

A penalty by Jimmy Gopperth eased the anxiety but the most telling contribution by Haskell, who has yet to find a new club, was a high tackle that meant a late try for Josh Bassett was disallowed.

The victory might have come at considerable cost for club and country, however, as Elliot Daly limped off after injuring his left arm while trying to stop Tuala's try.

Wasps struck in each corner as part of a dominant opening quarter that burst into life when Christian Wade, benefiting from an initial break by flanker Jack Willis, was sent over by Willie le Roux.

The South Africa full-back later supplied the scoring pass to Daly, but it was the distribution of Cipriani that created the chance as his perfectly-timed long pass found the sprinting Le Roux.

Northampton interrupted the tries with a superb score of their own that was launched from inside their 22 and given fresh impetus when Cobus Reinach slipped between Cipriani and Gopperth before being finished by Teimana Harrison.

Wasps' line cracked again in the 26th minute, exposing a frailty as repeated pick and goes concluded when Fijian lock Api Ratuniyarawa burrowed over from close range.

Only Gopperth's boot was keeping daylight between the teams but, early in the second half, there was a decisive shift in the home side's favour.

It started when Luther Burrell was sent to the sin-bin for sliding into Wade and catching his thigh with his knee in an attempted trip, but the Wasps wing soon had his revenge.

Once again it was a line-out that provided the platform for the title challengers to attack and once again it was Cipriani and Gopperth who manipulated the space before Le Roux was set free to draw the remaining defenders and feed Wade.

The bonus point arrived when Guy Thompson, another player departing the Ricoh Arena at the end of the season, forced a hole as he broke from the ruck and, when the ball was released, the Cipriani-Gopperth-Le Roux axis used quick hands to send Juan De Jongh in.

Northampton threw caution to the wind by attacking from deep in their own half, initially through George North and then Jamie Gibson, who showed Daly a clean pair of heals, before Alex Mitchell crossed in the corner.

Suddenly the deficit was down to four points as Wasps' crumbling defence splintered again in the 69th minute and Foden sent Ahsee Tuala over, but the home side did not concede again.

Billy Vunipola handed England a big boost with his first match in three months as Saracens sealed second place in the Aviva Premiership with a 51-14 victory at already-relegated London Irish.

Fit-again Vunipola came off the bench in Saracens' seven-try victory in Reading, tasting his first action since breaking his arm in a 15-15 Champions Cup draw at Opsreys on January 13.

The 25-year-old has not played Test rugby since March 2017, with knee and shoulder problems contributing to a wretched 18-month injury run.

But now Vunipola can chase full match sharpness ahead of both Saracens' play-off campaign - and England's three-Test June tour to South Africa.

Saracens hardly needed to drive beyond second gear to cruise past Irish, whose second Premiership relegation in three years had been confirmed on Saturday with Worcester's 44-13 win over Harlequins.

Brad Barritt, Duncan Taylor, Michael Rhodes, Marcelo Bosch, Richard Barrington, Alex Goode and Schalk Brits all crossed in Sarries' bonus-point victory, which secured the north Londoners a home Premiership semi-final, while Owen Farrell kicked five conversions and added two penalties.

Brad Barritt is congratulated after scoring a try for Saracens
Brad Barritt is congratulated after scoring a try for Saracens

The visitors comfortably shrugged off a yellow card for Maro Itoje, even though tries from Joe Cokanasiga and Johnny Williams had Irish trailing by just two points at half-time.

An outclassed Irish will now kick-start the rebuilding process in a bid to make another immediate return to the top table, with new coaches Declan Kidney and Les Kiss expected to remain on board in the Championship next term.

Irish lock Josh McNally's yellow card sparked Saracens' early try glut, the visitors crossing through Barritt and then Taylor.

Farrell missed a snatch drop-goal conversion from Barritt's score, to avoid any chance of a Television Match Official (TMO) review.

