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The GP Match Report Thread



A new idea I've had, all the GP match reports get copied from BBC or Sky Sports and put up here.


Wasps walloped by the Warriors

Worcester Warriors 37 - 8 London Wasps


Wasps were brought crashing down to earth after their Powergen Cup win against Leicester, as Worcester Warriors hammered them 37-8 at Sixways.

Aisea Havili and Phil Murphy added to a first half penalty try to position the Warriors firmly in the driving seat, before replacement Thinus Delport delighted the home support late on with a fourth try to claim the bonus point.

The champions could only muster a solitary score from Tom Rees in response, as they were comprehensively taken apart by their less illustrious opponents.

Despite their second-in-the-table status, Wasps have failed to win a Premiership match away from home in 2006, and on this showing it is easy to see why.

The hosts were ahead inside five minutes, rocking Ian McGeechan's men onto their haunches with some powerful forward pressure, forcing a penalty for the deadly accurate Shane Drahm to slot over.

Worcester's fly half would go on to register 17 points in the contest, but his kicking was merely a sideshow to the attacking exploits of his teammates.

Havili was the first to cross Wasps' whitewash, linking splendidly with Andy Gomarsall and Mark Tucker to leave the visitors' defence trailing as he touched down for a converted 10-0 lead.

Wasps had clearly been more severely hindered by the international call-ups, but they still boasted a top-class backline including the likes of Stuart Abbott, Mark van Gisbergen and Paul Sackey.

However, all the good work was coming from Worcester, who added a further six points through the boot of Drahm.

Rees briefly restored some hope for Wasps with a typically opportunist score, but a penalty try just before the break put the Warriors firmly in the ascendancy.

The pack's effort was reaping rewards for John Brain's men, and after securing a collective triumph for the penalty try, they applied the squeeze once again, allowing Murphy to bundle over.

The champions were toiling and they had Joe Ward and Sackey sent to the bin - the latter for a high tackle on Havili.

All that was left for Worcester was the acquisition of a deserved bonus point, and it was Delport who provided it three minutes from time, racing onto Drahm's well-timed pass to go over for a 37-8 triumph.

Surviving Sarries stun Sharks

Sale Sharks 9 - 15 Saracens


Saracens gave their Premiership survival hopes a massive injection by beating league leaders Sale Sharks 15-9 at Edgeley Park.

On a night that saw relegation rivals Leeds Tykes slump to a last-minute defeat, Sarries managed to resist the Sharks' efforts to pull off one of the shocks of the season.

Tries from Ben Johnston and Glen Jackson did the damage against a Sale side who flattered to deceive, managing just three penalties in a poor performance.

Victory moves Saracens seven points clear of the drop, and provides them with a massive boost ahead of their forthcoming clash with the Tykes.

It was a first win in nine attempts for the Londoners, who had slipped alarmingly towards the bottom of the Premiership, and they simultaneously ended the unbeaten run of their high-flying counterparts.

Saracens displayed a clear intention to make the contest scrappy from the outset, curtailing the Sharks' attacks by keeping the ball tight in the middle of the park.

Valentin Courrent provided the little threat that did come from the hosts, who were certainly the team trying to force the issue early on.

However, it was the visitors who found themselves in front at the end of the first quarter, after Johnston exploded onto a clever pass to break the Sale rearguard, with Jackson converting for 7-0.

The try will have pleased the onlooking Eddie Jones, who has been brought in to aid Sarries' fight for survival.

Sale had the look of a team who were missing their best players, producing some uncharacteristically disjointed rugby.

The typically lively Jason Robinson raised the crowd's pulses in brief flurries, but the Sharks could manage no more than a Courrent penalty.

Two more followed before the break as Philippe Saint-Andre's men appeared to be edging towards yet another victory.

However, the Saracens defence was showing a resolve that it has not displayed over recent weeks, and after resisting an early onslaught after the interval, Jackson accepted Kyran Bracken's invitation to burst pass Sililo Martens for a second try.

Belief began to surge into Sarries' veins, and a Jackson penalty only added to their momentum as Sale struggled to impact on their defence.

The match appeared to be grinding to a finish, before Cobus Visagie caused some late drama when he saw yellow, but the 14 men of Saracens held out for a crucial win.

Tigers edge ***anic struggle

Leicester Tigers 26 - 23 Leeds Tykes


Will Skinner grabbed a last-gasp try to rescue Leicester Tigers and break Leeds Tykes' hearts in a dramatic 26-23 victory at Welford Road.

Leicester have never lost a Premiership match at home to the Tykes, but that run looked set to end when Tom Biggs added to Justin Marshall's try to complete a marvellous comeback for the visitors.

However, the Tigers' pack drew breath for one more desperate drive towards the line, and Skinner crashed over for a barely deserved bonus-point triumph in their quest for a top four spot.

Leeds went into the contest as the form team, having taken seven more points than their opponents over the international period.
However, a lack of experience - summed up by the inclusion of Rotherham signing Lee Blackett, and a deficiency in strength always threatened to be their undoing, and so it ultimately proved.

Pat Howard's big decision ahead of the contest centred upon the selection of Austin Healey over Ross Broadfoot at fly half, and the England man got off to a nervy start, failing to find touch as Leeds grasped the early initiative.

The resulting attack led to an offside call against the impatient Alesana Tuilagi, and De Marigny gleefully accepted the offer of three points.

