Newcastle Falcons stole the headlines in Round 15 of the Gallagher Premiership, as they beat Worcester Warriors in a must-win relegation battle at Kingston Park. That win pulls them closer to Worcester, with a deficit now of just five points.
Elsewhere, Bristol Bears did their chances of avoiding relegation a world of good by beating playoff-chasing Gloucester, 28-24, at Ashton Gate, whilst Harlequins entrenched themselves into third with a dramatic 31-29 victory over Bath at the Rec.
We have rounded up the top 15 performers from a pulsating weekend of rugby below.
Charles Piutau and Max Malins were close, but Cordero just edges ahead of them in a typically incisive performance from the full-back. An excellent inside offload created Ollie Devoto’s early score and a clever basketball pass over the top did the same for Sean Lonsdale late in the game. His positioning in the back field was also strong and there was little space for Sale to exploit with their kicking options.
Exquisite from @ExeterChiefs yesterday, will they finish on top this season?
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) March 3, 2019
The wing was in lethal form against Leicester on Saturday, picking up a brace with two displays of raw speed and refined footwork. His second try was scored from deep within in his own half, as he ran a kick back by slaloming through the Leicester defence and twice stepping off his left foot to leave defenders grasping at thin air. His threat on the outside also seemed to bring the best out of Willie le Roux in the South African’s playmaker role, too.
- Joe Marchant, Harlequins
Marchant was electric on Saturday, grabbing two tries and setting up Alex Dombrandt for the back rower’s score. The first try was a showcase of his speed, whilst the second demonstrated his deceptive power in the contact, but both were marks of his rugby intelligence and ability to read the game and be exactly where he needed to be.
A mention, too, for Nick Tompkins. The Saracen was in similarly devastating form, but only one player can make the XV and Marchant just gets the edge with the 19 points he directly scored or created proving decisive in a two-point win for Quins.
A third appearance in as many weeks for Hutchinson, who helped spark a mini-comeback for Saints at Allianz Park. He moved inside to 12 after starring at 13 in recent weeks, as well as taking on goal-kicking duties when James Grayson pulled up in the pre-match warm-up. He continues to distribute very effectively on the gain-line, but also behind it, when the opportunities to move the ball wide with tempo show themselves.
- Ollie Thorley, Gloucester
A valiant effort in defeat from Thorley, who was a constant threat for Gloucester against Bristol. His try epitomised his work rate, with the wing pouncing on a loose ball, whilst his ability to make defenders miss saw him help Gloucester turn deeps kick into their half into positive gains and territorial advantages. He shaded it on overall impact from Sean Maitland, but the Scotland international deserves praise for his two tries.
The fly-half accounted for all 19 of Leicester’s points in their win over Wasps, one which critically gives them some fresh breathing room from the relegation battle. Ford was accurate from the tee, kicking 14 of the 19 points at an accuracy rate of 100%, whilst he showed good awareness and footwork to step back inside the rushing defence and cross the whitewash for Tigers’ sole try of the game.
This was close to a coin toss with Toby Flood, who was similarly pivotal in Newcastle’s much-needed win over Worcester.
- Andy Uren, Bristol Bears
Uren was in lively form at Ashton Gate, finding gaps in the Gloucester defence and pushing the tempo that Bristol love to play at. His second half try helped establish a lead that Gloucester had their work cut out reeling in and his work with ball in hand as a carrier helped negate the Cherry and White’s impressive line-speed.
- Facundo Gigena, Leicester Tigers
A second strong scrummaging display from Gigena in as many weeks and if he can start to add more to his game in the loose, he could begin to cause Premiership directors of rugby plenty of sleepless nights. He went very well against Will Stuart at the set-piece and was solid securing Leicester ball at the contact area. In a low-scoring and tight affair like the one at Welford Road on Saturday, his influence was strongly felt.
The 24-year-old has found a second wave to his professional career at Saracens and was flawless with his set-piece work at Allianz Park on Saturday. That set-piece work gave his side a solid foundation to build upon, whilst he also stepped up as a carrying option close to the ruck, tying in defenders and creating space for Saracens in subsequent phases.
- Greg Holmes, Exeter Chiefs
The veteran Australian filled in admirably for Harry Williams and Tomas Francis, with the pair missing due to international obligations. Holmes spearheaded a strong Exeter scrum in the north-west, as he, Jack Yeandle and Alec Hepburn exerted pressure on the Sale unit. As with Gigena, in a hard-fought, close-scoring game like this one, it was a decisive factor in deciding the contest.
- Will Skelton, Saracens
Back-to-back Aussies here, with Skelton bringing his power game to the fore on Saturday afternoon. Northampton struggled to contain him as a ball-carrier, with the lock frequently able to get two or three metres per carry and allow Saracens to run forward onto the ball. He continues to show the impressive conditioning that was once considered the weakness of his game.
- Chris Vui, Bristol Bears
Nick Isiekwe’s ability to target the Northampton lineout was a big part of Saracens’ success, but it’s impossible to leave out Vui, who emptied the tank for Bristol on Friday night. The Samoa captain was excellent at Ashton Gate, repeatedly repelling Gloucester attacks as his side ceded significant possession advantages to the Cherry and Whites. His efficiency and power in the tackle was exemplary and his handling was also on show, helping Bristol move the ball and attempt to turn the corner against the Gloucester defence.
Nods here for Steven Luatua and Ashley Johnson, who were effective in their respective games. That said, the work rate of Ross was exceptional on Saturday and is backed up by his 35 combined tackles and carries at the AJ Bell Stadium. To put some context on that, he was making the hard yards around the contact area, as well as stopping ball-carriers dead with his tackling. Combined with another healthy display at the breakdown, it makes this one of the more impressive ‘gritty’ performances of the season.
- Dan Thomas, Bristol Bears
The openside flanker showed his class against Gloucester, grabbing an early try, as well as going on to have a decisive influence as a tackler and jackal. He was busy in attack, too, working as a carrier and a link man, before injury forced him from the field late in the second half. It was a performance that should have him mixing it with George Smith and Jack Lam for the remainder of the season.
How about that offload from @StevenLuatua though? ?
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) March 2, 2019
- Alex Dombrandt, Harlequins
An excellent showing from Dombrandt, who not only dominated the gain-line in both attack and defence as he usually does, but also demonstrated a more incisive edge to his game. He pounced on a Bath turnover and kicked through for Marchant’s first try of the game, whilst he was later the lead man in support of another Marchant break and was on hand to take the inside ball and grab a try of his own.
Watch: The Rugby Pod discuss England’s performance in Wales in the Guinness Six Nations
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