It was an exhilarating weekend of rugby in the Gallagher Premiership, as relegation-embattled sides Newcastle Falcons and Bristol Bears both secured invaluable wins in the final minutes of their respective games.
Worcester Warriors didn’t give up too much ground, either, securing two bonus points at home to Exeter Chiefs, whilst Leicester Tigers will now be warily looking over their shoulder, having fallen to a 32-5 defeat to Sale Sharks.
We have rounded up the top 15 performers from a dramatic weekend of club rugby.
- Santiago Cordero, Exeter Chiefs
A tough call that could have easily gone to Simon Hammersley, but the Argentine, who picked up a brace of tries, just nabs it. Cordero got Exeter off to an electric start with his two first half tries and whilst he was consistently able to slalom his way through would-be Worcester tacklers, he was still aware enough of his support make the crucial passes beyond the gain-line, including one for Tom O’Flaherty’s second half try.
- Tom O’Flaherty, Exeter Chiefs
Bryce Heem and Denny Solomona were both close and certainly deserve due praise for their efforts. O’Flaherty was in fine form at Sixways and was justly rewarded with a second half try after having done so much of the hard work breaking the gain-line and chasing kicks in Exeter’s solid first half. He, Cordero and Olly Woodburn were on the same page throughout on Saturday afternoon and O’Flaherty’s development provides another intriguing option alongside the likes of Jack Nowell, Alex Cuthbert and, next season, Stuart Hogg.
- Piers O’Conor, Bristol Bears
O’Conor was influential in Bristol’s second half fightback against Northampton, setting up Harry Randall for his try and then going over for one of his own in the last minute of the contest, giving Ian Madigan the opportunity to win the game from the tee. His footwork saw him dance through the Northampton defence on multiple occasions and he continues to make strides with his defensive reads in the 13 channel.
Whilst Danny Cipriani draws understandable and deserved praise, Atkinson’s work outside the fly-half has been critical to Gloucester and the same was true on Sunday afternoon at the Stoop. He orchestrated thins well outside of Cipriani, mixing up his role as a carrier and a distributor, whilst he helped deny Quins the usual gains they are able to work through the midfield. The quickness of his hands on the gain-line was also impressive.
The Australian international was borderline unplayable at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday and it’s a match-up that his countryman Luke Morahan will be glad he doesn’t have to face every week. Saints may have ended up on the losing side but Naiyaravoro was a monstrous force with ball in hand, consistently beating his man through a combination of speed, power and footwork, and he showed surprising agility with an acrobatic finish for his try.
In a tightly-contested affair, Priestland kicked all 18 of Bath’s points in their crucial win over Saracens at the Rec. The Welshman helped his side execute a smart territorial and possession-based game plan and missed just one of his seven kicks at goal, showing that accuracy in that area can still be pivotal in winning club games.
- Sonatane Takulua, Newcastle Falcons
A pivotal performance in a crucial win for Falcons, who cut the deficit at the bottom of the table with their second win in as many weeks. The scrum-half was accurate with the boot from the tee, as well as being on hand as a support runner to keep alive Newcastle’s attacking opportunities. His ability with ball in hand kept the Wasps defence honest around the fringes, too, creating space for his teammates to exploit.
They don't come more important than that for @FalconsRugby ?
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) March 10, 2019
- Valery Morozov, Sale Sharks
The big Russian was a key component in an effective performance from Sale’s pack on Friday night. He put the pressure on young Leicester tighthead Joe Heyes and managed to pick up a try on a pick and a go close to the line. It was an impressive showing from a man still acclimatising to the Premiership and he could quickly become a fan favourite if he continues to turn in shifts like this one.
An ode to scrums ?
This goes out to all the front-rowers out there who feel undervalued ?
Sheer strength ? brute force ? perfect technique ????? and powerful leg-drive ??from the @SaleSharksRugby 8??
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) March 9, 2019
- George McGuigan, Newcastle Falcons
McGuigan ran an efficient Newcastle lineout at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday, something which helped give Falcons the platform for their win. He was busy in defence, helping repel periods of prolonged Wasps possession and he was an effective ball-handler close to the gain-line, linking play with fellow forwards and helping shift the point of contact.
- John Afoa, Bristol Bears
Bristol have been guilty at times this season of underperforming at the set-piece on the road, but nothing could have been further from the truth at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday. Afoa helped Bristol turn the screw on Northampton at the scrum and lineout, and the former was a source of multiple penalties against Saints, who finished the game with an eye-watering 20 infringements. Even at 35 years of age, Afoa is still getting it done at the fulcrum of the scrum.
- Franco Mostert, Gloucester
The South African continues to stand out in an impressive debut season in the competition. He brings a mix of power and speed, particularly defensively, that is rare to find in the second row. He was potent at stopping Quins’ forward carriers at the Stoop and wasn’t afraid to fan out from the contact area and have to make tackles in space. On the other side of the ball, he managed to make the hard yards with ball in hand that Quins just couldn’t match.
- Chris Vui, Bristol Bears
Vui ruled the skies in Northampton on Saturday, helping Bristol’s ball security at the lineout and gave them a foundation from which to attack. He made himself known in the loose, too, breaking the gain-line several times and getting his side moving forward, whilst he made multiple dominant one-on-one tackles in defence.
- Elliott Stooke, Bath
To beat Saracens, you often need to match their physicality and Stooke was a major component in Bath’s bid to do that on Friday night. The lock-turned-flanker punctured the Saracens defence with heavy duty carries close to the ruck and both he and Zach Mercer were able to have joy where the tight five were finding themselves stymied. With that front-foot ball, Bath were able to control possession, territory and ultimately the opportunities to kick at the posts that won them the game.
- Ben Curry, Sale Sharks
Another fine performance in the absence of his brother, who was on England duty, with Curry again showing his predatory ability at the contact area. He also carried and tackled strongly, but it was his work at the breakdown which shone through the most, complementing the duo of Jono Ross and Josh Beaumont alongside him in the back row.
- Nemani Nagusa, Newcastle Falcons
Nagusa was a first half replacement for the injured Will Welch and the Fijian certainly delivered impact. He burrowed over for a first half try, a big break with ball in hand set up Takulua’s try and it was his carry in the final minute of the game that brought Newcastle a penalty and the win. Put simply, good things happened for Falcons when this man got his hands on the ball.
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