A review of Saturday's Premiership action as Saracens beat Harlequins to secure bragging rights while Bath proved too sharp for Leicester.
Leicester 16-38 Bath
Bath kept themselves firmly in the Gallagher Premiership play-off picture by crushing an inexperienced Leicester side 38-16 at Welford Road.
Leicester fielded one of their youngest starting line-ups in Premiership history, with head coach Steve Borthwick handing out three debuts, making 13 changes and resting all his England contingent apart from prop Dan Cole.
And Bath showed no mercy, posting a record league win on Leicester soil at the start of a hectic period when all Premiership clubs will play three games in just over a week.
The visitors scored four first-half tries through front-row forwards Will Stuart, Tom Dunn and Lewis Boyce, while wing Ruaridh McConnochie also touched down and fly-half Rhys Priestland kicked three conversions.
One-way traffic continued in the second period as prop Beno Obano and substitute back Tom De Glanville – son of former England captain Phil De Glanville – added further tries, with scrum-hlf Ben Spencer kicking one conversion.
All Leicester could manage were two early Johnny McPhillips penalties and consolation tries from replacement hooker Charlie Clare and flanker Luke Wallace as Bath displayed a huge gulf in ability and class.
The victory keeps Bath in fifth place, just one point behind Sale Sharks, but Tigers remain 11th, having won only four league games all season.
Leicester made a strong start, and were 6-0 up in as many minutes following two McPhillips penalties after Bath’s transgressions gave him a couple of straightforward shots at goal.
Bath looked lively with ball in hand, particularly debutant centre Cameron Redpath and McConnochie, yet they undid some solid work by continuing to concede penalties.
But just as Leicester looked like ending the opening quarter in front, impressive approach work by the Bath forwards ended with Stuart crashing over from close range and Priestland converting for a one-point lead.
Stuart’s score sharpened Bath’s appetite for more of the same, and Leicester had no answer when they drove a 25th-minute lineout and Dunn claimed a score that Priestland converted.
They were strong warning signs for Tigers’ youthful team, and Bath looked unlikely to relent with their route-one approach, given its early effectiveness.
Try number three soon arrived, although this time it was all about smart handling by the backs and a blistering McConnochie finish that left Leicester defenders floundering.
And there was more to come, with Bath securing a bonus point three minutes before the break as another confident attack ended in Boyce completing a trio of front-row touchdowns and Priestland converting for a 20-point advantage.
There was inevitably no reprieve for Leicester after the break as Bath continued to make hay.
Obano continued the front-row show by touching down in the 49th minute, then centre Josh Matavesi shredded Leicester’s defence with ridiculous ease before sending his fellow replacement De Glanville over.
Bath had their Wales international number eight Taulupe Faletau sin-binned during the final 20 minutes, but his team were already home and dry.
Clare and Wallace rewarded a solid spell of Leicester pressure by crossing during the closing minutes, yet Bath were already dusting themselves down ahead of a key clash against play-off rivals Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens on Wednesday.
Saracens 38-24 Harlequins
Saracens will drop into the Championship with London bragging rights after withstanding a late Harlequins fightback in a 38-24 Gallagher Premiership victory that saw Owen Farrell make a successful comeback.
A match originally scheduled to take place at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in March until COVID-19 intervened saw England’s fallen champions take apart their capital rivals through tries by Sean Maitland, Maro Itoje, Aled Davies and Alex Lewington.
Saracens have been relegated for repeated salary cap breaches but their looming top flight demise failed to dent their enthusiasm as they surged 22-3 ahead at half-time before repelling a final-quarter resurgence from Quins, inspired by replacement centre Paul Lasike.
Farrell made his first appearance since England’s Six Nations victory Wales on March 7 after a tight quad prevented him from playing in last weekend’s Premiership restart following the five-month interlude.
The national skipper, who was making his 200th appearance for Saracens, accumulated a 16-point haul through four penalties and three conversions, but was eclipsed by the energy of his half-back partner Davies who was involved right from the start.
