A review of the latest Gallagher Premiership action.
Sale 40-7 Bristol: James at the double for Sharks
Luke James scored two tries as Sale leapfrogged Gallagher Premiership play-off rivals Bristol with an impressive 40–7 win at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Sale moved up to second place, two points ahead of Bristol, with a second straight victory, while their opponents have now suffered back-to-back defeats.
The hosts flew out of the blocks and a clinical opening half-hour from Steve Diamond’s side set the tone for a ruthless display from his experienced team.
Bristol struggled to cope with Sale’s early scrum dominance, with the Sharks breaking through after just six minutes as James went over from Daniel Du Preez’s neat pass and AJ MacGinty converted.
The visitors tried to muster a quick reaction but they were the architects of their own downfall three minutes later as a loose pass from a scrum was seized on by Denny Solomona.
The former England international raced clear from halfway to score Sale’s second try, with MacGinty kicking the home side into 14-0 lead inside the first 10 minutes.
Pat Lam’s visitors did begin to make some headway, but Sale’s power on the counter-attack continued to be the decisive factor in the first half.
England centre Manu Tuilagi showed great feet to sidestep two Bristol challenges just inside his own half before feeding Jean-Luc Du Preez on the inside.
And, with Bristol unable to recover their defensive position in time, he found the rampaging Faf De Klerk for Sale’s third try, with MacGinty’s kick making it 21-0 after 22 minutes.
Sale wrapped up their bonus point just after the half-hour mark as another Bristol defensive error was picked up by Solomona and he slipped in Sam James for an easy try.
Bristol gave themselves a lifeline just before the break. MacGinty’s risky pass was cut out by Alapati Leiua and the Samoan centre sprinted clear for their first try, with Tiff Eden slotting over the conversion.
However, any slim chance of a Bristol comeback was quashed by a ruthless start to the second half from Sale.
De Klerk’s low pass inside the 22 caught out Bristol’s defence and MacGinty fed James for his second try five minutes after the restart.
Despite striking a crucial blow to Bristol’s confidence, Sale were in no mood to slow down as the second half wore on.
Marland Yarde scrambled over a sixth Sale try after 53 minutes following another cute De Klerk pass, with MacGinty kicking over his fifth conversion to take Diamond’s side up to the 40-point mark.
Lam’s side almost snatched a late consolation try, but Tuilagi produced a fine last-ditch challenge to deny Piers O’Connor in the corner.
Worcester Warriors 29-14 Harlequins: Harlequins have play-off hopes dented
Worcester blew a huge hole in Harlequins’ Gallagher Premiership play-off hopes by posting an impressive 29-14 victory at Sixways.
The Warriors forwards were in unstoppable form, with Worcester scoring three first-half tries direct from driving mauls to underpin a first Premiership win of 2020.
Number eight Cornell Du Preez, centre Ollie Lawrence and hooker Niall Annett all touched down before scrum-half Francois Hougaard’s 39th-minute score secured a bonus-point and Duncan Weir kicked three conversions before adding a second-half penalty.
Rudderless Quins, 11 points adrift of the play-offs before kick-off, trailed 26-0 at the break, and there was no way back as Worcester comfortably ended a run of eight successive Premiership defeats.
Wing Chris Ashton and substitute hooker Elia Elia claimed consolation tries for Quins, with James Lang adding both conversions, but Worcester were already over the horizon.
It was one of Warriors’ most emphatic league victories in recent seasons, underlining a dreadful Quins display on a night when they sorely missed rested stars like Mike Brown, Joe Marler and Chris Robshaw.
Worcester boss Alan Solomons made 10 changes from the side beaten by Wasps last time out, including a return for captain Ted Hill, while Quins were led by number eight Tom Lawday and included scrum-half Danny Care on the bench following his recovery from a back injury.
Despite their long run of league losses, Worcester did not lack confidence, and they rocked Quins through a powerful start.
Weir missed a second-minute penalty chance, but the Warriors struck from their first attack, relentlessly driving a lineout and Du Preez pounced for a try that Weir converted.
Quins were pinned deep inside their own half, and they fell further behind in the 12th minute after another mighty Worcester drive, this time joined by some of the backs, and Lawrence touched down.
Quins needed to regroup after a miserable opening, but Worcester were organised and tactically efficient as they comfortably preserved their healthy advantage.
The visitors struggled alarmingly in scrum and lineout, and Worcester just kept repeating Quins’ punishment.
Worcester’s third try from a driving maul arrived 12 months before the break, with Annett the latest beneficiary before Weir’s conversion opened up a 19-0 lead.
And there was still time before the interval for Quins to suffer more misery.
Inevitably, Worcester drove another short-range lineout, Quins struggled to defend it, and Hougaard darted clear to claim a bonus-point try.
Weir’s conversion saw Worcester lead by 26 points at the break, and Quins had a mountain of Everest proportions to climb.
Weir added a penalty early in the second period, before Quins worked a try for Ashton – the 87th of his Premiership career – that Lang converted.
