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Aviva Premiership semi-finals: England player watch

19 May 2014

  • Wood strikes late to beat Leicester
  • Saracens overpower Harlequins
Manu Tuilagi

Photo: Getty Images

There has been huge drama throughout the Aviva Premiership season, so it was no surprise that this weekend delivered a pair of tense encounters to greet the play-off stages.

Friday night at Franklin’s Gardens delivered a simply electric East Midlands derby, Northampton Saints squeezing past Leicester Tigers 21-20 after Tom Wood’s last-gasp try.

It was a truly phenomenal effort from Jim Mallinder’s men, who had gone into half-time 17-6 down thanks to tries from Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs before being reduced to 14 men when prop Salesi Ma’afu was shown a red card.

However, George North shunted over from short range and Stephen Myler was accurate enough from the tee to keep Saints in touch, allowing Wood – who was man-of-the-match – to barge through in the dying moments close to the left touchline after linking up with England colleague Luther Burrell.

Three Tigers players were sent to the sin bin during a typically feisty tie between these local rivals, but referee JP Doyle managed the high-stakes tussle expertly.

On Saturday at Allianz Park, the irresistible power of Saracens proved too much for Harlequins, who were ousted 31-17.

Again, the eventual winners had to overcome a half-time deficit. An opportunistic score from the league’s player of the year Mike Brown put Quins 17-11 up at the break, an advantage they deserved on the back of 40 minutes of fine attacking rugby.

Chris Ashton

Photo: Getty Images

However, a turning point arrived with half an hour to go. Danny Care’s audacious drop-goal attempt hit the post and Saracens cleared their lines, winning crucial field position. Brad Barritt then slipped out of a tackle to score, putting the Heineken Cup finalists back in front.

Owen Farrell converted before landing another penalty and setting up Chris Ashton for the clinching try, the sucker-punch that gave Conor O’Shea’s men a mountain to climb.

Despite huge endeavour from Chris Robshaw and his side, Farrell’s fourth penalty ended the contest. Qualifying for the Premiership final on May 31 at Twickenham, Saracens have a chance to secure a domestic and European double.

Sunday saw London Wasps beat Stade Francais 30-29 in their home leg of their double-header for the final place in next season’s inaugural Rugby Champions Cup.

There were exceptional tries from England internationals Tom Varndell and Joe Simpson, who scorched home from 80 metres. Joe Launchbury and James Haskell were as industrious as ever, making 17 tackles between them.