With the regular season come to a close in Europe a number of playoff questions were answered. Here’s my round-up of all the action from last weekend.
Sale Sharks 11 – 12 Gloucester Rugby
Leicester Tigers 31 – 17 Worcester Warriors
Northampton Saints 15 – 14 Bath
Exeter Chiefs 24 – 3 Wasps
London Irish 25 – 32 Harlequins
Saracens 23 – 14 Newcastle Falcons
5 from 6, I didn’t see Sale losing their first home game of the season.
The first half descended into a kicking duel as neither side could break through. In the second half Sale eventually broke through for a try but Cipriani missed the conversion and not for the first time this season his kicking was going to cost the game. Gloucester never got over the white line but Laidlaw was 100% from the tee and that was enough to see them home.
Warriors kept it close in the first half and were leading after 36 minutes. They were perfectly willing to run the ball back. In the second half though Tigers tightened things up and didn’t allow the Warriors anymore points. A solitary converted try and a penalty were enough to win the game relatively comfortably with a TBP to confirm Tigers their playoff slot.
Bath got two converted tries in the first quarter of the game and keep Saints out for the whole of the half. Saints were dominating territory and possession but couldn’t break get the points on the board. In the second half Saints continued to apply the pressure and eventually it told with them cross for a try. Also one of the 18 penalties that Bath gave up was in range but it looked like they might hold out. With 8 minutes to go though Saints got over for their second try and the narrowest of wins.
After losing to Wasps in the European Champions Cup quarter finals Exeter put in a very impressive shift. They managed to shut down a very impressive Wasps attack who have scored the most tries in the premiership. It took until the 26th minute for the Chiefs first try and wasn’t until just before the hour mark they got their second and some breathing room. A try 10 minutes from time sealed the deal and put a home playoff spot in their hands as Wasps slipped to 3rd in the table.
Quins rushed out to a 3-19 lead but full credit to Irish who didn’t lay down. A yellow card for Clifford, who BTW was the most carded player in 2015, helped Irish come back. They were within a score a halftime and just before the hour mark evened things up. Irish then knocked over a penalty to take the lead and the possibility of an unlikely victory. Quins though responded with a try with ten minutes to go to save their blushes and keep their top 6 hopes alive.
Saracens got the first points through a penalty but Falcons had the better of the half. They dominated the the scoreboard and got two converted tries to lead 3-14 at half time. In the second half though Saracens dominated the game and scored 20 unanswered points. With this win they confirmed that they would top the table at the end of the season.
Chiefs 24 – 22 Sharks
Force 20 – 42 Bulls
Blues 36 – 30 Rebels
Highlanders 23 – 10 Brumbies
Reds 30 – 17 Cheetahs
Lions 17 – 50 Hurricanes
Stormers 30 – 32 Waratahs
Jaguares 73 – 27 Kings
5 from 8, I over estimated the home advantage in some games.
It’s not often that a kiwi side get outscored in tries, this time that happened but they still found a way to win. Chiefs pulled out a 15-3 lead through their only two tries of the game. The big point to note though was that Cruden was kicking and so is clearly recovering. Sharks managed to even things up by halftime. In the second half Cruden’s boot punished the Sharks poor discipline. However Sharks third try with seven minutes to go pulled it back to a 2 point game. Chiefs crazily took a tap penalty straight in front of the posts with 2 minutes to go. 13 phases later the ball went into touch and the Chiefs to away with a win that should have been much easier with the possession they had.
The Force managed to keep it close against the Bulls in the first half. In the second the Bulls backs ran amok and even though the Force did manage a try it was as time was running out and the game was long gone.
The Blues hosted the Rebels and for the first ten minutes they were good hosts letting the Rebels run the game. The Blues then got the upper hand and were running away with the game as the Rebels fell off too many tackles. Blues led by 24-11 but it should have been more as West’s kicking was poor again so a late try from Rebels made it 24-18. Again in the second half the Blues pulled away but the Rebels scored two tries to get within a score. So even though the Blues outscored Rebels 6 tries to 4 it was a bit nervy at the end.
The Highlands lost a player to the bin to a yellow for a high tackle and I think they were lucky it wasn’t a red for the second game running. The Brumbies could only manage a penalty against strong defence. The got a try just before halftime to lead and an early try put them in a strong position. The Brumbies did pull one back via a maul but Sopoaga kicked the Landers home.
Another one where the halftime talk turned things round. The Cheetahs had the upper hand early on and mauled for their first try. The Reds kept in there and a try on halftime evened things up. In the second half the Reds dominated and had pulled clear by the time they lost Gill to the bin. The Cheetahs pulled a try back when they were a man up but didn’t get any closer.
The Canes dominated the Lions who just couldn’t keep hold of the ball turning it over a massive 25 times. The Canes were 0-24 up before the Lions could get on the board and the game was never a contest. Both defences missed a bunch of tackles but even though the Lions made the Canes miss 33 tackles they only managed 6 breaks. The Canes though managed 13 from only 19 missed tackles showing their higher execution.
The Tahs danced a couple of tries and the Stormers bashed in for two of their own. After a bunch of exchanged kicks the Stormers led 22-20 with 25 minutes to go. That’s when Zas slipped and collided with a player in the air who landed on his head. The led to him being correctly red carded. The Stormers fought hard but in the end the Tahs pulled off a narrow win.
The Jags racked up an amazing 11 tries against a poor Kings side. The Kings didn’t even put up much of a fight missing over 30% of their tackles. A competition where a teams are racking up 70+ points against other teams clearly has issues as you don’t want lots of games where one side doesn’t have a chance.
Benetton Treviso 22 – 21 Connacht Rugby
Glasgow Warriors 70 – 10 Zebre
Munster 27 – 19 Edinburgh
Cardiff Blues 27 – 40 Ospreys
Ulster 30 – 6 Leinster
Newport Gwent Dragons 20 – 34 Scarlets
4 from 6, I don’t think anyone saw Treviso’s win coming.
No one expected Treviso’s win and that takes them above Zebre into 11th and the Italian Champions Cup spot. Glasgow have gone top with Connacht second, as they meet next weekend this mean one will have a home semi final. The other slot will go to Leinster who are third and face Treviso next weekend. The final playoff slot will go to either Ulster or Scarlets who play Ospreys and Munster who are fighting for a Champions Cup place.
Toulon 10 – 12 Toulouse
Castres 37 – 6 Section Paloise
Agen 37 – 19 Brive
Montpellier 51 – 10 Grenoble
US Oyonnax 17 – 16 La Rochelle
Bordeaux Begles 35 – 25 Stade Francais
Racing Metro 92 26 – 20 Clermont Auvergne
With the top six going into the playoffs there is still a lot to play for with 4 games to go. Clermont and Montpellier are in the box seat for semifinal berths. Racing and Toulon are comfortable in the next two spots. Toulouse, Castres and Bordeaux are fighting out for the last two places. At the other end despite victories at the weekend Oyonnax and Agen still look like they will be relegated.
Ohio 51 – 17 San Francisco
San Diego 16 – 22 Denver
Denver remain undefeated after three rounds and are clear at the top of the table. Ohio, San Diego and Sacramento are all won one lost one. It’s looking like being a long season for San Francisco who have lost all their games and are giving up twice as many points as they are scoring.
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