Round 19 of the Gallagher Premiership got underway in exhilarating fashion on Friday night, as relegation-embattled Leicester Tigers made their future prospects look a lot brighter with a 27-22 victory over bottom-placed Newcastle Falcons.
Worcester Warriors rubbed salt into Newcastle’s wounds, too, by picking up a bonus point win at home to Sale Sharks, leaving the side from the north-east seven points adrift with three games left to play. Bristol Bears took a big step towards securing their Premiership future also, beating Saracens, 23-21, at Ashton Gate.
We have compiled a XV of the top performers from a high-stakes weekend of Premiership rugby.
A classy and polished performance from Banahan, who was playing out of position due to the injury crisis currently going on in the Gloucester back line. He took care of his own responsibilities efficiently and was also on hand to aid two relatively inexperienced wings in the forms of Tom Seabrook and Henry Purdy. He just sees off Simon Hammersley, who was also impressive on Friday night.
- Vereniki Goneva, Newcastle Falcons
The Fijian wing got through a mountain of work on Friday evening, frequently popping up in midfield and as a one-out runner. He always had a step or a fend in his locker to help him beat the first defender and get Newcastle moving forward. The one time he got the space to make a big break, he ripped through the Leicester defence, before setting up Sonatane Takulua for a try.
- Elliot Daly, Wasps
The outside centre gave the Wasps faithful something to cheer in one of his last performances in the black and gold at Sandy Park. He was a dual-threat any time he managed to find space, capable of unleashing the wings outside of him or stepping inside or outside and breezing passed would-be tacklers. Those fans will be hoping Malakai Fekitoa can emulate performances such as this one from Daly.”
- Mark Atkinson, Gloucester
Not quite the fireworks of last week, when Atkinson collected a hat-trick, but the inside centre was a fine facilitator for Gloucester in their comeback at Kingsholm. His carries frequently drew and tied up multiple defenders, which allowed Danny Cipriani to loop around and turn the corner in the subsequent phase. He stepped in comfortably further out in the back line when Billy Twelvetrees moved inside, too.
- Josh Adams, Worcester Warriors
The Cardiff-bound Welshman did everything he could to ensure that Worcester again enjoy Premiership rugby next season by bagging a hat-trick at Sixways on Saturday afternoon. He was the lethal end product to a well-functioning back line for the Warriors and his three second half scores allowed Worcester to pull away from Sale and secure an emphatic bonus point victory.
- Danny Cipriani, Gloucester
Compelling cases were put forth by George Ford and Marcus Smith, but it was the Cipriani-orchestrated comeback at Kingsholm that won the day. The fly-half celebrated his recent contract extension with a showing that should now guarantee Gloucester playoff rugby at the end of the season and it was his ability to find, create and utilise space that allowed Gloucester to overturn a 17-0 deficit.
- Sonatane Takulua, Newcastle Falcons
A fine effort in defeat from Takulua, who was the heartbeat of Falcons in an intense and high-tempo affair with Leicester on Friday evening. The scrum-half was lively around the fringes and as a support-runner, as demonstrated by the try he finished off from a Goneva break. He kicked well at goal, too, and contributed a total of 17 of Newcastle’s 22 points, ensuring that they at least took a losing bonus point into the final three games of the season.
The South African compounded a tough couple of weeks for Kyle Sinckler by turning in a strong scrummaging performance at the Stoop. His carrying was also effective and he found some soft edges in Harlequins’ fringe defence, as the Londoners put a premium on their line-speed further out, in an attempt to cut off the space for Saints out wide.
- Harry Thacker, Bristol Bears
The Bristol lineout ran smoothly with Thacker pulling the strings and the diminutive hooker tormented the Saracens defence with his power in the contact and his eye for a gap. His carries kept Bristol moving forward, building tempo and momentum, and allowed Bristol to leave Ashton Gate with a priceless four points that, probably, erases any concerns about relegation. A yellow card tarnished the performance slightly, but it did not prove costly for the side from the West Country.
- Rodney Ah You, Newcastle Falcons
A couple of early errors aside, Ah You had a storming game on Friday night. His back and forth battle with Ellis Genge was as compelling as the match in general, and the physicality of his carries and tackles were key for Falcons. He was consistently able to get Newcastle over the gain-line in attack and repeatedly made momentum-shifting tackles in defence, leaving him unlucky to be on the losing side.
- Will Spencer, Leicester Tigers
Spencer brought plenty of physical edge to the encounter in the north-east, something which has been noticeably missing from Leicester’s game for much of this season. The lock was pivotal to Tigers winning those arm wrestles in the tight exchanges, and with Newcastle controlling both possession and territory, that was key to allowing Tigers to produce clutch turnovers and escape Kingston Park with the win.
- Franco Mostert, Gloucester
It wasn’t quite the offensive performance we all know Mostert is capable of, but his work in defence and at the set-piece was excellent at Kingsholm and allowed the Cherry and Whites to turn the tables on Bath, who were rampant early. His physicality close to the ruck denied Bath the front-foot ball they were excelling with early in the game and he helped make the set-piece a reliable foundation for Gloucester to launch their attacking play from in the second half.
- Jamie Gibson, Northampton Saints
Gibson carried well for Saints at the Stoop, providing them with quick ball to run on to and negate the line-speed that a set Harlequins defence can bring. In conjunction with Teimana Harrison, Gibson helped Northampton shade the physical battle up front against the likes of Alex Dombrandt and Chris Robshaw.
- Sam Lewis, Worcester Warriors
A strong performance across the board from Lewis, who was busy throughout at Sixways. His influence was felt as a ball-carrier, in the defensive line and as a breakdown operator, both clearing out and slowing down Sale’s ball. He was at the heart of many of Worcester’s best attacking moments, laying the foundations for the back line to shine.
- Guy Thompson, Leicester Tigers
Two tries in the second half from Thompson proved critical to Leicester picking up four points at Kingston Park and could potentially be decisive in their battle against relegation. Away from the try line, Thompson was also ruthlessly efficient for Tigers, spoiling Newcastle’s ball at the breakdown, tackling manfully and constantly bringing energy to Leicester in attack and defence. Wasps’ Nathan Hughes deserves a mention for his excellent showing against Exeter, but Thompson’s showing could save his club from relegation, just tipping the scales his way.
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