Guinness Premiership
Leicester cement top spot
April 4, 2010

Leicester strengthened their grip at the top of the Guinness Premiership table with a commanding 43-20 bonus point victory over Bath at Welford Road.

Alesana Tuilagi ran in the first try with just 26 seconds on the clock and Bath, given a rough time by the Tigers pack, looked a pale shadow of the team that had rattled off seven successive league wins. By the break they were 25-13 behind after conceding two more tries to Tuilagi and lock Geoff Parling. Second-half scores by Anthony Allen and a penalty try confirmed the Tigers' superiority. Bath could only muster a try in each half by wings Joe Maddock and Matt Banahan.

Leicester were gifted the best possible start when Shontayne Hape was robbed of the ball by Matt Smith and a quick pass gave Tuilagi a simple run-in from half-way. Fly-half Toby Flood converted from wide out on the left. Olly Barkley quickly pulled back three points with a penalty but it was all Leicester at this stage and Flood, after missing a 40-metre effort, restored the seven-point lead from short-range.

Bath were winning no popularity contests with referee Sean Davey and on 16 minutes he issued a warning to skipper Michael Claassens for repeated infringements. Flood's penalty set up a line-out on the Bath 22 and simple off-the-top ball stretched the visitors' defence before Tuilagi was left with a simple touchdown at the corner, although Flood failed to add the extras. Bath responded with a 23rd minute try through Maddock. Leicester spilled the ball and the Kiwi winger was quickest to reach the kick-ahead, eluding Lewis Moody to score under the posts. Barkley adding the conversion.

But having battled their way back into the game, the visitors' lost ex-Leicester lock Peter Short to the sin-bin for knocking the ball out of Ben Youngs' hands at the back of a ruck in the 34th minute. Flood made it 18-10 with the resulting kick but Barkley, one of the few cool heads in the Bath team, replied by knocking over a kick from near halfway.

The visitors would have been happy to go in just five points adrift considering the pressure they had been under, but they lost control of a scrum in their own 22 and Tom Croft's surge to the posts made space for a third try in injury time for Parling. Flood's conversion sent his team in at the break with a 25-13 lead. Bath reappeared without Barkley, replaced by Australian Matt Carraro, and Tigers took advantage within three minutes, sending Anthony Allen in at the corner for the bonus point try. Flood's conversion and a third penalty on 47 minutes established a 20-point lead and the Tigers took their foot off the pedal.

Bath fought back with a 54th minute Banahan try, courtesy of a neat flick pass by fly-half Butch James, who also added the conversion. Flood's fourth penalty roused the Tigers for a final effort as the Bath scrum buckled on their own line to concede a 75th minute penalty try. Flood's conversion took his personal tally to 18 points and rounded off a dominant display from the reigning champions.

Elsewhere, Northampton kept pace with the Tigers with a 14-7 win against Leeds Carnegie at Headingley. The Saints had an abundance of possession but did not seal victory until three minutes from the end with a try from the impressive Ben Foden. Battling Leeds secured a most valuable bonus point in their fight against relegation. The home side began strongly with Alfie To'oala bumping over Juandre Kruger with a storming run straight from the kick-off. Scrum-half Scott Mathie followed the movement on with a neat break but the Saints kept their line intact.

Leeds continued to have the better of the opening exchanges but it was the visitors who opened the scoring after five minutes with a penalty from Stephen Myler after Kearnan Myall was sin-binned for punching at a skirmish following a line-out. The Saints should have extended their lead minutes later but Myler made a hash of a simple drop-goal opportunity and then missed a routine penalty attempt.

Northampton dominated play in Myall's absence but they were unable to increase their advantage. The Saints were made to pay for not taking their chances as Leeds built up a period of pressure with To'oala at the heart of their efforts. They were rewarded after 27 minutes when prop Juan Gomez was driven over for the try from close range. Ceiron Thomas added the conversion. Back came Northampton as they dominated the remainder of the half. They adopted their usual free-flowing style of play but stern defence from Leeds ensured that the home side kept their 7-3 lead at the interval.

Leeds failed to collect the restart kick for the second half, allowing the Saints a position within the home 22 and when the home side were penalised Myler reduced the arrears after three minutes of the half. The Saints had problems on their line-out which prevented them from building up more pressure and Thomas had a chance to restore his side's advantage but his kick from halfway was nowhere near.

Northampton continued to dominate in terms of territory and possession but their finishing was not clinical enough. Foden produced a couple of magical trademark runs but once again the Saints lost possession. The visitors were then awarded a penalty 35 metres out but inexplicably Lee Dickson took a quick penalty and another chance was lost.

Eventually pressure had to be rewarded and Myler kicked the Saints back into the lead with 14 minutes to go. At long last the Saints finally got their just desserts with a try from Foden three minutes from time when Bruce Reihana fielded a Myler cross kick ahead. The wing kicked ahead and Foden collected to score. Myler failed to convert from the touchline to enable Leeds to retain their bonus point.