Nerves continued to affect Leicester's number 10 in the opening stages, and he committed the cardinal sin of missing touch from a penalty.

However, the rest of his teammates had not started so sloppily, and after building several phases inside the Tykes' 22, a powerful drive saw James Buckland sneak over for 7-3 inside the first 10 minutes.

Healey began to enjoy his spectator role behind the enormous Leicester pack, which once again drove its counterparts back up to halfway, allowing the dangerous Dan Hipkiss to attack the line at pace as the hosts exerted their authority in a dominant first half display.

Howard's men lacked a clinical edge in their Powergen Cup defeat to Wasps a week ago, but they rectified that problem against the Tykes, claiming a second score from Leeds possession.

Ben Kay was the man to steal the ball at the line-out, and Hipkiss quickly fed Sam Vesty whose run to the line was made all-too-easy by the visitors' painfully deep defence.

The line-out was fast becoming the Achilles heel for Leeds, who lost another throw to the towering Ben Kay, and from the resulting attack Blackett's inexperience was harshly exploited.

A simple pop-pass from Healey picked out the run of Ollie Smith superbly, and the British and Irish Lions exploded through the gap left between the Tykes' centres to extend Leicester's lead to 19-6.

An avalanche of tries threatened to arrive with the home side in the ascendancy, but it was Leeds who stabilised their effort before the break, and they nearly hauled themselves back into the contest through the constant prompting of Marshall.

However, the Tigers have conceded just 20 tries in the Premiership all season - the league's best defensive effort, and they displayed why by repelling the Yorkshiremen's concerted efforts on the half time whistle.

The visitors needed a fast response at the start of the second period, and they eventually got it, as De Marigny took three points at the second attempt.

Leeds' best chance was undoubtedly to try and control things in the tight, and whilst Rayno Gerber bolstered their resistance at the maul, they continued to struggle against Kay at the line-out.

However, Leicester's intensity seemed to be lacking as they went in search of a crucial bonus-point in the second half, and they struggled to gain consistent possession as the hour mark arrived.

Tuilagi came close to claiming the all-important fourth try midway through the second half, but his quick line-out just failed to travel the required five yards before he burst towards the line.

Leeds were in need of some inspiration if they were to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat, and they called on the returning England full back Iain Balshaw with 18 minutes left on the clock.

However, Marshall still seemed the most likely to unlock the door to the hosts' defence, and so it proved as he popped up in the right place to convert a succession of phases for the Tykes, touching down under the posts to surprisingly draw within three points at 19-16.

Tension suddenly surrounded Welford Road as the home crowd contemplated an unthinkable defeat in their pursuit of a top four place, and their fears were realised moments later.

It was time for Balshaw to make his impact, and as the irresistible Marshall sprayed the ball wide to Bell, Balshaw quickly flipped a passed onto Biggs who raced in at the corner. De Marigny's conversion swelled Tyke hopes by taking the score to 23-19, leaving Leicester just five minutes to mount a comeback.

A try was needed by Howard's men, and the crowd sensed that a catch-and-drive opportunity could still save the night for their heroes.

It was that man Healey who ended his night in better fashion than he started it by kicking into the corner, and a mammoth effort from both packs eventually climaxed with rapturous cheers, as Skinner claimed the try to break Leeds' hearts.

Best stems Falcons comeback

Bath Rugby 20 - 18 Newcastle Falcons


Bath boosted their survival hopes as Lee Best's late converted try earned the West Country outfit a 20-18 victory and fought off a spirited Newcastle comeback at the Rec.

Brian Ashton's side jumped two places into ninth after a win that look assured when they led 13-3 early in the second-half.

The hosts shrugged off the absence of England stars Danny Grewcock, Steve Borthwick, Lee Mears and Matt Stevens as winger Salesi Finau scored a fourth minute try under the posts converted by Chris Malone.

The fly-half then added two penalties, sandwiched by a Matt Burke reply, as Bath looked well on course to bounce back from their Powergen Cup defeat by Llanelli.

But the Irish full-back booted another three-pointer after home scrum-half Nick Walshe was sin-binned for slapping the ball out of James Grindal's grasp.

And then Ollie Phillips marked his second start of the season with a try in the left corner which was converted by Burke to level the scores entering the final quarter.

It looked as if Bath were going to suffer their fifth home Premiership defeat of the season when Anthony Elliot touched down in the corner from a chip ahead.

But Burke missed the extras and that proved costly as the replacement delighted the sell-out crowd by scoring in the corner three minutes from time with Malone keeping his nerve to boot the winning conversion from a tricky angle.

Saints hold off Gloucester

Northampton Saints 21 - 20 Gloucester Rugby


Northampton held off a late Gloucester fightback to record a narrow 21-20 victory at Franklin's Gardens.

The Cherry and Whites were handed a penalty try with three minutes to go when the hosts were reduced to 14-men but they couldn't force a winning score and the game ended in acrimony with both sides squaring up to each other.

The teams were level at 7-7 at half-time. Referee Dave Pearson gave Saints a penalty try, converted by James Pritchard on his first start for the club, midway through the opening period.

But five minutes later Peter Richards crossed with Ludovic Mercier adding the extras for the visitors who started the day in fourth position.

