Wasps and Saracens set the pace
September 13, 2009
London Irish's Delon Armitage races away to score a try against Gloucester at the Madejski Stadium © Getty Images
London Wasps, Saracens, Sale and Newcastle are the only undefeated sides left in the Premiership following the second round of action.
Wasps made it two wins from two in this season with a dramatic 17-15 victory over Bath at the Recreation Ground, a game in which they finished with just 14 men on the field following the late dismissal of Tim Payne.
The visitors were rocked by the concession of a try after just three minutes, with Michael Claasens wriggling his way over the whitewash from close range after taking a quick tap penalty.
The visitors responded superbly, though, and summer signing Tom Varndell blazed over for his third try in two games on 18 minutes. However, Danny Cipriani, who had an awful afternoon with the boot, landing just one of five strikes on goal, failed to convert, meaning Wasps still trailed by two points.
Bath replied with a penalty from Ryan Davis but Varndell levelled matters at ten points apiece when he touched down for a second time just before the half hour after a blistering break from man of the match Joe Simpson had torn the Bath defence to shreds.
Wasps were now very much in the ascendancy and they deservedly went in ahead at the interval, with Cipriani and Steve Kefu combining to set up David Lemi for a simple finish right on the stroke of half-time.
Bath were offered a gilt-edged opportunity to get themselves right back into the game following the sin-binning of Payne in the 60th minute for collapsing a scrum. They failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage in the face of some heroic Wasps defending but they eventually did find their way over when Payne saw red for another infringement at the ruck in the dying seconds, Ben Skirving touching down to present David with a chance to snatch a draw.
However, the fly-half failed to convert and Wasps held on to claim a victory which propels them to the top of the table, temporarily at least.
"We are ecstatic," said Wasps boss Tony Hanks. "Not many visiting teams will win down here. We have achieved what we wanted to."
London Irish are hot on their heels following their 40-10 romp against Gloucester in an ill-tempered clash at the Madejski Stadium on Sunday.
Ryan Lamb took revenge on former club Gloucester by masterminding the outcome and claiming the Man of the Match award. Drummed out of Kingsholm as part of Gloucester's summer exodus, the Exiles fly-half showed them what they were missing with an authoritative display finishing with 20 points thanks largely to a dominant Irish pack.
Winger Sailosi Tagicakibau ran in two tries and Delon Armitage also touched down, while referee Dean Richards awarded a late penalty try. Gloucester were effectively out of contention by the interval, trailing 23-3, and apart from a bright spell in the second half when winger Charlie Sharples crossed they were well off the pace.
Sharples was the first of six players to be sent to the sin-bin just past the half hour mark with Irish's Chris Hala'ufia (50min) and Gloucester's Akapusi Qera (69min) following him. Gloucester prop Pierre Capdevielle (73min) was the next to get his marching orders and a large brawl before the final whistle resulted in Irish's George Stowers and Gloucester's Gareth Delve ending the game on the sidelines.
Leicester Tigers bounced back from their opening-weekend defeat at Sale with a hard-fought 15-9 victory over Harlequins at the Stoop.
Jeremy Staunton had squandered a late chance to snatch a draw for Leicester in their 15-12 defeat at Edgeley Park but he was in fine form with the boot on the day, landing five of his six shots at goal. Quins could only manage three penalties from Nick Evans by way of a response.
Despite the perfect playing conditions, neither side much incision behind the scrum over the course of the 80 minutes. The first half was particularly tight and turgid.
Evans opened the scoring for Quins with a tenth-minute penalty but Staunton replied in kind midway through the half to make it three points apiece - and that's the way it stayed until the break, although Quins did occasionally threaten, primarily out wide through Ugo Monye and David Strettle.
Staunton edged the Tigers ahead just after the restart but it was Quins who continued to carry the greater menace with ball in hand. Indeed, a scintillating run from George Lowe very nearly led to the game's opening try but Leicester stood firm.
The reigning champions did lose Jordan Crane to the sin bin in the 48th minute after the England back row had taken Strettle out in the air whilst the winger was trying to collect a probing cross-field kick from Evans but their resolve was unbreakable.
Quins did reclaim the lead thanks to two more penalties from fly-half Evans but they failed to score once in a final quarter in which Stanton stroked over three penalties to nick it for Leicester and consign their hosts to a second successive defeat.
Tigers coach Riachrd Cockerill is not concerned that Leicester are yet to score a try, commenting, "People remember how we finished last season but it is not about being in championship-winning form now. We have to grind out the wins or the bonus points. Not scoring tries in two games is not great for us but it is about getting results. Last year we won five games away from home all year and we have one under the belt now."
On Sunday, Newcastle had to settle for a second successive as two late Lee Thomas penalties earned Sale a 16-16 draw on a blustery day at Kingston Park.
Thomas held his nerve late on after the Sharks pack had finally exerted some authority over their hosts during a frenetic and scrappy encounter. The 25-year-old kicked three penalties and converted Mark Cueto's fantastic try, which he helped to create with a beautifully placed chip.
Fly-half Jimmy Gopperth kicked 11 points for the hosts, although he also missed two kickable penalties, while centre Rob Vickerman scored his first try for the Falcons after Sharks flanker Neil Briggs knocked the ball into his hands as he attempted to ground the ball behind his own try line.
Worcester brushed aside newly-promoted Leeds Carnegie 27-7 at Sixways on Friday night.
Leeds scored a classy first-half try through centre Jonny Hepworth but Worcester centre Alex Grove and wing Marcel Garvey claimed well-executed touchdowns, while Willie Walker's contribution of a drop-goal, four penalties and a conversion underpinned Warriors' victory charge.
Warriors could not initially make that control count in terms of tries though, and Leeds stung them by scoring from their first noteworthy attack. Some last-ditch defending by home scrum-half Ryan Powell could not prevent a scrum near the Worcester line, and quickfire first-phase possession resulted in Hepworth slicing through Warriors' midfield defence for a quality touchdown.
Thomas converted, but the lead lasted just four minutes, with Worcester prospering after a well-placed kick by Walker had the visitors back-pedalling. Slick passing then freed Grove, and the 21-year-old Worcester academy product powered over.
Two penalties and a 40-metre drop-goal during four virtuoso minutes put Leeds in deep trouble, yet Worcester had not finished with their third-quarter scoring blitz. The visitors could not release a stranglehold Walker had exerted, and Garvey effectively finished the game as a contest when he darted over from 30 metres out.
A yellow card for Grove stalled Worcester's momentum, yet another Walker penalty four minutes from time gave him a 17-point haul and wrapped up an emphatic home success.
"The loudest cheer at a rugby game, away from social media gimmicks, pumping music and pyrotechnics will always be for a try." Tom Hamilton on the Twickenham atmosphere
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column
The latest Monday Maul looks at the hectic final weekend, the Lions hangover, the superb Mike Brown and the 'selfie'
"At the crux of this England team is a lack of fear, they are not afraid to throw playbooks out of the window." Tom Hamilton reports from Twickenham