There was more purpose and energy about Quins in the second-half, lifted by Care joining the action, although their forwards continued to endure a torrid time.
It was a defeat that renders the play-offs a distant prospect, and on this evidence, even a top-six place could prove beyond the Londoners.
Saracens 36-20 Gloucester: Stand-in skipper Tom Woolstencroft leads by example
Tom Woolstencroft enjoyed a dream first outing with the Saracens captaincy by scoring a hat-trick of tries in their 36-20 victory over Gloucester at Allianz Park.
The hooker, standing in in the absence of Brad Barritt, delivered a standout performance by dotting down three times in 20 minutes, while a Ben Harris try on his debut and Tom Whiteley’s effort capped the win.
Stephen Varney, Henry Walker and Louis Rees-Zammit did notch tries for the visitors but Saracens proved too good in the second half to secure their 11th league win of the season and leave Gloucester eighth.
The hosts made 14 changes to the side that defeated Harlequins, including handing club debuts to Will Hooley and Harris.
But the big news heading into the game surrounded Elliot Daly’s return from a hamstring injury to make his first ever start at outside centre for Saracens.
The England international, who had featured seven times since joining from Wasps last summer before the season was postponed in March, had been absent from the Premiership’s return but delivered an encouraging showing.
But it was the visitors, who themselves handed club debuts to Jordy Reid and Josh Gray, that got the scoring under way in the fourth minute when Lloyd Evans coolly slotted his penalty kick over from 40 metres.
It did not take long for Daly to get involved, though, as he levelled proceedings with a penalty kick of his own shortly afterwards.
Saracens then took the lead for the first time 15 minutes in when two bits of good work at the breakdown resulted in two penalties, Daly slotting over from long range again before Manu Vunipola also got on the board.
The visitors did dot down shortly before the break when captain Mark Atkinson found Henry Trinder who in turn set Varney free to score his third try in as many games.
But Harris ensured Saracens took a lead into the break when he beat several tackles to go over on debut.
The hosts picked up where they left off minutes after the restart and notched their second try through Woolstencroft, who picked his spot to score at the end of a brilliant driving maul.
This was quickly followed by another score from the hooker in carbon copy fashion to extend Saracens’ lead to 16 points.
In the final quarter, Gloucester added a second try when replacement Walker went over, but Woolstencroft confirmed the result when he completed his hat-trick after another driving maul before Whiteley added a fifth try late on.
There was still time for a third Gloucester try when Rees-Zammit showed his pace to finish in the corner, but the defeat leaves George Skivington’s side 12 points outside the top four.
Leicester Tigers 13-7 London Irish: Leicester back up and running
Leicester picked up their first points since the Gallagher Premiership resumption with a morale-boosting 13-7 victory over London Irish at Welford Road.
After a defeat at Exeter and a 38-16 home thrashing at the hands of Bath, the Tigers fielded a strong side and they just did enough to come away with the four points.
David Williams scored their only try with George Ford adding the conversion and two penalties.
Ben Meehan touched down for Irish, which was converted by Paddy Jackson and enabled the visitors to collect a losing bonus point.
Leicester made a lively start, moving the ball at every opportunity in the ideal playing conditions. Wing Williams was pushed into touch a couple of metres short of the line but despite their enterprise, it was a penalty from Ford that gave them an eighth-minute lead.
New recruit Nemani Nadolo was then given his first opportunity to impress. The Fijian, signed from Montpellier, marked his debut by powering past Tom Parton on a 30-metre burst but the supporting Ben Youngs was tackled into touch.
The Tigers suffered a blow when lock Harry Wells was forced off for a head injury assessment after receiving lengthy treatment on the floor following a heavy collision.
Despite this setback and with the penalty count firmly in their favour, the hosts continued to dominate but still only had a three-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
After 25 minutes, Leicester’s pressure was eventually rewarded with the first try when Williams finished off a round of passing to run in unopposed.
Irish had barely threatened as an attacking force in the first half-hour but they conjured up a period of pressure in the opposition 22.
Forwards Motu Matu’u and Albert Tuisue both made strong runs with Curtis Rona and Terrence Hepetema looking a potent centre partnership, but the home defence held firm to retain a 10-0 half-time lead.
Five minutes after the restart, Ford extended that advantage with a simple penalty before Nadolo crossed the line only for replays to show that there had been a knock-on earlier in the movement.
Irish had more of the game after the interval and their hopes were buoyed by a yellow card for Tigers lock Calum Green, who was adjudged to be deliberately off-side as the visitors threatened the try-line.
As a result, Irish were able to ramp up the pressure and following a succession of five-metre scrums, Meehan was able to dive over from close range with Jackson’s conversion bringing his side right back into contention.
Tigers had another try disallowed when Ford sent Tommy Reffell over but replays showed that an Irish tackler had been impeded.
However, the hosts had just enough in hand to hold off Irish in the dying minutes to record a deserved victory.