First Taylor's wide pass to Liam Williams looked possibly forward, then the latter fumbled a pass that could have fell forward too.

The score stood though, and Sarries quickly doubled their try tally thanks to Farrell's lovely step and wide pass, with Taylor coasting over.

Just when Sarries should have cut loose though, Irish hit back. Cokanasiga raced in at the right corner after Mako Vunipola's loose pass, before team-mate Johnny Williams crossed on the stroke of half-time.

Itoje was harshly sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on, and Irish seized full gain when Johnny Williams wriggled home, and Greig Tonks converted.

Saracens led just 16-14 at the break then, but negotiated the remainder of Itoje's sin-binning without leaking further score.

No sooner had the England and Lions lock returned than Saracens claimed their third try, Rhodes rising last from a penalty lineout maul.

Bosch then powered home the bonus-point score just ahead of the hour, with the visitors by then in full control.

Blair Cowan's yellow card handed Barrington the chance to power home at the lineout tail, with Goode and Brits further adding to the scoreline late on.

Saturday

Centre Ben Te'o grabbed the try which keeps Worcester in the Aviva Premiership for another season.

The Warriors needed just one point to condemn London Irish to relegation and they scored four first-half tries against a sorry Harlequins side to confirm safety.

Indeed, Worcester looked more like play-off contenders than strugglers as wing Bryce Heem, centre Jackson Willison, lock Darren Barry and Te'o raced over the Quins line during the opening period of the 44-13 success.

Scrum-half Francois Hougaard, replacement Jamie Shillcock and Willison again took the try count to seven in the second half.

Quins grabbed a try from wing Charlie Walker, with fly-half Marcus Smith kicking two penalties and a conversion - but they were well beaten.

Jones and Smith shared a penalty each before the tries started, initially at both ends but latterly in the first half in the visiting half.

Right wing Heem began Worcester's bombardment when his pack won an attacking line-out. The ball was sent across the backs where full-back Chris Pennell, on his 200th appearance for the Warriors, sent over Heem in the right corner.

Quins retaliated when scrum-half Danny Care took a quick tap penalty and sent Walker roaring home from 25 metres.

That put Quins two points in front but, from then, it was all Worcester.

A drive by Irish lock Donnacha O'Callaghan, playing the last game of his career, set up a ruck near the Quins 22 for Hougaard to pick up and send away Willison to the corner.

Care was sin-binned in the 25th minute for an illegal charge on Hougaard which, seconds later, saw Barry drive over from two metres near the posts.

Smith reduced the Quins arrears with a 41-metre penalty but Te'o's blistering burst down the right from a Pennell pass 30 metres out brought a huge cheer from the Sixways crowd, who understood the relevance of the bonus point touchdown.

That was job done but, as good as the Warriors were, their victory was, in part, down to Harlequins' ineptitude.

The Londoners' woeful away record continued - they have not won away in the Aviva Premiership since September, when they beat Wasps.

Hougaard got Worcester's fifth touchdown after a quick tap penalty and solo 30-metre run to the line in the 46th minute.

O'Callaghan came off on the hour to a standing ovation from the Sixways crowd and handshakes all around.

Shillcock continued the home celebrations with his side's sixth try, which he also converted, as he ran through some terribly weak tackling.

Willison finished it off in the last two minutes to make it a magnificent seven touchdowns and give Quins plenty to think about on the way home.

Exeter ensured they would finish top of the Aviva Premiership at the end of the regular season with a hard-fought 34-19 win over Sale in front of a sell-out crowd at Sandy Park.

Their tries came from Nic White, Jack Yeandle, Greg Holmes and Lachie Turner, with Joe Simmonds converting all three and kicking a penalty. Gareth Steenson also added a penalty and a conversion.

Despite the defeat, Sale remain in contention for a valuable European Champions Cup place for next season - but they will need to beat Leicester at home in their final fixture to have any chance of securing it.