A fourth-minute line-out saw Saracens race into the lead as Billy Vunipola broke left after a classy catch by Itoje before feeding Maitland who sprinted over unopposed from short range.
Quins’ blindside frailty was exposed once more as Michael Rhodes escaped the ruck defence to dart down the right touchline and the shortcoming became a recurring theme of the opening half hour.
Wales scrum-half Davies was the visitors’ main tormentor and the summer signing from the Ospreys was enjoying a lively home debut, aided by a pack that were winning the majority of the collisions.
Quins built some momentum and rolled the dice close to the whitewash when a kickable penalty was quickly taken by Martin Landajo and fed to Alex Dombrandt but the pass was poor and the number eight knocked on.
A far more ruthless streak was evident as Saracens ran in their second approaching half-time, Jamie George, Rhodes, Lewington and Vunipola on the rampage until Itoje touched down under the posts.
There was still time before the interval for another home try as a Brad Barritt’s carry scattered Quins before Davies picked up and darted over.
Saracens continued to pound away in a one-sided third quarter but it was the visitors who drew blood as an attacking scrum provided the platform for replacement centre Lasike to muscle his way through heavy traffic.
Lasike’s power was evident as Quins resumed their offensive and the USA international created the opening for fellow substitute Scott Steele to escalate the fightback.
And the deficit was slashed to a converted try when the unstoppable Lasike bulldozed over for his second as a backs move from a scrum offered sight of the line with his strength doing the rest.
But a hammer blow arrived shortly before full-time when a deflected clearance fell kindly for Itoje who gathered, advanced and sent Lewington over for an easy try.
London Irish 3-27 Northampton
A strong second-half performance saw Northampton win a low-key battle 27-3 against London Irish at the Stoop.
It was 3-3 at the interval but the Saints pack dominated proceedings thereafter to pick up a deserved victory and keep alive their hopes of securing a Gallagher Premiership play-off spot.
Tom Collins and Ahsee Tuala scored tries for them; there were also two penalty-try awards, with James Grayson adding a penalty.
A penalty from Paddy Jackson was the sole response from Irish, who were badly disrupted by injury which together with yellow cards for Sekope Kepu and Will Goodrick-Clarke ensured a defeat for them.
Despite the ideal playing conditions, the opening 15 minutes were featureless and scoreless with neither side able to bring any continuity to their play.
Irish came closest to scoring when Saints lost a line-out throw before conceding two penalties in quick succession. This gave the hosts a platform in the Northampton 22 where Irish elected for two driving line-outs, but they were unable to make them count.
There were seven penalties in the first 17 minutes as both sides struggled with the new breakdown laws and, from the last of these, Grayson kicked the visitors into the lead.
Northampton were the more inventive side in the opening half-hour but it was their opponents who came nearest to a try when Ollie Hassell-Collins was sent away down the left flank. However, with the line in sight, the wing threw a poor inside pass to ruin any chance of a score.
Irish suffered further blows when three-quarters Theo Brophy-Clews and Ben Loader were forced to leave the field with injuries but Jackson’s easy penalty brought the sides level at half-time.
The hosts would probably have been the happier at the interval as they turned to have the breeze in their favour during the second half.
However Saints always appeared to be the more potent force and they were rewarded with the first try when skilful work by centres Matt Proctor and Rory Hutchinson created space for Collins to kick ahead and win the race for the touchdown.
Irish suffered a further injury blow when replacement scrum-half Nick Phipps was withdrawn for a head injury assessment and their fortunes took another downturn when Saints were awarded a penalty try after Kepu had collapsed a driving maul and was yellow-carded.
The concession of five scrum penalties in quick succession saw another penalty-try award with replacement prop Goodrick-Clarke booked before Saints saved the best until last when Tuala evaded two weak tackles to crash over in the corner for the bonus point.