The hosts took a deserved lead nine minutes after the break when number eight Mark Easter controlled the back of the scrum under pressure and gained his first try in Northampton colours with the Australian-born Pritchard extending their lead.

However Saints lost the influential Paul Tupai soon after and when Tom Smith gave away a penalty, Mercier - who missed two kicks due to the tricky wind in the first-half - managed to reduce the deficit to 14-10.

But Peter Buxton was then sin-binned and that cost Dean Ryan's side as some great footwork from Sam Harding allowed John Clark the simple task of touching down under the posts for his seventh try of the season with 18 minutes remaining.

Skipper Bruce Reihana, back in the side after a family bereavement, increased the home lead to eleven points with the conversion only for Mercier to swiftly reply with a penalty.

Easter was sin-binned for putting his hand in the ruck, leaving Northampton to play the final eight minutes a man short in the scrum and the visitors took full advantage with Pearson awarding his second penalty try of the afternoon.

They piled on the pressure in the closing moments but the hosts held on to boost their Heineken Cup ambitions.

Sharks show their teeth at last


Sale scored three second half tries to battle back for a 29-21 victory over third-placed London Irish, extending their lead at the top of the Guinness Premiership to nine points.

The Sharks silenced a 20,000 'St Patrick's Day' crowd in Reading to boost their hopes of a home semi-final in the play-offs, but their joy will be tempered by injuries to key backs Jason Robinson and Mark Cueto.

Both men were forced off with leg injuries and will be worries ahead of next Sunday's Heineken Cup quarter-final against Biarritz.

The first half at the Madejski Stadium was a story of conrasts. Sale won four penalties and Charlie Hodgson kicked them all, while Irish scored three quality tries, but Riki Flutey missed all three conversions, plus a penalty to boot.

A scrappy first 10 minutes was punctuated by a well-struck penalty from Sharks fly-half Hodgson and a miss from an easier position by his opposite number Flutey.

But on 13 minutes the game exploded into life as Irish robbed Sale flanker Magnus Lund in midfield, the turnover ball quirted out and Sailosi Tagicakibau seized on it and raced past the limping Robinson to the line.

Moments later Robinson hobbled off, with Cueto switching to full back, but Sale were quickly back in the game as Hodgson caressed another penalty over following an in-at-the-side infringement.

On 19 minutes the Irish forwards got a maul rolling close to the Sale line and it was illegally pulled down. They opted to go for the corner and when the ball as spun out wide, Flutey arrived on a superb attacking line to reach over and score.

There was plenty of controversy about the try, however, as television replays showed he had touched the ball down on Richard Wrigglesworth's ankle, the referee deciding not to go to the TMO.

Flutey missed another straightforward conversion and Hodgson showed him how to strike a ball once again, following another ruck infringement, cutting the deficit to a point.

But it was Irish wh were playing all the rugby and their third try of the half was a real gem. Flutey and Michael Horak displayed superb handling skills but Delon Armitage (pictured) surpassed that with a wonderful one-handed take behind his back. He still had plenty of work to do to score and he did it with a delicate chip over the top, which he collected athletically before crashing over.

But Flutey again missed the conversion and when the Sale forwards pushed Irish off their own scrum ball, the hosts' forwards popped up and Hodgson popped over his fourth penalty for a 15-12 scoreline.

Sale emerged after the break with renewed purpose and it was the forwards who again did the damage, a rolling maul ending in a close range finish from Andy ***terrell to put the visitors ahead for the first time.

Inevitably, Hodgson added the extras but moments later Sale concded a penalty for killing the ball and this time it was Mike Catt who missed the posts.

But Sale suffered a major blow when Cueto stumbled on a piece of pitch-side advertising and was taken off in considerable pain.

On 51 minutes the Sale front row were penalised at the scrum and this time Catt was finally able to slot a penalty from right in front.

On the hour mark Irish regained the lead when Sale winger Steve Hanley found himself isolated after collecting Catt's kick and was penalised for holding on, Catt knocking over his second penalty from right in front.

But still there was another twist to this incredible game. Irish were pressing for the killer score but the ball was hacked clear by Sale skipper Jason White and Hodgson won the chase. Quick ball was spun out to the left wing and Hanley finished emphatically in the corner.

And it was Hanley - the Premiership's record try-scorer - who settled the contest, going down the blindside from a scrum, beating Irish scrum-half Paul Hodgson and sliding in to score in the same corner.

Charlie Hodgson missed his second conversion from out wide but the lead was now eight points and Irish were denied even a bonus point, probably the least they deserved for an heroic performance in defeat.

Lima wins it late on for Bristol


Brian Lima's late try gave Bristol just their second win over Gloucester in 17 attempts as they recorded a 20-15 success at Kingsholm.

The winger latched on to Jason Strange's clever kick over the top to score and move Richard Hill's side further clear of bottom-club Leeds.

The Cherry and Whites will be disappointed to have slipped up on home soil, particuarly after the dismissal of Terry Sigley midway through the second half had helped them out.

The substitute prop, who came on for the injured Patrice Collazo after 19 minutes, was shown a red card by referee Wayne Barnes for an off-the-ball incident.

With no other replacement for the front row available on the bench, the two teams were forced to have uncontested scrums.

That denied Bristol's pack the chance to dominate their opponents after the forwards had helped turn the game round after they had struggled in the opening 40 minutes.

James Simpson-Daniel had got Gloucester off to a perfect start in the local derby as he ignored a two-man overlap to gallop in and score the first try of the afternoon.

