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Aviva Premiership round 12: England player watch

06 January 2014

  • Dylan Hartley sees Saints past Chris Robshaw's Harlequins
  • Saracens dominate Gloucester at Kingsholm
Stephen Myler and Phil Dowson stand firm in defence

Photo: Getty Images

A short-range try from Northampton Saints captain Dylan Hartley killed off Harlequins at a rain-swept Franklin’s Gardens in the opening fixture of the Aviva Premiership weekend.

The hooker bundled over after the visitors spilt a five-metre lineout, snatching the final score of a scrappy 23-9 win for Jim Mallinder’s East Midlands outfit.

Hartley was the man-of-the-match on the back of an extremely industrious performance, making eight tackles and four carries. Saxon Calum Clark matched that muscularity, recording 14 tackles himself, while Stephen Myler added 13 points from the tee.

Captain Chris Robshaw was typically energetic for Conor O’Shea’s charges – making 11 tackles as his side fought to stay in the contest. Mike Brown also notched up 45 metres from four carries, but it was not enough to halt Saints, who stay in second in the standings.

Up at Kingston Park, Newcastle sunk to a sixth successive reverse, going down 16-8 to Sale Sharks. Former Saxon Andy Saull did go over just short of the half-hour mark, but Danny Cipriani’s boot saw the away team home.

Saracens retain their place at the summit of the table, celebrating Brad Barritt’s return to full fitness with a comfortable 29-8 away victory over Gloucester Rugby on Saturday.

Billy Twelvetrees gets a kick away under pressure from Brad Barritt

Photo: Getty Images

The Vunipola brothers and former England skipper Steve Borthwick helped lay a bruising platform, allowing Mark McCall’s outside backs to flourish.

Full back Alex Goode enjoyed an impressive afternoon, grabbing one try and featuring prominently in the build-up to another for David Strettle. Chris Ashton also looked lively, causing headaches for the West Countrymen with some testing support lines.

Owen Farrell’s distribution was an eye-catching feature and he also kicked four penalties to go with a conversion. Stuck behind a thoroughly beaten front five, Cherry and Whites back-rowers Matt Kvesic and Ben Morgan made 20 tackles between them.

Elsewhere, Wallaby James O’Connor landed all of London Irish’s points as Brian Smith’s Exiles edged past Worcester Warriors 22-9 in the weekend’s basement tussle.

Sunday brought the round’s most high-octane encounter between Leicester Tigers and Bath Rugby at Welford Road, ending in a thrilling 27-27 draw as Jamie Gibson – a tourist to South Africa with England in 2014 – barrelled past Matt Banahan to score a last-minute try and tie it up.

Earlier, Miles Benjamin had skated over for the hosts before George Ford orchestrated a fine comeback – first instigating a length-of-the-field movement that led to Anthony Watson’s score and then making a slicing break to put in Francois Louw close to the uprights.

George Ford is shackled by Marcos Ayerza

Photo: Getty Images

Another well-timed Ford pass allowed Jonathan Joseph to dot down for a 27-17 advantage, but then Tigers demonstrated characteristic doggedness to claw their way back. Tom Youngs and Dan Cole were at the heart of a robust drive that saw Thomas Waldrom shunt over.

Toby Flood – playing at inside centre to accommodate Owen Williams – also made a series of hard carries in the lead-up to Gibson’s decisive effort, while his opposite number Kyle Eastmond also showed spark in attack and strength in defence, notching up 10 tackles.

The final game of the weekend pitted London Wasps against Exeter Chiefs at Adams Park, where a fine individual score by Joe Simpson and a last-play drop-goal from 17-cap fly half Andy Goode saw the home side through, 19-16.