Monday, 3 October 2011

Aviva Premiership Review Round 5 - Difficult Times for Northampton Saints

While Richard Cockerill and Jim Mallinder, the respective directors of rugby at Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints clearly knew that the early part of the Aviva Premiership season was going to be a challenging one with players away at the World Cup, little did they anticipate that they would be both languishing in the bottom three of the table after the competition of the fifth round of matches.

Northampton Saints who will at least be looking forward to the immediate return of Tongan prop, Soane Tonga’huia, failed to score a try for the second week running in their defeat at the hands of premiership new boys, Worcester Warriors last Friday evening. A single penalty form Stephen Myler was all the Saints could muster in reply to Worcester’s  12 points from the boot of former England fly half, Andy Goode.

In addition to his World Cup returnees, Mallinder will also be hoping that injured scrum half, Lee Dickson will be available again soon. There is no doubt that the scrum half is the heartbeat of the team and his extended absence last year also corresponded with a poor run for the Saints.

After their debacle last week at home against Saracens, the Tigers bounced back with a strong performance away at Bath. With four changes from last week including the return of second row, Geoff Parling after an extended absence , Leicester had a chance to win a very close encounter in the final moments of the game when fly half, Jeremy Stauton who had scored all of Leicester’s 25 points, missed a 45 metre penalty; his one kicking failure of the day . Previously in the 75th minute, 19 year old, replacement fly half, Tom Heathcote had given Bath the lead with a penalty after former Bath player, Julian Salvi had infringed.

Bath backs coach Brad Davis was quick to praise the contribution of Tom Briggs and although he did not get on the score sheet he was a key element of Baths’ victory which lifted them in to sixth place in the table.

"He did have a big game - probably his his best of the season," said Davis. "If he gets the ball in open play, he's a very dangerous runner.

"We had a chat together during the week about how we could get him more involved. If he does get the ball at speed he's a hard man to stop."

An early try from the Wasps flying winger, Christian Wade after 5 minutes was not enough to stop Newcastle Falcons completing their first win of the season. Jimmy Gopperth got the home side’s scoring underway with a penalty in the 2nd minute and then followed this up with four further penalties to give the Falcons a 15-10 victory. After three defeats in a row, London Wasps who welcomed Hugo Southwell back in to the side at full back, entertain Bath at Adams Park next week. Despite their victory, the Falcons still remain at the bottom of the table equal with Northampton Saints on five points and seventeen adrift from the all-conquering Harlequins.

After their best start for 15 years, the Quins continued their impressive form with an exciting if not nerve racking win over a young and highly adventurous Sale side. Harlequins stormed out of the blocks and within 2 minutes Mike Brown had scored after a strong break by winger Sam Smith. By the hour mark the home side had clocked up 48 points with Sale struggling to keep on the coat tails of a rampant Quins side who at this stage had established 24 points advantage.

The momentum changed dramatically after a 10 minute injury break for young centreWill Addison who had been injured in a tackle. After looking down and out, Sale struck back with three tries and a conversion in the last 8 minutes to bring the score back to 48-41 and in the process gained two losing bonus points for their efforts.

Sandy Park has become one of the most feared destinations in the Aviva Premiership and after their resounding victory last week, Saracens were made to fight all the way to secure their second consecutive win on the road. Charlie Hodgson and Owen Farrell shared the points with a try a piece with two penalties from Hodgson and a conversion from the boot of his young colleague who once again started in the centre.

The Chiefs showed great spirit throughout and despite being down to a seven man pack for the last 10 minutes as a result of an injury to James Scaysbrook and the earlier departure of replacement prop Alan Paver, they fought for a losing bonus point and were rewarded in injury time with a short yardage try from No.8 Richard Baxter. Argentina fly half Ignacio Mieires duly converted to bring the score to 13-17.

Despite losing in a 60 plus point thriller at Kingsholm, London Irish Head Coach, Toby Booth, was keen to highlight how his team’s encounter with Gloucester provided an exciting and mouthwatering insight to the future of English rugby. “There were a lot of youngsters out there who were English qualified and have a point to prove, they want to upset the old guard and I find that very refreshing," he said.

London Irish had seemed to be completely out of contention as Gloucester racked up an impressive 23-10 lead by the latter part of the first half with a try from Tom Voyce and a penalty try. Irish then hit back with 17 points in eight minutes either side of half-time, as Topsy Ojo and Steve Shingler produced some excellent finishing to help the Exiles establish a 27-23 lead. 

Darren Dawidiuk, the 24 year old Gloucester hooker responded with the host's third try and this was followed by a penalty from replacement Freddie Burns which eventually sealed the home side’s win after Exiles full-back Tom Homer, who kicked 15 points on the day, had tied the scores with his third penalty. 

The visitors still had the chance to steal the win right at the death but a beautifully crafted chip from the imaginative Dan Bowden evaded Ojo's grasp and Gloucester were able go on to extend their unbeaten run at Kingsholm to 22 matches.

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