Ludovic Mercier converted the try and then added a penalty soon after to put his side 10-0 up in as many minutes.

However, the French fly-half was off target with two further strikes at goal in the first half as the home team lost momentum and began to allow Bristol back in the contest.

Strange got the visitors off the mark with a penalty to make it 10-3 at half-time and they came roaring out of the blocks straight after the interval.

Gloucester's depleted pack had little answer to their Bristol counterparts and scrum-half Shaun Perry reaped the benefits as he darted in to score on the blindside.

The conversion attempt sailed over from Strange and the fly-half slotted over his second penalty of the afternoon after Sigley was given his marching orders.

Had it not been for the sending off Gloucester would have struggled to cope up front, but they made the most of the situation when they forged their way back in front.

Anthony Allen finished off a flowing move to make it 15-13 and it appeared that would be enough to give Dean Ryan's troops a victory that would maintain their push for a top four finish.

However, Lima made sure it was Bristol who had the last laugh, and a first win at Kingsholm in 12 years, when he won the race to the loose ball from Strange's kick over the top to hack the ball on and then force his way over with eight minutes to go.

Tigers down Bath at The Rec


Leicester bolstered their play-off hopes with a 19-12 victory at Bath in the Guinness Premiership.

Pat Howard's Leicester side had seven international players back for their trip to The Recreation Ground, and it paid dividends as they came away with the win.

England fly-half Andy Goode played his part in the victory as he scored 14 of their 19 points, including four penalties and a conversion.

Chris Malone's boot supplied all of Bath's points but it was not enough as Leon Lloyd's try just before the half hour was the only one of the game and aided Leicester's win.

Goode had kicked two penalties inside the opening 15 minutes to put The Tigers 6-0 ahead, but Malone answered with two penalties in six minutes to draw Brian Ashton's men level.

That lasted just two minutes as Lloyd crossed the line to score, with Goode's conversion seeing the visitors go 13-6 in front.

Malone hit back with a penalty after Lewis Moody was sin-binned for Leicester, but Goode responded in kind to see Leicester go into the break with a 16-9 lead despite being a man light.

The game was a scrappy affair in the second half and another score did not come until six minutes from time, when Goode effectively sealed the points with his fourth penalty.

Malone hauled the home side to within a converted try with three minutes to play, but it was too little too late for Bath.

Tykes stung by lethal Wasps


Wasps handed out a 28-0 beating to basement side Leeds to leave them well adrift at the foot of the Guinness Premiership.

Tom Voyce scored two of Wasps' four tries which earned them a bonus point, along with Paul Sackey and Mark van Gisbergen.

With Saracens beating Worcester, The Tykes find themselves 11 points cut adrift at the foot of the table after a ninth Premiership defeat by Wasps.

Wasps needed just four minutes to open the scoring at The Causeway Stadium, with Voyce crossing the line on the left after the ball was switched quickly off the back of a rolling maul.

Right winger Sackey touched down in the corner after receiving a Stuart Abbott pass on 16 minutes for their second try, which was also converted by van Gisbergen for 14-0.

Wasps the lost Sackey to injury, along with Tom Rees but it did not disturb their flow and they were never in danger of letting Leeds back into the game.

Simon Shaw was sin-binned just before half time, but Leeds could still not take advantage and Voyce bagged his second try when the numbers were again even.

Wasps went on to seal the bonus point with a 79th-minute try in the left corner, which he converted himself for his 13th point of the match and maintain his 100 percent kicking record.

The visitors were clearly frustrated and it spilled over in a heated closing few minutes, which saw flanker Richard Parks dismissed for dissent moments after being shown a yellow card, just to cap a miserable day for Leeds.

Sarries close in on league survival


Saracens produced another big performance to beat Worcester Warriors 29-15, opening up a significant 12-point gap between themselves and Leeds Tykes at the bottom of the Premiership.

The arrival of former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones on a consultancy basis seems to have really sparked the Sarries camp, and they were fully worthy of their bonus-point victory at Vicarage Road.

Tries from Tevita Vaikona, Mark Bartholemeusz, Moses Rauluni and Dan Scarbrough were enough to earn the hosts all five points, leaving Leeds in deep trouble after their heavy defeat to Wasps.

The game started with the typical vigour that one expects from a Guinness Premiership encounter, with both sides fighting for possession, but the Warriors soon lost their will to fight as they float in the safety of mid-table.

Pat Sanderson was back to captain the visitors after his recent back injury, and he found himself right in the thick of the action as Saracens' forwards take control of the contest.

Roared on by the home support, Sarries drove their counterparts back, and Vaikona benefited with a third-minute try.

Having watched on as his forwards did the hard work in the maul, the Tongan then took a fine pass from Glen Jackson to go over in the corner.

Jackson's performance in open play was making up for his early lack of accuracy with the boot, missing a conversion and penalty as Sarries failed to make their domination pay.

Such an error is a dangerous mistake to make against Worcester and Shane Drahm, and the fly half nailed a 55-metre penalty to keep the scores tight at 8-3.

However, the contest's turning point came a minute before the interval, as the hosts benefited from a kind bounce off Shane Byrne's overthrown line-out, with Ben Johnston exploding onto the loose ball before feeding Bartholemeusz to score.

