A 31-17 loss at home on Friday night wasn’t quite enough to relegate Newcastle Falcons, thanks to fellow strugglers Leicester Tigers also tasting defeat, but with just two games left and the side from the north-east nine points adrift, it looks as though the writing is on the wall.
Harlequins were unfortunate not to see off Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park in a hard-fought 17-15 loss, whilst Bristol Bears’ downing of Tigers keeps Pat Lam’s side in the hunt for Heineken Championship Cup rugby next season. Meanwhile, Worcester Warriors‘ 27-20 win over Gloucester delivered Premiership survival for Alan Solomon’s side, and Gloucester’s losing bonus point secured them a spot in the playoffs.
We have rounded up the top performers from a busy weekend of club rugby below.
- Mike Brown, Harlequins
Brown was excellent against Exeter on Saturday, not only diffusing bombs and controlling things from the back, but also launching incisive counter-attacks and raking kicks for touch that allowed Quins to dictate the game territorially. He was unlucky to be on the losing side at Sandy Park.
A nod here to Marcus Watson, who was in threatening form for Wasps in their home loss to Saracens, but Collins’ hat-trick at Kingston Park was a masterclass in finishing and support play. He went looking for work off of his wing and often had joy tracking play in the midfield or on the other side of the pitch.
- Piers O’Conor, Bristol Bears
O’Conor has made the most of injuries in the Bristol back line this season and has taken the opportunity they have prevented with both hands. His ability to break the line, keep his head on a swivel and find teammates once he was in behind the defensive line on Saturday are a fair reflection of what he has brought to the Bristol team throughout the season. He made some nice defensive reads, too, that were critical in the tight game at Welford Road.
Saracens will always miss Brad Barritt when he’s not available, but Tompkins did a very good job on Saturday of providing value in the 12 jersey, albeit in a rather different way to the 32-year-old. Alongside Owen Farrell and Alex Lozowski, Tompkins played his part in a more fluid and pacey Saracens back line, where he was still able to straighten the line in attack, as well as holding up well in his side’s aggressive defence.
- Taqele Naiyravoro, Northampton Saints
As with Collins, Naiyaravoro tormented Newcastle on Friday night and where his wing partner was on hand with speed and support play, the Australian was using his physicality and offloading to bust holes in the defence and then keep the phases alive to stretch his opponents. Falcons just had no answer for the contrasting threats of Naiyaravoro and Collins.
- Duncan Weir, Worcester Warriors
It wasn’t a flawless performance from Weir, who missed touch and kicked out on the full on occasion with his tactical kicking, but his playmaking with the ball in hand was superb on Sunday. His tackling and carrying was also very robust and he contributed 17 of Worcester’s 27 points at Sixways.
- Cobus Reinach, Northampton Saints
Yet another classy and incisive performance from Reinach, who had to be at his best to see off the challenge of his opposite number on Friday night, Sonatane Takulua, not to mention noteworthy efforts from Francois Hougaard and Ben Spencer. Takulua, in particular, was excellent at Kingston Park, but Reinach just managed to facilitate a few more scoring opportunities for his side with his darting carries, support-running and link play beyond the gain-line.
- Joe Marler, Harlequins
Marler tore into Harry Williams at Sandy Park on Saturday, in a performance that will have Eddie Jones likely hoping that the loosehead decides to make a u-turn on his early international retirement. The Quins scrum was on top from the word go and it consistently provided a platform not only for the Londoners to attack off of, but also to generate penalties and control the territorial battle.
- Harry Thacker, Bristol Bears
The Bristol lineout went well on Thacker’s return to Welford Road, whilst his influence in the loose was typically significant. There is no hooker in the country playing with the freedom and ambition in the loose that Thacker currently is and, critically, he keeps composedly executing. His performance on Saturday will have been a painful reminder to Tigers as to what could have been.
- Kyle Sinckler, Harlequins
Just like Marler, Sinckler was part of a dominant scrum in the south-west, with struggles like this few and far between for Ben Moon this season. If Jones and England were concerned at all by the challenges Williams faced in this game, they will have been buoyed by the set-piece destruction that Sinckler helped wrought.
- Will Skelton, Saracens
Michael Cheika must be looking on at Skelton’s performances this season with envious eyes. The slimmed-down lock was once again a dynamic force with the ball in hand on Saturday, powering his way through the Wasps defensive line at the Ricoh. It was another example of his improved conditioning, with the 26-year-old influential right up until his second half substitution.
One silver lining to Bath’s forgettable night in the north-west was Ewels’ showing, with the lock showing the carrying ability and lineout nous that saw him explode onto the scene a few seasons ago. His energy in defence was also impressive and belied the size of the man, as he repeatedly shot up from rucks and prepared himself to repel the next carrier.
- Dave Ewers, Exeter Chiefs
Mentions here for Jamie Gibson and Brad Shields, both of whom were impressive in their respective games. That said, Ewers was one of, if not the decisive difference in Exeter’s 17-15 win over Quins. The side from south-west London looked, for large swathes of the game at Sandy Park, the better side and the more likely to make something happen, but in the clutch defensive and pressure-reliving moments, Ewers and his physicality were consistently on hand to save the day.
It was a game that not even the purists would have enjoyed up at the AJ Bell on Friday evening, but that didn’t detract from a match-winning level performance from Curry. The England international was a thorn in Bath’s side at the breakdown and won multiple crucial turnovers when the side from the south-west were looking to exert pressure in the Sale half.
- Sione Kalamafoni, Leicester Tigers
The result is not what Kalamafoni would have wanted on his return from a three-match ban, but the effort he put out on the pitch had all the hallmarks of a man seeking immediate redemption. He carried powerfully and effectively throughout the contest and was seemingly always on hand in the defensive line to make a momentum-switching tackle or at least deny Bristol clean and quick front-foot ball.
Watch: Jordi Murphy sits down with RugbyPass to discuss his move north
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