Gloucester kept their European hopes alive with a 29-28 victory over Saracens at Kingsholm. Teenage fullback Freddie Burns was the star of the show with 19 points courtesy of five penalties and two conversions but both sides contributed to a feast of attacking rugby that defied the wet conditions.

Saracens started at a real pace, and after fullback Alex Goode's corner try effort was ruled out by the video referee, fly-half Glen Jackson boomed over a 40-metre penalty to open the scoring. Burns levelled with a penalty and Gloucester took the lead with another Burns effort but Saracens countered on the half-hour mark with a sizzling try. The ball passed through a multitude of hands around the halfway line before it went wide where wing Chris Wyles just kept himself the right side of the touchline before sending centre Brad Barritt over under the posts.

That got Gloucester focused and they countered to regain the lead when centre Tim Molenaar blasted through the Saracens defence and nearly got over the line himself. When the ball was recycled, centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu sent a long pass out to wing Charlie Sharples to slip over in the corner. Burns sent over a touchline conversion before Jackson levelled the game at 13-13. Then, on half-time, the Gloucester fullback booted an outstanding penalty from the left touchline to give his side the lead.

After the break, Burns put a cross-kick to the right for Sharples to grab, get past scrum-half Neil de Kock and score in the corner. Burns converted to put the Cherry and Whites 10 points in front and place Saracens under real pressure. Yet a brilliant try, when Saracens created space on the right for skipper Ernst Joubert to put in Wyles, put the visitors back in the match. That was sandwiched by two penalties from the boot of Burns.

But a third Saracens penalty of the match, this time from replacement Derick Hougaard, put the visitors just eight points behind at 29-21. The match deserved a blistering climax and it got one as Goode grabbed a try five minutes from the end, Hougaard converted and Saracens were suddenly one point away from Gloucester. Hougaard had a 52-metre penalty to win the game but it went wide as the home players threw their hands in the air in delight at a breathtaking victory.

London Wasps powered into the top four with a 33-22 bonus point victory over London Irish at Adams Park on Sunday that saw them leapfrog the Exiles into the play-off places. Irish suffered a controversial penalty-try setback after only three minutes when Armitage hauled down David Lemi off the ball as he chased a grubber-kick up the left by Joe Simpson. The penalty try was subsequently awarded and Armitage was sent to the sin-bin.

Dave Walder converted the try and added two further penalties before Irish hit back when Seilala Mapusua bored over for a score, converted by Lamb. Irish should have scored again after a scorching counter-attack sparked by Mapusua, Delon Armitage and Elvis Seveali'i. But Steve Kefu knocked on as Hodgson tried to pass, so Debney sent him to the bin and awarded a penalty, kicked by Lamb. Back stormed Wasps with Tom Varndell latching onto a kick from Dominic Waldouck to score in the corner and another soon followed with Dan Ward-Smith getting on the end of a sweeping move.

Wasps turned the screw with replacement fly-half Danny Cipriani creating a try for Waldouck that secured the bonus point. Steffon Armitage was shunted over for his sixth try in five games midway through the second half and replacement prop James Tideswell came off the bench in the 70th minute and scored almost immediately. Cipriani calmed home nerves with a penalty three minutes from time after Peter Hewatt was penalised for a high tackle.

Fly-half Nick Evans steered Harlequins to a 23-14 victory over Newcastle at The Stoop that by scoring all his team's points with two tries, two conversions and three penalties. Days of rain in the lead up to the clash ensured a heavy pitch with errors littering the opening before Jimmy Gopperth opened the scoring for the visitors with a penalty aguer Tom Guest was penalised for diving into the side of a ruck. Quins rallied with a strong passage of play but Mike Brown could only pull his drop goal attempt wide of the posts. But within seconds, Quins were back on the front foot and when Newcastle killed the ball, Evans levelled the scores and Gopperth was sin-binned.

Stand-in kicker Charlie Amesbury hooked a penalty before Evans delivered a touch of class - snatching up a loose pass from Danny Care, before spinning clear of an incoming tackler from behind, side-stepping another and accelerating clear of the cover to score a beauty of a try between the posts before adding the conversion. Newcastle rallied and earned a penalty for offside four minutes from the break which Gopporth slotted.

A searing run by Amesbury set up Newcastle's next score when an exchange of passes with Alex Walker resulted in a fine try when Walker outpaced the covering defenders. Evans edged Quins back in front with a penalty after 50 minutes and another four minuts later after Newcastle pulled down a maul. Newcastle reduced the arrears on 62 minutes with another Gopperth penalty. And his score inspired Newcastle to up their tempo and it needed a fine tackle by Brown to stopped a dangerous break on the left by Tom Biggs.

Quins could have wrapped things up six minutes from time when Tom Williams found space wide on the right. But when delivered a long flat pass, Williams knocked it on. But two minutes later all was forgiven. Williams fielded a clearance and began an attack involving five players but was finished by the outstanding Evans who completed the scoring with the conversion.


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