A review of Saturday's action in the Premiership, where Saracens suffered defeat to Wasps after Owen Farrell saw red.
Saracens 18-28 Wasps
Owen Farrell was sent off for Saracens as Wasps recorded a famous 28-18 victory at Allianz Park.
The scores were level on the hour mark when the England fly-half was dismissed for a horrible high hit on Charlie Atkinson.
Atkinson, an 18-year-old academy back, on the occasion of his second Premiership start, was grounded for a lengthy period before being helped from the field of play.
Farrell made an immediate admission to referee Christophe Ridley who wasted little time in giving him his marching orders that could rule him out of the Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster later this month.
It proved to be the game’s big turning point entering the final quarter as Tom Willis drove over for his first Premiership try and Jimmy Gopperth, on the occasion of his 100th club appearance, took his points haul to 23 as Wasps kept their focus firmly on achieving a top-four finish with a seventh win in eight games under head coach Lee Blackett.
A familiar face open the scoring as Elliot Daly strode over for a fourth minute try that was converted by Farrell.
The floodgates, however, did not open. Wasps worked their way back into the game and onto the scoreboard through Gopperth’s first of eight successful shots at goal.
Lock Tim Cardall then strode through a gap and Gopperth teased the retreating Alex Goode inside the 22 but his offload to Ben Vellacott was loose.
There was consolation for the near miss as Gopperth kicked a second penalty.
The veteran Kiwi, who turned 37 this summer, added two more penalties before the break including one from distance with the last play of the half as Vellacott tapped a penalty and made his side 15 quick metres before Saracens were penalised for going off their feet.
Shocked into action, Saracens cut the lead four minutes after the restart through Farrell’s routine penalty before the England captain linked beautifully with Daly to free Sean Maitland for a clean run into the line and Saracens were three points ahead.
Two more Gopperth penalties either side of Farrell’s red card opened a lead that was cancelled out by Alex Goode’s three pointer on the occasion of his 300th Saracens appearance.
With their man advantage Wasps played the final chapter of the game perfectly as Josh Bassett surged for the line only to come up metres short. From the recycle, Willis was driven over the line to put his side ahead.
Gopperth kicked the conversion and added a seventh successful penalty to secure Wasps a fourth successive away Gallagher Premiership victory that puts them in the driving seat for a top-four finish.
Harlequins 27-41 Bath
Ruaridh McConnochie produced two classy finishes to ruin Harlequins’ celebrations over the temporary return of their fans as Bath emerged 41-27 winners at Twickenham Stoop.
A crowd of 2,700 attended the test event – the first time supporters have been at any Gallagher Premiership match since the five-month interruption caused by Covid-19.
And while the pilot for rugby appeared to be a success, inspiring Quins to seek permission to stage another as soon as possible, events on the pitch took the gloss off the afternoon.
Apart from a blistering start that produced an early try for Joe Marchant, they were totally outgunned by play-off-chasing Bath who had galloped out of sight two minutes into the second half.
It was McConnochie who delivered that killer blow as one of two tries seized with Eddie Jones watching from the stands and England’s head coach can only have been impressed by his clinical touch.
Picked as a bolter for the 2019 World Cup, the 28-year-old Olympic silver medallist suffered a drop in form upon his return from Japan but his post-lockdown haul of five tries in four games propels him into contention for the autumn.
Adding to the wing’s try-scoring efficiency was a masterful kicking display by Rhys Priestland, the Wales fly-half who finished the bonus-point triumph with an individual 21-point haul
Error-strewn Harlequins never recovered from seeing McConnochie capitalise on a restart blunder to ignite Bath and all energy drained from their game, exposing a lack of resilience and belief.
Roared on by their soon-to-be muted fans, Quins made a high-octane start that underlined their determination to mark the occasion with a show.
Brett Herron produced a couple of early flourishes but it was his half-back partner Danny Care who set-up Marchant’s sixth-minute try with a hanging kick that descended in front of the posts.
Showing his aerial athleticism, Marchant won the mid-air duel and then showed the strength to drive over the line and touch down.
Two Herron penalties pushed Harlequins into a promising lead but the second of those brought with it disaster as from the ensuing restart Matt Symons made a hash of the kick, spilling it backwards.
McConnochie reacted in a flash by beating Chris Ashton to the ball and the England wing produced a skilful finish under pressure.
Quins were shaken by the self-inflicted challenge to their dominance and it took only five minutes for them to crack again as Bath rumbled over through Elliott Stooke once centre Cameron Redpath had carved a hole in midfield.
With Priestland on target, the west country visitors cruised 23-13 ahead and their opponents’ frustration was clear when Care took a quick penalty only for the ball to be lost at the ensuing ruck.
Early in the second half Bath were out of sight as McConnochie claimed his second try when space was created down the left by a slick interchange and the former sevens specialist sprinted over, finishing with a side-step.
Martin Landajo and Lewis Boyce exchanged tries in a final quarter that lacked intensity due to Bath’s unassailable lead and Quins repeatedly dropping off-loads until James Lang touched down in injury time.
Leicester 31-40 Sale
Manu Tuilagi made a try-scoring return to Welford Road as Sale Sharks strengthened their Gallagher Premiership play-off push by beating Leicester 40-31.
The England centre left Leicester in July after rejecting a 25 per cent pay cut, and he bit the Tigers with a first-half touchdown to help Sale reclaim second place behind runaway league leaders Exeter.
