The penultimate round of the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership season was one to forget for Newcastle Falcons who, despite putting up a gutsy effort at Kingsholm, had their relegation to the Greene King IPA Championship confirmed.
With just one more round of the regular season to go, we’ve rounded up the top performers from a busy weekend of Premiership rugby.
Another timely flash of what Piutau can bring to Bristol if he can stay fit next season. The former All Black was a consistent threat anytime that Bristol were able to generate quick width on the ball and his decision-making with the ball in his hand was excellent. He was on hand to score in the first half, before creating Alapati Leiua’s five-pointer after the interval. Anthony Watson was also lively, as he continues his comeback from a lengthy injury.
Like Piutau, Solomona was also a potent threat at Ashton Gate on Friday evening. His pace and power brought him plenty of gains down the right wing and his footwork was typically effective. The battle between he and Leiua was worth the admission fee alone. A mention, too, for the late impact and clinical finishing of Joe Cokanasiga, who’s second half score put Bath in pole position for a Heineken Champions Cup qualifying spot.
Morris didn’t even start the game at Allianz Park, but it’s a mark of the impact he had that he features here. His reading of the game in defence was excellent and resulted in a try, whilst his stepping in the midfield left plenty of Exeter defenders clutching at thin air. He grabbed two tries and tormented the opposition in a Premiership debut to remember.
A close call, with Ben Te’o and Johnny Williams also having very good games. Lovobalavu just has the edge, however, with the Fijian repeatedly punching holes in the Bath defence and offering an efficient and composed passing and offloading option beyond the gain-line. He set up first half tries for Nizaam Carr and Nathan Hughes and was unlucky not to have a hat-trick of assists when his pass to Josh Bassett was adjudged to be forward.
- Taqele Naiyaravoro, Northampton Saints
Honourable mentions are due for Alex Lewington and Matt Banahan here, but Naiyaravoro’s rampaging runs were just too hard to ignore. Just as he did a week ago, the Australian was once again the spearhead for a high-tempo, sharp Northampton performance. When Saints get him involved early and positively into their game, he seems to shine and he came off the Franklin’s Gardens pitch on Saturday with a brace of tries.
- Max Malins, Saracens
The case to increase Malins’ playing time gained even more traction on Saturday, as he orchestrated a dismantling of Exeter Chiefs at Allianz Park. With Owen Farrell and Alex Goode rested for the Heineken Champions Cup final, Malins took on duties at fly-half and exposed Exeter as a carrier, a distributor and a mix of the two as he repeatedly broke the gain-line and unleashed his teammates at the second level of the defence.
- Danny Care, Harlequins
Care was at his sharpest as he helped Quins heap further misery on Tigers at the Stoop, although he was run all the way by a livewire performance from Faf de Klerk. Care’s snipes around the fringes, refined kicking game and swift and accurate service from the base and at the ruck all helped facilitate an incisive Quins win.
- Joe Marler, Harlequins
Marler turning in brutally-efficient performances has become the norm this season, as he and Quins have thrived from his absence from the England team. His tussle with former international teammate Dan Cole was one to savour at the Stoop and one that Marler came out on top in. He and Matt Symons had the left-hand of the Quins scrum on top for much of the game on Friday night.
- Harry Thacker, Bristol Bears
Speaking of consistency in the front row, Thacker delivered again for Bristol, running a smooth lineout and picking up a lot of the ball-carrying slack. Sale did a relatively good job of keeping him from any big breaks, but he was consistently able to evade or break the first tackle and bite off chunks of five or six metres, prompting the Sale defensive line to then have to retreat.
- Kyle Sinckler, Harlequins
Sinckler had a few issues early with Ellis Genge, before asserting his dominance as the game went on. He brought plenty in the loose, too, as he kept Quins moving forward and running onto the ball, something which Care and Marcus Smith profited from.
- Will Skelton, Saracens
If there were one European-based player Michael Cheika would love to have later this year, it could well be Skelton. The lock was a dominant carrier and consistently denied Exeter front-foot ball with colossal tackles on the gain-line. He did pick up a yellow card for a tackle on Phil Dollman in the air, but it didn’t prove pivotal, with Saracens in control of the game throughout.
Another tireless performance from the South African second row who is showing no signs of fatigue, despite a short offseason following his Super Rugby and international commitments. Every time Newcastle carried within 10m of the breakdown, Mostert seemed to be there, ready to repel them on the gain-line. He and Ed Slater’s complementary skill sets again helped Gloucester to a valuable win, as they build momentum ahead of the playoffs.
- Ruan Ackermann, Gloucester
Just as with Mostert, Ackermann’s work rate and endurance at Kingsholm was a sight to behold. Defensively he was every bit as industrious as the lock, whilst he also stepped up as one of Gloucester’s primary carrying options. His ability to break the first tackle and draw in defenders was one of the most impressive aspects of his side’s win over Newcastle.
- Ben Curry, Sale Sharks
A small victory for Ben in his battle with twin brother Tom, as he makes this XV at the expense of the England international. Tom had a good game, too, but Ben was able to have a slightly more dynamic influence on proceedings, repeatedly able to take advantage of holes in the Bristol defensive line, most notably when he sprung de Klerk for the South African’s second half try.
- Zach Mercer, Bath
It was an almighty duel between Mercer and Nathan Hughes at the Rec, not to mention Ben Morgan and Ben Earl both coming close with excellent displays of their own. The Bath man was as lively in attack as he has looked this season, running incisive lines and using his power and footwork to consistently put defenders in difficult positions to tackle him. His two tries in the second half not only secured a win for Bath, they also brought a winning bonus point, something which could see Bath secure European qualification.
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