Byron McGuigan scored two tries for the visitors, with Andrei Ostrikov getting the other.

AJ MacGinty added two conversions.

Exeter took an early lead with a Simmonds penalty after his brother, Sam, had taken Chiefs into the opposition 22 with a 40-metre burst.

However Sale soon responded with the first try when a clever kick from MacGinty saw McGuigan win the race to touchdown.

Chiefs regained the ascendancy when White darted over, after Sam Hill was held up over the line resulting in a succession of five-metre scrums.

Two minutes later, Exeter had their second after Sharks lost possession on halfway. The hosts counter-attacked in style as Turner burst through a huge gap before side-stepping Will Addison to race over.

Chiefs looked set to take control but five minutes before the interval, Ostrikov drove over from close range, with MacGinty's conversion leaving Sale only three points adrift at half-time - 17-14.

The home side began the second half strongly and aided by ill-discipline from their opponents were able to easily gain a platform in the Sale 22.

From there, they capitalised when captain Yeandle, was sent over the line by Don Armand - but Sale would not lie down. The visitors were unlucky not to be awarded a third try when the TMO ruled that Faf De Klerk had knocked on as he wriggled over.

With 18 minutes remaining, Thomas Waldrom - on his 35th birthday - came on for possibly his last appearance at Sandy Park before returning to New Zealand after an impressive career with the Chiefs.

Sale looked to have set up a tense finish when De Klerk's pass allowed McGuigan to finish well for his second try, bringing his side to within five points.

However, Steenson's penalty and a late try from Holmes deprived them of what could prove to be a crucial bonus point.

Bath kept alive their hopes of European Champions Cup qualification by defeating Gloucester 43-20 at Kingsholm.

A bonus point victory kept Bath on course for the top six - they host relegated London Irish next weekend - after first-half tries from hooker Tom Dunn, fly-half Rhys Priestland, wing Aled Brew and full-back Tom Homer's spectacular solo effort left Gloucester reeling.

Priestland kicked four conversions and a penalty for a 16-point haul, while substitute wing Cooper Vuna claimed a fifth Bath try after Gloucester briefly threatened a fightback, then centre James Wilson's score, converted by Freddie Burns, confirmed an emphatic success.

Gloucester, European Challenge Cup finalists next month, saw their lingering play-off hopes disappear as a result after lock Ed Slater and full-back Jason Woodward claimed touchdowns and 10 points from Billy Twelvetrees' boot left them well short.

Bath still need other results to work in their favour, but they have at least given themselves a fighting chance to salvage something from an erratic campaign.

Bath blasted out of the blocks and rocked Gloucester with a try after just 75 seconds when slick handling and high-class support play ended in Dunn crossing and Priestland converting for a 7-0 lead.

It was an immediate shot across Gloucester's bows, yet the home side responded positively and thought they had cancelled out that score as flanker Lewis Ludlow powered over Bath's line, but referee Wayne Barnes ruled it out for a double movement after Tom Homer and Max Clark tackled him.

Woodward was fortunate to escape punishment after challenging airborne Bath scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i, yet Bath soon gave their opponents more to worry about as they claimed a second try.

Flanker Francois Louw made light work of Gloucester's defence 25 metres out, then made headway before delivering a scoring pass to Priestland, who finished off near the posts and then converted for a 14-0 advantage after 14 minutes.

Twelvetrees opened Gloucester's account with a penalty after Bath's scrum infringed, only for normal service to quickly resume as another error - Gloucester hooker James Hanson passed straight to Bath lock Charlie Ewels - and Ewels sent Brew away.

The Wales international finished impressively, with Priestland's third successive conversion taking Bath 18 points clear before Gloucester stirred and skipper Slater touched down from close range before Twelvetrees' conversion made it 21-10.

Bath, though, were not to be denied a fourth try as half-time approached, and this time it was a dazzling effort from Homer, who set off on an angled run from inside his own half, beat two Gloucester defenders then outsprinted their covering tacklers, and the visitors were once again in complete control.

