Harlequins regain top spot
February 17, 2013
Danny Care was in sparkling form for Harlequins © Getty Images
England scrum-half Danny Care produced a moment of magic as Harlequins regained top spot in the Aviva Premiership after edging a thrilling contest 25-21 against Leicester at The Stoop.
Trailing at the break, Care ran half the length of the field from a tap penalty to reignite Quins, with the mercurial Ben Botica adding 20 points from the boot in an impressive kicking performance as Leicester crumbled. Toby Flood scored 16 points for the Tigers on his return to Premiership action while Adam Thompstone touched down, but it was not enough.
Saracens celebrated their Aviva Premiership debut at Allianz Park by demolishing Exeter with a rare four-try 31-11 victory. Before today the 2011 champions had run in only 14 tries in as many games - the lowest number in the league - but Mako Vunipola crossed twice and Charlie Hodgson and Matt Stevens also touched down in a bonus-point win. It was a ringing endorsement for the artificial pitch at Saracens' new £24million ground in Barnet, which was staging its second match but the first in front of a capacity 10,000 crowd.
The only potential cloud hanging over the £500,000 surface designed specifically for rugby union was the terrible place kicking displays produced by fly-halves Hodgson and Gareth Steenson. Between them they missed six shots at goal and 18 points before the interval, although normal service resumed for Hodgson in the second half when his sights had been readjusted. Rampaging England prop Vunipola finished man of the match after spearheading an impressive win that underlines Saracens' title credentials and drives another nail into the coffin of Exeter's play-off aspirations.
Wasps maintained their unbeaten home record in the Aviva Premiership with a 33-29 victory over a Gloucester side who failed to capitalise on long spells of dominance at Adams Park.
Gloucester were the better side for much of the contest, but they missed four penalties and that proved their undoing. With 20 minutes to go, Gloucester led 17-13, but tries followed from the impressive Christian Wade and Billy Vunipola and enabled Wasps to consolidate fourth place. Two bonus points for the visitors, who crossed for a pair of even later tries, took Gloucester about Northampton into fifth.
Bath made it six wins from as many games in all competitions with a bonus points 40-16 victory against London Irish in the Aviva Premiership. Looking a far more fluent outfit than the side that stuttered through the first half of the season, they saw off the Irish challenge with two tries in the last five minutes, the last coming in the final play of the game from prop Anthony Perenise. Replacement fly-half Tom Heathcote converted all four tries and also kicked two penalties.
The other Bath scores were a Donald penalty, a penalty try and touchdowns by Nick Abendanon and Nathan Catt. It was quite a comedown for the Exiles after their victory over Saracens last weekend but they were undermined by a penalty count of 18-5 - and three yellow cards. The only bright moment was a thrilling breakaway try by replacement scrum-half Jack Moates but the defeat leaves them back in the relegation dogfight.
Northampton revived their push for the Aviva Premiership play-offs with a 27-18 victory over Worcester despite seeing England forwards Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes both sin-binned at Sixways. Flanker Samu Manoa's 70th-minute try - he was driven over the line by his fellow forwards just seconds after Worcester's former Northampton flanker Neil Best received a yellow card - made the difference before referee Greg Garner awarded Saints a late penalty try.
It was only Saints' second win in their last five league games, but it took them into fifth spot, one point above Gloucester, who tackle Wasps tomorrow. Hooker Hartley and lock Lawes were punished for killing the ball and a late challenge, respectively, yet Northampton had enough in the tank to prevail. Northampton fly-half Stephen Myler kicked five penalties and a conversion for a 17-point haul, while his opposite Andy Goode landed six penalties out of seven, but it was not enough to stave off Warriors' fourth successive Premiership defeat.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Proposals to remove promotion and relegation from the Aviva Premiership would be for the good of the game overall, argues John Taylor
Ireland have the world sitting up and taking notice - and rugby's structure in Europe will aid their Rugby World Cup bid, writes John Mitchell
Where does Italy's win over Scotland rank among their successes in the Six Nations? Scrum Sevens investigates
The tone was set early on in Dublin as a more clinical Ireland made England pay. All is not lost, however, argues Phil Vickery