- Defeat to Saracens seals Worcester's relegation fate
- Leicester Tigers secure bonus-point win over Sharks
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Hefty scorelines and heady drama punctuated the penultimate round of the Aviva Premiership's regular season, with relegation and a third play-off place being decided.
It all started on Friday evening, where Bath Rugby were held to a 19-19 draw by Northampton Saints. George Ford and Stephen Myler – two fly halves in contention for places on England’s June tour of New Zealand – impressed, each slotting 14 points from the tee.
The pair were also to thank for the game’s two tries, Ford scything over for a magnificent individual effort just ahead of half-time before Myler’s excellent offload led to a reply for Saints’ former England under 20 wing Jamie Elliott.
Physicality was intense during a fearsome encounter in the West Country, and lock Dave Attwood thrived for the hosts – making nine tackles and three robust carries.
Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood were also prominent, especially at the lineout where they managed nine takes between themselves including two steals on opposition ball.
The result sets up what is effectively a quarter-final at the Twickenham Stoop next weekend after Harlequins thrillingly came from behind to beat Exeter Chiefs, climbing to fifth place – just three points behind Bath.
Trailing 23-5 thanks to scores from Matt Jess and Saxons scrum half Dave Lewis, Conor O’Shea’s 2012 champions surged back to wrestle a fine 30-29 victory.
Danny Care was one of their four try scorers and made 59 metres from 14 carries, beating two defenders and executing two more offloads in the process.
Hooker Dave Ward, continuing a superb season that was rewarded with Saxons recognition at the start of the year, won the official man-of-the-match award.
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Up in Salford on Saturday, Leicester Tigers dispatched Sale Sharks with a bonus-point triumph that sealed their semi-final spot, prevailing 42-22.
Toby Flood grabbed a brace after replacing Anthony Allen, while a powerful forward effort spearheaded by Geoff Parling and three-Test No.8 Jordan Crane brought a penalty try from significant scrum superiority.
Though Sale were thoroughly outplayed after a bright beginning, tight-head prop Henry Thomas did grab one of three late consolation efforts.
Another avalanche of tries at Kingsholm led to Gloucester Rugby eventually overcoming London Irish 38-30, but not before a virtuoso showing from Marland Yarde.
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The wing, who cruelly missed the RBS 6 Nations due to injury, made a massive 146 metres with ball in hand on the way to a hat-trick. His offload led to the Exiles’ other try as well, while Charlie Sharples, Sione Kalamafoni and Shane Monahan – with a treble of his own – netted the Cherry and Whites’ five-pointers.
Starting in the number 10 shirt once more, Freddie Burns kicked 11 points and posed problems in attack.
Saracens backed up their Heineken Cup thrashing of Clermont with a 44-20 defeat of Worcester Warriors that condemned Dean Ryan’s West Midlanders to the drop.
The hosts crossed six times through David Strettle, Chris Ashton (twice) and Jackson Wray, who scored the weekend’s third hat-trick. Alex Goode was extremely effective in hitting the line from full back, and snared three assists as well as 14 points from the tee.
Chris Pennell caught the eye for Worcester as he has done all campaign, but even immense enterprise and endeavour – he beat eight defenders and scored two tries – could not save his side.
Finally, London Wasps cemented seventh place and a play-off against the Top 14’s corresponding finishers for a spot in next season’s Rugby Champions Cup.
They overturned Newcastle Falcons 44-38, Joe Simpson among nine different scorers in a truly topsy-turvy game.
Joe Launchbury gave an all-action performance from lock, picking up one clean break and two offloads as well as eight tackles. Though a free-flowing clash saw 36 missed tackles in total, he was watertight in defence.