Round 10 of the Aviva Premiership gave the chasing pack a chance to gain ground on leaders Saracens, who themselves were out to add breathing space on their lead.
Leicester v Northampton
The Midlands derby is a fixture that never fails to disappoint. Once again it was Leicester who gained the upper hand, extending their run against the Saints at Welford Road that goes back to 2008. It was another game Saints failed to excite. Costly errors and the sin binning of Luther Burrell gave the Tigers the opportunity to open up a 10-point after lead after just 15 minutes. Man of the match Freddie Burns kicked his side’s only points of the second half – enough to take the win and deny the Saints any chance of the losing bonus point. The main talking point from the game was the apparent loss of consciousness suffered by Saints wing George North after being tackled in the air by his Tigers counterpart Adam Thompstone. After the compulsory HIA, North was given the all-clear to return to the pitch, much to the dismay of the those watching.
Final score: Tigers 19-11 Saints
Sale v Exeter
The AJ Bell has typically been a fortress for Sale over recent seasons, but its defence has slipped of late. Exeter found a way through and the Sharks failed to gain a foothold in the game to attack. Sale battled to contend with the Chiefs, but two tries and a penalty try proved too much. Don Armand was the game’s standout player, returning after 11 weeks out to put in an incredible shift in helping his side to their third Premiership wi on the bounce. Sale looked a team out of sorts and were penalised heavily in the Chiefs’ rolling maul. Captain Josh Beaumont sent to the bin for collapsing the maul close to the Chiefs try line ended any leniency from referee Wayne Barnes for Sale’s handling of their defensive duties.
Final score: Sale 3-21 Chiefs
Bath v Saracens
It was third against first going into the game and a lot of talk beforehand was about Bath fronting up to the powerhouse of the Sarries pack. Bath did it in abundance and their strong defensive display gave them the edge to close the gap on Sarries’ top spot. Costly errors gave Bath possession and territory in a low scoring affair which culminated with a try apiece in the first half but Bath being the more composed in the kicking department saw them over the line. A Sarries 54-metre penalty in the dying stages of the game fell short and wide of the uprights. But it was Bath’s gritty determination that eventually saw them take the spoils 14-11 at the Rec. A losing bonus point and the return of Maro Itoje were the two positives for Sarries director of rugby to take away.
Final score: Bath 14-11 Saracens
Gloucester v Bristol
Bristol looked the brighter of the two sides early on giving Gloucester reason to compete. Despite the half time lead for Bristol, Gloucester ran out four tries and gained the much-needed bonus point to climb the table. Gloucester director of rugby David Humphreys believes his side now have the qualities to launch an attack on the top of the Premiership. The depth of the squad is beginning to show and much of the performance against Bristol highlighted that. Bristol, however, remain at the bottom of the Premiership on the brink of relegation after just one season in the top flight.
Final score: Gloucester 26-18 Bristol
Worcester v Wasps
Wasps started the game in fine fashion – a try in the first minute of the game was the platform they needed to dominate at Sixways. Worcester’s kickers kept them in contention, but a solo effort from Dan Robson inadvertently sealed the game. With Wasps fielding more of their second string players due to injuries and absentees, director of rugby Dai Young will be very happy with how his side faired. Wasps are a team that tend to finish seasons strongly, so the significance of the win against Worcester could come to fruition once the business end of the campaign draws in.
Final score: Worcester 12-26 Wasps
Newcastle v Harlequins
Harlequins were another team depleted of key players, but fair play to Newcastle who took full advantage. Scoring six tries in the bonus point win, the Falcons ascend the Premiership table with one eye on the play off places ahead of them. Centre Juan Pablo Socino scoring two tries in an impressive man of the match display. It was a game full of vigour, as both teams attacked from the off. A late try for Quins wing Tim Visser meant that his side were rightly rewarded with two bonus points and Quins’ first away points of the season.
Final score: Falcons 38-32 Quins
Wins for Bath, Wasps and Leicester keeps the pressure on Saracens, who now lead by just one point. However, a break in league fixtures while the European campaign resumes will be much-welcomed with a chance to refocus on European form in the concluding stages of 2016.