That left the Warriors staring at a 15-3 deficit at half time, and they were soon completely out of the clash as they collapsed in a poor seven-minute spell.

First the Saracens attack exploited Warriors' lack of concentration down the left, with Rauluni forcing over after Hugh Vyvyan's powerful surge along the flank.

Then Johnstone played a significant part for the second time in the match, breaking through the defence to feed Scarbrough - whose touchdown earned the bonus point.

With the game wrapped up, it was time for Saracens to ease off the accelerator, allowing Saosi Vaili and Aisea Havili to grab two consolations for the Warriors.

Five-star Saints crush Falcons


Northampton Saints silenced the Kingston Park crowd with a comprehensive 32-13 victory over Newcastle Falcons.

Budge Pountney's men ran in an impressive five tries in a fine performance, which has surely ended any fears of a relegation fight towards the end of the season.

Ben Cohen shook off his recent England disappointments to open the scoring, and his effort was followed by scores from Carlos Spencer, Pat Barnard, Jon Clarke and Darren Fox.

For Newcastle, the result represents another frustrating afternoon for Rob Andrew's side, who continue to struggle for consistency in the Premiership.

Inevitably, it was Spencer who controlled proceedings from the middle of the park, probing and prompting in his irresistibly creative style.

For 68 minutes the former All Black fly half displayed all of finest qualities, before injury forced him off - much to the relief of the home support.

By then, Spencer had scored a try and had a hand in the majority of Saints' best work, starting with Cohen's try in the opening minutes.

The Falcons were briefly stunned into life, and they appeared to have grabbed a foothold in the game when Owen Finegan drove over following a strong lineout.

It was the time for Spencer's try, and it came in rather unfamiliar fashion. Pouncing on James Grindal's fumble, the Kiwi hacked the ball on before winning the race to the line.

Bruce Reihana's wayward kicking was keeping the hosts in the match as he failed to convert either of the first two tries, and when Dave Walder nailed a first half penalty, the score remained tight at 13-8.

However, Spencer's masterpiece was still to come, and moments before half time he jinked past three Falcons defender to offload for Barnard to take the plaudits.

The number 10's opposite number Walder was enjoying a less convincing afternoon for Newcastle, and it was his kick that led to Clarke's score after the break.

Walder's skewed clearance found another New Zealander - Reihana - at full back, and he simply stepped past Ollie Phillips before feeding Clarke, who continues to go from strength-to-strength with another try.

Anthony Elliott then grabbed a consolation in what was a formality of a second half, before Fox made sure Saints enjoyed the last laugh late on.


The league as of 26/3/06;


Tykes hanging by a thread


Saracens effectively knocked the final nail into the coffin of Leeds Tykes' survival plight, triumphing 17-13 at Headingley.

The Tykes went into the match 11 points adrift of nearest club Bath, knowing anything less than a victory would realistically not be good enough in their fight to beat the drop.

A raucous Headingley crowd roared their troops on - more out of desperation than true belief, but tries from Tom Biggs and Iain Balshaw ultimately proved to be in vain as Sarries came out on top.

Mark Bartholomeusz and Glen Jackson grabbed the crucial touchdowns, ensuring that the visitors can put a woeful campaign behind them - safe in the knowledge they will be playing Premiership rugby next season.

Jackson was the key man throughout the contest, controlling the tempo of the game whilst chipping in with 12 vital points for his side.

In response, Balshaw and Justin Marshall tried to produce the big performances that they are both capable of, and it was the England man that saved the Tykes early on as he made a try-saving tackle on Dan Scarbrough.

Marshall was his usual lively self, probing and prompting from the middle of the park, but he did not have the necessary runners to manufacture a devastating move.

It was always going to take an individual piece of brilliance to open the deadlock for the hosts, and after Jackson had edged Sarries three points ahead, Biggs provided that special moment.

The young wideman was first to pounce on a poor restart, and he simply slipped through the gears to race fully 70 metres to the Saracens whitewash.

Leeds fans cheered, the noise level exploded, but Gordon Ross missed the conversion.

Cue an instant Sarries fightback, and predictably it came from the talents of Jackson.

The clever fly half produced a sumptuous inside pass for centre Bartholomeusz, whose run took him onto the ball without breaking stride to score under the posts.

A five-point gap had developed, and anxiety spread like a rash throughout the home support.

Ross' penalty narrowed the gap to two at the interval, but it was the visitors who leapt onto the front foot in the second period - going close once more through Batholomeusz.

A try seemed inevitable as the powerful running of Scarbrough constantly threatened, and it was Jackson who bundled over after irrepressible pressure on the Leeds line.

The Tykes looked down and out, but suddenly Balshaw hauled them back into contention with little under 10 minutes remaining.

Ross' clever chip found Andre Snyman out wide, and the in-form winger slipped the ball inside to Balshaw to set up the grand finale.

Leeds fought in vain to muster one more searing attack, but Sarries held out to claim their third consecutive victory under Eddie Jones' guidance.

As for the Tykes, they must watch and pray that Bath, Bristol and Newcastle lose this weekend.

Easter gift for Saints


Replacement Mark Easter scored a late try as Northampton kept their play-off hopes alive with a 24-21 victory over Bath at Franklin's Gardens.

The Academy product touched down with five minutes remaining to deny the West Country outfit who had overcome a nine-point half-time deficit after Olly Barkley's switch from centre to fly-half.