Bath 18-3 Northampton Saints: Bath earn third successive Premiership win
Tom De Glanville and Ruaridh McConnochie sealed Bath’s third-straight Gallagher Premiership win since lockdown in a gritty 18-3 win at Northampton Saints.
Full-back De Glanville broke the try deadlock just before the hour only to trudge off straight away with a suspected neck injury.
The 20-year-old son of former England captain Phil De Glanville copped heavy contact from Saints duo Tommy Freeman and Rory Hutchinson but still delivered a smart finish under pressure.
Bath nullified Northampton throughout an often-scrappy contest, and drew full reward when replacement McConnochie raced in for the visitor’s second score.
The Blue, Black and Whites sealed just their second league win at Franklin’s Gardens in 20 years courtesy of a dominant scrum and a regimented defensive game.
Bath’s third win in a row since the league’s resumption pushed Stuart Hooper’s men up to fourth in the table, with the west country side relishing their mini resurgence.
Saints meanwhile were left to rue a second loss in their three matches since the Premiership’s return, evening out their win-loss ratio to eight apiece.
A turgid first-half’s first meaningful act saw JJ Tonks slip off his tackle on Mercer, flipping the Bath number eight upside down.
Tonks walked for the deserved yellow card for his efforts, and Bath eventually gained some benefit with Josh Matavesi’s penalty on 20 minutes.
Biggar missed a routine penalty shot just before the half-hour, with Taqele Naiyarovoro brutally swatting Mike Williams aside in the build-up.
Wales playmaker Biggar founds his kicking boots to level the scores on 33 minutes, and Josh Matavesi ensured a try-less first-half when hauling down the marauding Naiyarovoro.
Saints cranked up the pressure after the break, but still failed to find any momentum amid a gritty Bath defence.
Bath’s tight work and especially their scrum kept the visitors in the contest, with the Blue, Black and Whites thwarting the Saints on a number of occasions deep in their own 22.
And after weathering that extended storm, Bath pounced on one Saints error, finally opening the try scoring just ahead of the hour.
Ahsee Tuala spilled replacement scrum-half Ben Spencer’s bomb, and in a flash Bath were in at the corner.
De Glanville latched onto the pass over the top and slid home, with the score given after a Television Match Official (TMO) review.
That proved De Glanville’s last act of the night however, as the young full-back was replaced after suffering a suspected neck injury.
Josh Matavesi missed the touchline conversion, but Bath still led 8-3 heading into the last quarter.
Bath doubled their try count and killed off the contest shortly afterwards, forcing and then capitalising on another Saints error.
This time Saints replacement Sam Matavesi – Bath fly-half Josh’s brother – spilled the ball in contact, and McConnochie strolled home.
Replacement fly-half Rhys Priestland slotted the conversion, and later added a penalty as Bath turned the screw at the death.
Bristol 22-25 Exeter Chiefs: Late Billy Keast try snatches thrilling victory
Exeter moved 11 points clear at the Gallagher Premiership summit after beating title rivals Bristol 25-22 in thrilling fashion at a windswept Ashton Gate.
Bristol stay second and firmly on course for the play-offs, but they were edged out by the favourites for this season’s Premiership silverware after Chiefs prop Billy Keast touched down three minutes from time and Gareth Steenson converted.
Despite Chiefs boss Rob Baxter making 14 changes to his line-up, Exeter displayed enviable squad depth as tries by centre Phil Dollman and scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne helped them surge 15 points clear.
Bristol then wiped out that deficit through quickfire second-half tries from centre Piers O’Conor and wing Luke Morahan, with Callum Sheedy converting both scores and kicking a penalty.
Sheedy’s opposite number Steenson, who finished with 10 points, edged Exeter back in front, only for replacement Ioan Lloyd to claim Bristol’s third try.
An eighth successive Premiership win for Bristol looked likely, yet they were snuffed out by a resilient Exeter side with experienced Steenson controlling tactics superbly.
There is every chance the teams will meet again in the Premiership final at Twickenham on October 24, and another classic beckons if that materialises.
Wasps 11-20 Sale Sharks: Visitors get title challenge back on track
Sale claimed their first win since exiting lockdown by emerging emphatic 20-11 winners over Wasps in a Gallagher Premiership arm wrestle at the Ricoh Arena.
After defeats to Harlequins and Exeter, the Sharks reinforced their title challenge with a commanding display that elevated them above their opponents and into third place.
It was heavy going with few highlights, a blustery wind and spells of rain taking their toll, but Sale surged clear in a productive third quarter with Luke James’ 61st-minute try proving to be the decisive blow.
Fly-half AJ MacGinty had kicked them into a solid lead before James struck as the culmination to a series of drives by a big Sharks pack that battered the home forwards out of contention.
Once again Jack Willis shone in front of England head coach Eddie Jones, but even the 23-year-old flanker’s try-scoring presence could not prevent Wasps from slipping to a first defeat since the break for Covid-19 ended.