Twelvetrees kicked another penalty before the break, but Gloucester still had it all to do, trailing by 13 points at the interval.

A Priestland penalty took Bath further clear, only for Gloucester to hit back after 52 minutes following number eight Ben Morgan's powerful run, before quickly recycled possession found itself to an unmarked Woodward and Twelvetrees converted from the touchline.

It gave Gloucester a glimmer of hope, yet that was soon extinguished when Vuna scored and Priestland converted to take Bath past 30 points, before Wilson claimed an interception try five minutes from time.

Friday

Newcastle claimed a dramatic stoppage-time victory at Welford Road to deny Leicester and keep themselves firmly in the Aviva Premiership play-off race.

Number eight Ally Hogg's try, which was reviewed at length by the television match official, and replacement scrum-half Sonatane Takulua's conversion, edged Newcastle home 25-23.

It took them third in the table with one game left, but Leicester, who have not finished outside the Premiership's top four since 2004, are facing play-off heartache.

Tries by wing Jonny May and lock Mike Fitzgerald - plus 13 points from fly-half George Ford's boot - appeared to be enough for Leicester as Newcastle chased a first win on Tigers soil for 20 years under their rugby director and former Leicester boss Dean Richards.

Newcastle's ex-Leicester wing Vereniki Goneva scored two tries, while fly-half Joel Hodgson added a conversion and penalty before going off injured and Juan Pablo Socino landed a penalty.

The Falcons - thanks to their late, late, show - remain in control of their own destiny ahead of hosting Wasps next weekend.

Santiago Socino of Newcastle Falcons celebrates
Santiago Socino of Newcastle Falcons celebrates

Leicester, meanwhile, must beat Sale Sharks, but even that is unlikely to be enough as Newcastle and Wasps are now favourites to join Exeter and Saracens in the semi-finals.

Despite the stakes being so high, neither side had any intention of opting for a safety-first approach as two tries arrived inside the opening seven minutes.

Newcastle claimed the opener through Goneva, who broke clear from the base of a ruck 40 metres out and left Leicester's defence in reverse gear for a superb solo touchdown that Hodgson converted.

Leicester, though, responded impressively, establishing a threatening position when flanker Brendon O'Connor made initial headway, and quickly recycled possession resulted in centre Manu Tuilagi, on his return to action after five weeks out injured, sending May over.

Ford kicked the touchline conversion to make it 7-7, yet Newcastle quickly regained the lead when Hodgson booted a penalty after Leicester flanker Luke Hamilton was punished for killing possession.

Ford then tied things up with a penalty, but the injury count began to mount up for Newcastle as Hodgson limped off to follow earlier injury departures of prop Scott Wilson and lock Sean Robinson, which tested their resources and resolve.

A second Ford penalty edged Leicester ahead nine minutes before the break, only for Newcastle to finish the half strongly and set up camp inside Leicester's 22.

They gained their reward through a Socino penalty, making it 13-13 at the interval and setting up an intense second 40 minutes as both sides fought for vital league points.

Leicester thought they had regained the lead early in the second period after they broke clear from a scrum near their own line, Newcastle fumbled in defence and Ben Youngs kicked ahead to touch down.

But referee Luke Pearce, after consulting with television match official Stuart Terheege, ruled a Leicester knock-on before the move began and Newcastle escaped.

It was a short reprieve for Newcastle, though, and Leicester scored from their first attack, sending a wave of ball-carriers at Falcons' defence before Fitzgerald stretched out and claimed a try that Ford converted.

Ford completed his penalty hat-trick to ease Leicester's nerves, and although Goneva breached their defence for a second time 11 minutes from the end, it still looked all up for Newcastle until Hogg and Takulua came up trumps after Tigers number eight Sione Kalamafoni was sin-binned.

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