The England man was instrumental in the West Country outfit's improved second-half performance and booted 11 points.

But former Academy number eight Easter scored his second try of the season, taking the ball on the blindside and swatting away Alex Crockett to touch down in the corner, to deny Bath.

The visitors had taken the lead midway through the first-half thanks to Tongan left-wing Salesi Finau but Bruce Reihana and Ben Cohen replied with scores, both converted by the Kiwi full-back to give the hosts a 14-5 lead at the interval.

The Bath pack struggled in the first-half but improved greatly after the break and Barkley, who had moved to outside half in place of Chris Malone, kicked a penalty from under the posts just four minutes into the second stanza.

His conversion gave the visitors the lead following Joe Maddock's 47th minute try. A quick tap penalty from Andy Williams catching Saints unawares and after his 30m break, the full-back scored on the overlap in the right-hand corner.

However the lead changed hands once more four minutes later after Reihana's eighth try of the season.

Northampton retained possesion well with a great break from Daniel Browne followed by a pinpoint pass from Carlos Spencer that allowed his compatriot to score in the right hand corner.

However Reihana missed the conversion and a subsequent penalty and that appeared to be costly as Barkley made full use of the breeze to boot two three-pointers.

But there was a late twist in the tale as Easter popped up to score Northampton's fourth try and seal not only the victory but a bonus point in the process.

Irish hold on to beat Warriors


London Irish cemented their play-off ambitions by moving into third place following a hard-fought 12-10 victory over Worcester.

First-half tries from Kieran Roche and Shane Geraghty proved decisive for the visitors in a stop-start game at a blustery Sixways.

Thinus Delport had given the Warriors the lead for much of the opening period with his fourth try of the season but he was sent-off after 55 minutes following a second yellow card.

Irish took the lead after just two minutes when Riki Flutey founds acres of space and with two men on the outside picked out lock Roche who rumbled over from 10 metres untouched.

The gusty wind saw the New Zealand fly-half miss the conversion and a subsequent penalty and that proved costly as the hosts took the lead after ten minutes.

South African full-back Delport celebrated the signing of a contract extension earlier this week by powering over the line despite the presence of two Irish defenders and Shane Drahm added the extras against the wind.

Worcester held that lead until just three minutes before half-time despite Delport being sin-binned for tackling opposite number Delon Armitage without the ball.

But the hosts, who had lost hooker Andre van Niekerk to a nasty neck injury as well as prop Tony Windo midway through the opening stanza, finally succumbed to away pressure.

Gerraghty, who spurned a glorious overlap moments early with a forward pass, made no mistake when he took the ball at pace from eight metres out and Flutie's first successful kick gave the visitors a five-point lead at the break.

The second-half degenerated into an ill-tempered affair with uncontested scrums for much of the period after Tevita Taumoepeau became the third Worcester front row to leave the field with an injury.

And both sides were reduced to 14 men with 25 minutes remaining after a melee prompted by Armitage's punch on Delport. The Irish number 15 escaped censure but the Springbok was dismissed for retaliation and Flutie was also sin-binned for his part in the scrap.

Referee Wayne Barnes looked in danger of losing control of the game in the closing stages and Drahm reduced the arrears to two points with a penalty on 62.

But the Warriors' Aussie fly-half missed a potentially game-winning penalty with two minutes left when his kick drifted past the left-post and London Irish held on in a desperate finish.

Robinson caps Sale comeback


Jason Robinson kicked a 74th minute drop goal as Sale came from 12 points behind for an 18-15 victory over Gloucester in difficult conditions at Edgeley Park.

The Guinness Premiership leaders found themselves 15-3 down early in the second half, but a succession of penalties got them level, before Robinson drilled his winning drop goal between the posts.

Neither side managed to cross the try line as a strong wind combined with flurries of rain to make the conditions tough for both handling and kicking.

Gloucester selected England Under-21 star Ryan Lamb at fly half, and he responded in fine style by kicking all their points before being replaced by Ludovic Mercier after an hour.

Sale, who were so disappointing during their European Cup quarter-final defeat last weekend, suffered a blow prior to kick off when flanker Sebastien Chabal was ruled out due to an upset stomach. Despite never finding any fluency behind the scrum, the reliable boot of Charlie Hodgson ensured they took the result.

Gloucester enjoyed a positive opening five minutes, marching 50 metres upfield with their first possession. Their early enterprise was rewarded with a penalty which Lamb slotted from a straightforward position.

The visitors' promise quickly faded after prop Gary Powell was sent to the sin bin in the seventh minute for throwing a punch in the midst of a ruck. Sale used their extra man to good effect and pounded the try line in search of the opening score.

But strong defence from Gloucester saw centre Elvis Sevaeli'i stopped just short, blindside Jason White held up over the line, while prop Barrie Stewart wasted a certain try by going for the line himself despite an overlap.

For all their dominance of territory and possession the hosts had to be content with just a Hodgson penalty before Powell returned to the fray.

The visitors weathered the storm and, with a strengthening wind at their back, built up a nine-point lead at half-time courtesy of three more sweetly struck Lamb penalties.

An exchange of penalties early in the second period gave Gloucester a 15-6 lead, but with the wind now in Sale's favour that was as good as it got for Dean Ryan's men.