It was a trademark Tuilagi score, illustrating enviable power and strength as Leicester defenders were left scattered.
The Tuilagi try highlighted a dominant first 50 minutes by Sale, with fly-half AJ MacGinty and captain Jono Ross also claiming touchdowns, while MacGinty kicked three conversions and a penalty and Faf De Klerk dropped a goal.
Tuilagi was replaced midway through the second period just after a De Klerk penalty, and despite Leicester having their moments – Hanro Liebenberg, Jake Kerr and Freddie Steward scored tries and George Ford kicked 16 points – they were ultimately eclipsed.
Sale wing Denny Solomona claimed a bonus-point try 17 minutes from time, with MacGinty’s conversion giving him a 19-point haul as the Sharks prevailed.
The only downbeat note on a dominant afternoon for Sale was their England flanker Tom Curry going off on the stroke of half-time and not returning after failing a head injury assessment.
Leicester, 26 points below Sale in the league before kick-off, made a strong start and were almost ahead after four minutes when wing Nemani Nadolo caught Ford’s clever cross-kick, but he lost possession with the line beckoning.
The scare kick-started Sale, and they scored from their first attack when De Klerk landed a smart drop-goal from 30 metres.
Although a Ford penalty briefly tied things up, Sale powered back in front via the direct approach of their forwards before enough space was worked for MacGinty to glide over and convert his own try.
Leicester lock Tomas Lavanini was fortunate to escape a yellow card following a dangerous challenge on Sale hooker Akker Van Der Merwe after Ford kicked a second penalty, and Sale were starting to find impressive rhythm.
The Tigers lost flanker Luke Wallace, who went off when he was hurt attempting a tackle on Curry, and the Sharks immediately moved further ahead.
De Klerk’s quick thinking from the base of a scrum saw him fire a pass to Tuilagi, who claimed a first try for his new club by powering through Ford’s challenge.
MacGinty converted, then he exchanged penalties with Ford as Sale, who saw Curry go off in the 40th minute, took a 20-9 advantage into half-time.
Sale’s third try arrived just six minutes after the restart, and it was a superb team effort, with backs and forwards combining brilliantly through slick handling and support play.
Leicester could not cope in the face of wave after attacking wave, and Ross applied the finishing touch before MacGinty’s conversion opened up an 18-point lead.
The Tigers recovered their poise, though, and they cut the deficit when Liebenberg charged down De Klerk’s clearance, before Ford converted and then kicked his fourth penalty.
Sale’s lead had been reduced from 18 points to eight in just three minutes, but De Klerk calmed things down when he kicked a 48-metre penalty.
And the Sharks had done enough, although Kerr and Steward touched down following Solomona’s score as Tigers admirably chased a losing bonus point that was denied them by MacGinty’s late penalty.
Gloucester 36-23 London Irish
Gloucester virtually sealed their European Champions Cup spot for next season with a hard-fought 36-23 victory over London Irish at Kingsholm.
A victory for Irish would have seen them in a position to challenge Gloucester for that place but the hosts’ bonus-point victory put them 12 points clear of ninth-placed Irish with only four games remaining.
Gloucester’s tries came from Ollie Thorley, Louis Rees-Zammit, Jack Stanley, Stephen Varney and Lloyd Evans with Evans adding a penalty and two conversions. Billy Twelvetrees also converted two.
Irish responded with tries from Ollie Hassell-Collins and Agustin Creevy with Paddy Jackson kicking three penalties and two conversions.
Jackson gave Irish a fourth-minute lead with a simple penalty but an error from him handed Gloucester the opening try.
On half-way, the fly-half threw a speculative pass which Jake Polledri intercepted before feeding Evans, who raced 40 metres to score.
Evans converted but Gloucester conceded their third penalty in the opening 12 minutes for Jackson to reduce the arrears.
A poor kick from Hassell-Collins cost the visitors 60 metres to give Gloucester a platform in the Irish 22 from where Evans kicked a penalty to give his side a 10-6 advantage at the end of an evenly-contested first quarter.
Irish then had a good chance to open their try-scoring account when scrum-half Nick Phipps spotted an opening on the blindside.
His long pass found Albert Tuisue with the number eight looking set to threaten the tryline until he lost possession in the tackle.
The visitors received a blow when prop Sekope Kepu was forced off with a leg injury and they soon suffered another setback when an excellent round of passing from the Gloucester backs saw Jason Woodward provide Thorley with an easy run-in.
Irish needed a score to keep in contention and after declining two kickable penalties, they picked up their first try when they stole possession in the home 22 for Blair Cowan to provide Hassell-Collins with the scoring pass. Jackson converted but Gloucester still led 17-13 at the interval.
Within eight minutes of the restart, the home side lost two players through injury. First Woodward limped off with a hamstring problem before Ed Slater was withdrawn following a hefty collision and lengthy treatment.
The injuries disrupted the hosts and allowed Irish to dominate and their pressure was rewarded when veteran hooker Creevy finished off a driving line-out.
Irish looked favourites for victory, but Gloucester regrouped and from a line-out inside the visitors 22, a pre-planned routine gave Rees-Zammit the opportunity to run outside Hassell-Collins and score.
Gloucester were rejuvenated and secured the bonus point when replacement prop Stanley forced his way over from close range for the bonus-point try.
Twelvetrees converted before Jackson kicked his third penalty to set up a tense finish but Varney’s late try ensured victory.