The final round of the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership regular season is in the books and what a round of rugby it was.
Northampton Saints’ playoff destiny was in their own hands going into the weekend and they kept pace with Exeter Chiefs for 50 minutes of their contest, before the table-toppers moved through the gears and the door was left ajar for Harlequins. The Londoners, however, were denied fourth spot by the cruellest of margins, missing a long-range penalty in the final minute, three points that would have seen them beat Wasps and sneak into fourth.
Elsewhere, Bath secured a last-minute win against Leicester Tigers, a result which confirmed their place in the Heineken Champions Cup next season and Newcastle Falcons were left with little to celebrate, as they fell to defeat at home at the hands of Bristol Bears, in their last game before spending a season in the Greene King IPA Championship.
Check out our last XV of the week for the 2018/19 season below.
- Charles Piutau, Bristol Bears
Willie le Roux and Mike Brown both had good games at the Ricoh Arena and Matt Gallagher shone, but it was the Charles Piutau show in the north-east, as the former All Black carved his way through the Newcastle defence. It was an incisive attacking performance that will have Bristol fans extremely optimistic about what he can bring to the side next season, if he can stay fit.
- Marcus Watson, Wasps
In a week in which left wings dominated, Watson was lively and reinforced to Wasps that he can be the man to pick up the slack in Christian Wade’s absence next season. He was on the same page as le Roux and Elliot Daly and his turn of pace was more than enough to separate him from defenders throughout a strong 60-minute showing from the home side.
- Piers O’Conor, Bristol Bears
The outside centre kept Newcastle quiet in the first half with good mobility and reading of the game in defence, before going on to impose himself offensively on the game in the second. He ran the ball well at Newcastle, finding holes in their defence on multiple occasions, as well as linking well with wide men Alapati Leiua and Luke Daniels.
- Johnny Williams, Newcastle Falcons
A word for the duo of Nick Tompkins and Matt Banahan, but Williams added the direct carrying and ability to get over the gain-line that Newcastle have missed at times this season when he was absent through injury. He grabbed a well-deserved consolation try in the dying minutes and Falcons will be hoping that they can keep hold of him in the Greene King IPA Championship next season.
McGuigan had a number of forays through the Gloucester defence and his combination of power and footwork made him difficult for the Cherry and Whites to keep under wraps. His second half try was reward for the endeavour and ambition he brought in the first half, helping set Sale up with good field position.
- Manu Vunipola, Saracens
The 19-year-old flourished in his first Premiership start, directing Saracens around the pitch and looking comfortable playing late on the gain-line in attack. He showed up well on defence, too, helping hold ball-carriers up and create mauls, as well as reading play well and shooting up in defence and making good one-on-one tackles.
- Faf de Klerk, Sale Sharks
No shortage of contenders, here, with Joe Simpson, Tom Whiteley and Cobus Reinach among the impressive performers. Even when Sale were under pressure, though, de Klerk was stepping up with vital offensive moments. The tempo he brought added to what was an enthralling contest at the AJ Bell and was the most effective weapon Sale had against a Gloucester side which performed well above expectation.
- Ben Moon, Exeter Chiefs
Moon anchored the Exeter scrum superbly, as his side exerted pressure on Northampton at the set-piece. He was a late call-up to the XV after injury to Alec Hepburn and Rob Baxter can’t have asked for much more from the England international, who was also busy in the loose, frequently clearing out with power and precision.
- Harry Thacker, Bristol Bears
Yet another industrious and efficient performance from the Bristol hooker, who has set the standards in the Premiership this season. His lineout throwing allowed Bristol to control possession and territory in the first half, before he cut loose as a threat with the ball in hand in the second half. His size might work against him in the international rugby conversation, but his form in the club game has been exemplary this season.
- Dan Cole, Leicester Tigers
An outing that will continue to ask questions about who should be backing up Kyle Sinckler for England, with Cole turning in a 76-minute shift that exemplified his energy and work rate throughout. He scrummaged well against Beno Obano and helped deliver quick and secure ball for Leicester at the breakdown.
- Nick Isiekwe, Saracens
A tireless performance from the second row, who was one of the heroes of St James’ Park for Saracens a week previous. Even at just 21 years of age, he was one of the leaders in a young and heavily rotated side and he led by example in defence. His mobility without the ball, both bringing line-speed and scrambling in broken field situations, belied that of a man who had likely spent much of the last week celebrating a European title.
- Charlie Ewels, Bath
There were plenty of similarities between Ewels’ performance and that of Isiekwe, the man that has seemingly taken on the mantle Ewels once had of being the next great hope in the English engine room. He was particularly potent close to the breakdown, as he offered a physical carrying option when Bath’s ball had been slowed down, whilst he was also effective preventing Leicester from making any sniping runs or decent gains with one-out runners and the pick and go.
The youngster saw off the challenge of Semi Kunatani, who had one of his better displays in a Quins shirt to date, with a physical display on both sides of the ball. He was a carrying presence that Saracens struggled to deal with at Sixways, but there was an element of subtlety to his game, too, with the flanker linking play well when required.
The openside was a constant source of gain-line success against Sale at the AJ Bell and thrived alongside Jake Polledri and Gareth Evans in an excellent performance from the entire back row unit. Ludlow kept phases alive and stretched the Sale defence, as Gloucester’s heavily rotated side gave Sale all they could handle in the north-west.
- Nathan Hughes, Wasps
An effervescent first half from the number eight, who rampaged his way through the Quins defence and repeatedly picked up the ball in space, running sharp lines back against the grain and catching tacklers unaware. He had a quieter second half, but his strong first 50 minutes allowed for Wasps to establish a lead that Quins were not quite able to reel back in.
Watch: Interview with Raelene Castle in the aftermath of the Israel Folau sacking
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