The home forwards took control and were content to use Hodgson's boot to collect points. The England fly half slotted three pointers in the 47th, 53rd and 59th minutes to get his side back within three at 15-12 down.

Gloucester's constant infringements at the breakdown were beginning to try the patience of referee and it was no surprise when Mike Tindall was dispatched to the sin bin after 63 minutes for killing the ball in a ruck.

With the conditions deteriorating further Hodgson shanked the penalty that would have levelled the scores, but Sale did not have to wait long for another opportunity.

And as Hodgson received treatment after a heavy tackle, scrum half Richard Wigglesworth took responsibility and made no mistake with the penalty that made it 15-15.

Sale were totally dominant by this stage, it was only a matter of time before Robinson stepped up in an ideal central position to slot the winning drop goal, before Mercier missed a kickable penalty just before the final whistle that would have given Gloucester an undeserved draw.


League table as on 09/04/06


Sarries edged out by Tigers


Guinness Premiership, Vicarage Road, Friday April 28th

Saracens' hopes of playing European rugby next season have taken a severe dent after going down 13-12 in a tight Guinness Premiership encounter with Leicester.

The Tigers - who have guaranteed their own play-off place with the result - should perhaps have won by more, missing chances in a physical game that had allowed the set-play superiority of the home side to build them an early 9-0 lead.

But the second-placed side were making plenty of opportunities also, Tom Varndell's 13th Premiership try of the season allowing the Tigers to pull the deficit back to just two points by half-time.

The visitors finally took the lead in the second-half - but only by a single point - with both sides then wasting chances in a gripping final 25 minutes.

After Kyran Bracken - retiring at the end of the season - had led Saracens out for his final home game, Leicester could have taken the lead in the very first minute, but Andy Goode hooked a penalty opportunity to left of the post.

The start was a lively one and, after a sustained period of Saracens aggression, the home side went ahead on 13 minutes courtesy of Glenn Jackson's penalty.

Leicester then spurned a golden opportunity when, following a superb cross-field counter-attack featuring Varndell and Goode, Alex Tuilagi chose to ignore a three-man overlap and instead went for glory.

That decision meant that Tuilagi had to take on fellow winger Tevita Vaikona and, to the obvious dismay of Tigers coach Pat Howard, he then dropped the ball as he strove to touch down.

Such profligacy was punished on 24 minutes when another Jackson penalty saw the home side go 6-0 up, the hat-trick coming just two minutes later.

Leicester thought they had scored on 28 minutes when a break, inspired by Harry Ellis and progressed by Varndell and Geordan Murphy, ended with Lewis Moody touching down just short of the line.

Moody then went over, the video referee judged that, rather than scoring, the flanker should instead have released the ball.

The score finally came on the half-hour when a low cross-field kick from Goode that Dan Scarborough failed to deal with was easily touched down by Varndell, with Goode then converting.

Tempers frayed on the stroke of half-time when Ellis went in dangerously, the scrum half diving head first to take Jackson's leg away as the latter cleared to touch.

But Ellis came off second best, receiving treatment for a facial wound.

Saracens made an aggresive start to the second half with a maul that rolled straight into the left-hand post of Leicester's goal.

A loss of discipline by Austin Healey, briefly on at half-time for Ellis, then allowed Jackson to score his fourth penalty of the evening.

Two Goode penalties in the space of six minutes allowed Leicester to edge into a 13-12 lead on 55 minutes.

A infringement by Julian White on 58 minutes presented Jackson the chance to once again hand Saracens the lead.

But the Kiwi missed and Leicester should have extended their lead on 62 minutes when, with the ebullient Murphy breaking, the full-back's pass slipped through the hands of Moody.

Saracens were now looking for a try, with a chance created two minutes later following a break from Kevin Sorrell being spurned.

But Leicester were spurning more and should have made the most of a cute Goode sidestep, with Tuilagi again wasting a golden opportunity moments later.

Still only one point behind, Saracens' then pushed for the win with the last, frantic, play of the game.

But, despite almost finding a way through with a break by Ben Johnston, Leicester's defence remained unbreached.

Hodgson inspired for Sharks


Guinness Premiership, Edgeley Park, Friday April 28th

Sale Sharks have ensured they finish the regular Guinness Premiership season in top spot after scoring a bonus-point 38-12 win over Bath at Edgeley Park.

A near-perfect kicking display from Charlie Hodgson was the foundation of the Sharks' win, the fly-half also touching down with a cheeky try in the second half.

But the home side left it late to get the required margin of victory that will hand them a home draw for the semi-finals.

Three tries in the final three minutes by Chris Mayor, Mark Cueto and Chris Jones ensured Sale have the best possible chance to convert their season-long league form into play-off success.

The visitors played their part in an entertaining game but, their ultimately fruitless Heineken Cup semi-final against Biarritz no doubt playing a part, Bath wilted late in the second half.

Another factor may have been their early attacking play. It was a bold tactic but looked as though it might reap its reward early on.

Bath pressed forward and, earning a number of penalties, they chose to turn down the chance of kicking points in favour of tries.

But with Nick Adendanon knocking on their best opportunity, they failed to exploit their advantage.

And it was Sale who went ahead, with Hodgson putting the first points on the board with penalties in the 14th and 17th minutes, before adding another on the half-hour.

Bath came back into the game on the stroke of half-time thanks to an impudent piece of play by Chris Malone, the fly-half running on to his own dribble kick to beat covering defender Cueto to the ball.

