The group stage comes to a close and we have our 4 semi finalists, here is my review of this weekend’s action.
How did the predictions go?
First here is a link to my predictions.
4 out of 8, not great but then again for this competition not the end of the world either. When you have no idea what teams will be selected it can be a bit of a lottery.
Sale Sharks 38 v 3 Scarlets
Fairly simple e really Braid played and so Sharks won. Obviously it’s not as simple as that, Scarlets fielded as much more novice side with several from their feeder clubs. This disparity in experience especially in the pack told. Sharks got off to a good start with an early try from their captain. Scarlets did among to pull a penalty goal back but Sale immediately replied with another try. A third try just before half time meant an 18 point lead.
Sale took a bit longer to get into their rhythm in the second half but secured the TBP 13 minutes in. Two more Sale tries added gloss to the win.
Key Stat: Scrums on own feed Sale 5 won, 0 lost (100.0%) Scarlets 5 won, 9 lost (35.7%)
Men against boys is probably a bit harsh but I can’t remember the last time I have seen a side lose 9 scrums. The forward dominance meant that Sale could turn the ball over 25 times and not have to worry about it in a performance that was far from complete.
Cardiff Blues 9 v 43 Leicester Tigers
Blues started the game well and after 20 minutes were 9-0 up from 3 penalty goals. After that it was all one way traffic as Tigers settled down and control the ball more. Tigers did get a quick penalty back but it was two tries just before half time that really swung things and gave them a 6 point lead at the break.
Half time saw a number of changes for the Blues but Tigers were back into their game quickly and managed a try after ten minutes. It took them until 15 minutes to go to secure the TBP but that opened the flood gates for two more tires in the last ten. This saw Tigers book a home quarter final, they just had to wait to find out who their opponents were going to be.
Bath Rugby 10 v 13 Ospreys
Bath started the stronger picking up a try but a yellow card enabled Ospreys to get their first score on the board with a penalty goal. When roles were reversed and Ospreys had their first of tow yellow cards Bath capitalised better and picked up their second try to lead 10-3 at half time.
That’s how it stayed due to inaccurate play until nearly ten minutes from time. With Ospreys back to 15 men after their second yellow card they managed to score a penalty goal to get back to within one score. A converted try at the death after Bath had been pressing Ospreys line clinched the game for the Welshmen.
Key Stat: Turnovers conceded Bath 18 Ospreys 10
Bath’s inability to take their chances and handing over the ball, gave up all their advantage from more meters run and Ospreys poor discipline.
Gloucester Rugby 25 v 7 Harlequins
Quins priority of the league clearly showed with two 18 year olds been given their debuts. This is exactly what they competition is all about and will be very good experience for them.
Gloucester came out strongly and quickly racked up a 1 point lead, another penalty goal stretched that to 13 as the half drew on. Quins though did manage to pull back try just before half time to keep themselves in the game. In the second half an early converted Gloucester try opened up the lead to 11 points and effectively won the game as Quins couldn’t break eh Gloucester defence. A third try 17 minutes from time brought a TBP within sight but it wasn’t to be.
Key Stat: Average meters with ball in hand Gloucester 4.9 Quins 2.7
Quins passed and ran the ball more but just weren’t going anywhere, they managed to break more tackles but never to got the clean breaks. Gloucester were more incisive and used the ball better to give themselves a chance of qualification but it wasn’t to be.
London Irish 13 v 31 Newcastle Falcons
Irish started well and took an early 6 point lead, but Gilsenan’s yellow card on 21 minutes turned things around. Irish really missed his tackling and Falcons racked up two converted tries to take control of the scoreboard. That’s how the score stayed as Flacons turned over the ball 12 times in the first half alone.
Falcons improved their ball retention in the second half and had racked up the TBP by the 54th minute. With the game already lost Irish scored a consolation try twelve minutes from time before Irish added another.
Key Stat: Tackles made/missed Irish 115/41 Falcons 116/16
You are not going to win many games missing that many tackles.
Northampton Saints 29 v 6 Wasps
Wasps struck first with a penalty goal however Saints were able strike back quickly with a converted try to take a lead they were never to give up. Penalties were then swapped as Wasp’s inability to convert in the opposition 22 was beginning to tell. Saints struck with another converted try just before half time to take a comfortable 11 point lead into the break.
Early in the second half where Saints scored two tries in the first ten minutes both won the game and secured the TBP to qualify for the semi finals. Wasps kept pressing but were unable to breach the Saints defence.
Key Stats: Kicks from hand Saints 29 Wasps 14, Tackles made/missed Saints 180/33 Wasps 80/8
An interesting thing I read over the weekend said that sides that kick and tackle the most are most likely to win games. So it proved here where Saints defence was what won them the game even if they did miss a massive 33 tackles.
Dragons 17 v 13 London Welsh
Welsh will really be wondering what they have to do to win a game. Here after the sides exchanged early penalties they took control of the game with a converted try and penalty goal to lead by 10 points at half time despite having a player yellow carded.
In the second half though Dragons tightened things up and worked their way back into the game. A converted try on 55 minutes got them back within score and then when Welsh piked up their second yellow card they struck with the game winning converted try. A lack of composure lost them a game that they should have won and the question is will they win any this season with only Aviva Premiership games to come.
Saracens 35 v 18 Exeter Chiefs
Saracens knew that they had to win this after Gloucester got the win over Harlequins where as Exeter were already through and playing for a home semi final. Saracens started the better and pulled out a 14-0 lead with two converted tries. Exeter did well to regroup and pull it back to 14-10 at the break. A penalty goal and try in the first ten minutes of the second half put Exeter into the lead. From there though it was one way traffic as the pressure told with poor discipline and missed tackles helping Saracens score 3 converted tries over the next quarter of an hour. That effort won the game and secured a home semi final for Saracens.
Key Stat: Clean breaks Saracens 12 Exeter 3
Saracens were more incisive when it mattered and Exeter didn’t help themselves by getting on the wrong end of the penalty count (8 v 14).
We now have 4 weeks of Aviva Premiership or Pro12 rugby before returning for the semi finals which is an all English affair.
Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs
Saracens v Northampton Saints
In my tournament preview, I predicted the following teams would make the semi finals; Saracens, Irish, Scarlets and Quins. So only one out of four and the three teams that didn’t make it were never in the hunt, only racking up 2 wins between them. Oh well better luck next year.