The Australian converted, but Hodgson's fourth penalty made the score 12-7 in favour of Sale two minutes into the second half.

Sale then spurned two try-scoring opportunities: Hodgson's pass to Andy ***terrell adjudged to have been forward, with Sebastian Chabal then wasting a three-on-one overlap.

But their first try duly arrived courtesy of Hodgson - and in fine style. Having received a pass from Sililo Martens, the fly-half feigned an inside-lay off before side-stepping Malone to cross over.

Hodgson also converted but, after he missed a fifth penalty opportunity, Bath thought they had scored when Joe Maddock crossed the line in the left-hand corner.

But Maddock had knocked on. Nevertheless, Bath's second came shortly afterwards when James Hudson exploited a Malone miss-pass.

However any hopes they might have had of taking something from the game evaporated when substitute Mayor beat three tackles to score on 77 minutes.

Cueto and Jones then added gloss to the win after each put the finishing touch to sweeping end-to-end moves.

Falcons' late show not enough


Worcester Warriors ended Newcastle Falcons' slim hopes of Heineken Cup qualification with a rousing 35-27 win at Sixways.

The Falcons needed two big wins to give themselves a chance of entering Europe's premier competition, but once again they found themselves second best until a thrilling late show.

Worcester were outstanding as they wracked up three first half tries, before Nicky Runciman's 44th-minute effort secured the bonus point.

Kai Horstmann, Gary Trueman and Pat Sanderson were the other try-scorers as the Warriors set up the perfect send-off in their last home game of the season.

However, in a similar manner to the European Challenge Cup defeat against London Irish, Jonny Wilkinson came on to inspire a late Newcastle comeback, but second half tries from Matt Burke (2), Mike McCarthy, and Tom May proved too little - too late.

There was a carnival atmosphere at Sixways as Thomas Lombard led the side out in his last home appearance before he returns to France, and soon the Warriors' fans were given more to cheer.

Back row forward Horstmann was immense as he played a major part in the first two tries, scoring one before turning provider for the second.

Shane Drahm's long pass set up the number eight's touchdown, and then moments later Horstmann found Trueman, who did a fine impression of Jonah Lomu as he brushed aside two tackles to race over.

Everything was going Worcester's way before Runciman saw yellow for hands in at the ruck, allowing the Falcons a foothold in the contest.

Toby Flood eventually created something out of nothing, collecting his own grubber to crash over.

The momentum of the game then switched on the showing of a yellow card once more, as Mathew Tait's indiscretion handed Worcester the initiative.

They took it brilliantly, producing a fabulous backline move to set up captain Sanderson for the score.

Burke then hauled Newcastle back into contention once more, before Runciman effectively sealed matters with a typically clever try, dummying at the ruck and darting over.

A comfortable win seemed to be in the bag, but Wilkinson's influence provided some late panic.

McCarthy bundled over, then Burke capitalised on a fine assist from Ollie Phillips, before May's score set up a gripping final 10 minutes.

The Warriors eventually held out, much to the delight of the home fans.

Losing send-off for Leeds boss


Leeds Tykes failed to give departing boss Phil Davies the perfect farewell as they lost 31-7 to Gloucester at Headingley.

Davies announced his resignation ahead of the Premiership clash, and he was given a heartfelt show of appreciation from the Tykes faithful after a 10-year spell with the Yorkshiremen.

Victory for Gloucester moves them one point ahead of fifth-placed London Irish, who play Wasps on Sunday evening, setting up a gripping finale in the chase for play-off qualification.

Three second half tries did the damage for the Cherry-and-Whites, with Andy Hazell, Peter Richards and James Simpson-Daniel adding to Mike Tindall's earlier score.

Tom Biggs claimed the solitary reply for Leeds, who were simply second best all afternoon.

The game got off to a relatively slow start as both sides appeared to be suffering from 'Bank Holiday syndrome', but it was Gloucester who possessed the extra gear as the game wore on - led by the sizzling Ryan Lamb at stand-off.

Dean Ryan's men have been labelled 'predictable' this season for their forward-dominated game, but they started in expansive fashion.

Frequent switches of play threatened a first score for the visitors, but some amateurish handling hindered any true try-scoring opportunities.

It took over 20 minutes for the first breakthrough of the match, and when it arrived the simplicity was astonishing.

Tindall picked up the ball in the midfield, accelerated through a gap and allowed Lamb to convert for 10-0.

That spurred the Tykes into a response, and it was nearly a fairytale ending for veteran Mike Shelley on his last Headingley appearance, but the big prop was held up over the line.

Gloucester looked the more likely to extend their lead, but it was Leeds and Biggs who celebrated before the interval - the youngster flying over after a clever chip from Gordon Ross.

The Cherry-and-Whites resorted to their powerful forwards in the second period, and it produced instant rewards as back row forward Hazell crashed over after a spell of incessant pressure.

Leeds' fans could sense the familiar smell of defeat once again, and it was all-but-confirmed moments later as Richards scored a typically opportunist try for 24-7.

Gloucester were now in the hunt for what could prove to be a vital bonus point, and they got it on the hour mark to move temporarily above London Irish into fourth spot.

England centre Simpson-Daniel was the man to go over, giving the Kingsholm outfit a fine chance of qualifying for the end-of-season ***le play-offs.

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