Bears edge Saints in dramatic encounter
PREMIERSHIP SATURDAY WRAP: Incredible late drama saw Piers O’Conor cross the whitewash with the clock in the red and Ian Madigan slot the winning conversion as Bristol Bears secured a remarkable victory over 11-man Northampton Saints.
Meanwhile, in Saturday’s other games, a Santiago Cordero double inspired an important result as Exeter Chiefs laid down their title credentials with a narrow victory at Worcester Warriors.
And Brett Connon’s penalty deep into injury time earned Newcastle Falcons a dramatic 20-19 victory over Wasps at the Ricoh Arena.
Northampton Saints 24-26 Bristol Bears
Sin-binnings for Cobus Reinach, Jamie Gibson, Tom Wood and Alex Waller in the closing stages saw Saints reduced to 11 men as they clung on to a five-point lead and Bristol eventually took advantage to notch a first away victory in the Premiership since New Year’s Day 2017.
It was the Bears’ first win over Northampton since 2008 and just their second at Franklin’s Gardens since 2001.
They led 12-5 at half-time thanks to Joe Batley and Jordan Crane dotting down early on, Taqele Naiyaravoro responding for the hosts, but tries from Ahsee Tuala and George Furbank just after the interval turned things around.
Harry Randall and Reinach then exchanged tries to leave Northampton 24-19 up by 70 minutes before the late drama that saw referee Christophe Ridley kept busy, leading to Piers O’Conor diving over out wide and Ian Madigan demonstrating the ice running through his veins from the tee.
The Bears may have been on a seven-match losing streak against Northampton heading into the fixture but they got off to the perfect start as a Chris Vui offload helped send Batley flying over the whitewash for his first Premiership try.
Pat Lam’s side continued to impress, with Andy Uren scampering for a 50-metre run and a sharp line break from Luke Daniels took Bristol a metre from the line on the quarter-hour mark.
A five-metre scrum and waves of pressure eventually paid dividends as Crane stretched out and dotted down a second try – Daniels adding the conversion.
Daniels then missed a long-range penalty in the swirling wind before Saints finally began to get a foothold and deserved the try they got on 29 minutes when a number of phases ended with the ball being spread wide to the impressive Naiyaravoro to dive over.
Fullback Charles Piutau hobbling off injured would have been a concern for Lam but a bigger concern was Northampton turning the match around in a three-minute spell just after half-time.
Firstly a flamboyant finish in the corner from Tuala got them within two points before Tuala turned provider as he broke free down the right and fed Furbank to dance around the final defender for the try – Piers Francis slotting the conversion for a 17-12 lead.
Bristol got back on top when O’Conor burst through a gap and fed Randall to go in under the sticks but that lead lasted just three minutes as interception specialist Reinach was up to his old tricks to give Northampton the advantage once more and seal a four-try bonus point.
Neither kicker made a mistake with the conversion to leave the game poised at 24-19 heading into the final ten minutes and a sin-bin for Reinach for not retreating ten metres at a penalty sent Saints down to 14 men.
The Bears thought they had scored via a driving maul over the line but the TMO said no try, although Gibson was then yellow carded for a line-out infringement, Wood was also binned and Alex Waller’s scrum yellow remarkably reduced Northampton to just 11 men.
After sending multiple penalties into the corner, Bears opted for scrums following further infringements and sent the ball wide to O’Conor for the score before Madigan held his nerve with the extras to secure a memorable win.
For Northampton Saints:
Tries: Naiyarvoro, Tuala, Furbank, Reinach
Cons: Francis 2
For Bristol Bears:
Tries: Batley, Crane, Randall, O’Conor
Cons: Daniels 2, Madigan
Yellow cards: Cobus Reinach (Saints, 72); Jamie Gibson (Saints, 75); Tom Wood (Saints, 76); Alex Waller (Saints, 80)
Northampton: 15 George Furbank, 14 Ahsee Tuala, 13 Rory Hutchinson, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 James Grayson, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Mitch Eadie, 7 Lewis Ludlam, 6 Tom Wood (captain), 5 David Ribbans, 4 Alex Moon, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Reece Marshall, 1 Francois van Wyk.
Replacements: 16 James Fish, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Jamie Gibson, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 Luther Burrell, 23 Tom Collins.
Bristol: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Piers O’Conor, 12 Siale Piutau (co-captain), 11 Luke Daniels, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Jordan Crane (co-captain), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Steve Luatua, 5 Chris Vui, 4 Joe Batley, 3 John Afoa, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Yann Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Jake Woolmore, 18 Lewis Thiede, 19 George Smith, 20 Jack Lam, 21 Harry Randall, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Mat Protheroe.
Referee: Christophe Ridley
Assistant referees: Wayne Falla, Robert Warburton
TMO: Sean Davey
Worcester Warriors 30-33 Exeter Chiefs
Santiago Cordero scored two tries in the first half as Olly Woodburn’s try ensured a dominant lead for Chiefs going into the break.
But Warriors came out battling in the second period, with efforts from Bryce Heem and Ted Hill cancelling out scores from Tom O’Flaherty and Harry Williams as Worcester matched the high-flying visitors.
Tom Howe and Chris Pennell put the Warriors within three points but Exeter held on to extend their lead at the top of the Premiership table.
Duncan Weir scored an early penalty before great work on the Chiefs’ right wing allowed Cordero to finish his seventh try of the season, following a powerful run from Tom O’Flaherty.
A combative first half ended with Chiefs working the ball out to Cordero in acres of space, and the Argentinian made no mistake.
Woodburn then capitalised on a Warriors fumble to give his side a commanding lead.
Heem made the game competitive with a try just after half-time, but O’Flaherty showed his speed and agility again to cross in an end-to-end game.
Hill notched his fourth of the season when he burst into space to finish between the posts after three strong line breaks.
Williams was set up by a barnstorming run from Ollie Devoto to restore the mammoth lead before Howe and Pennell crossed to set up a tense final five minutes.
But Chiefs did enough to hold on for the narrowest of victories.
For Worcester Warriors:
Tries: Heem, Hill, Pennell, Howe
Cons: Pennell 2
Pens: Weir 2
For Exeter Chiefs:
Tries: Cordero 2, Woodburn, O’Flaherty, Williams
Cons: Steenson 4
Yellow card: Greg Holmes (Exeter Chiefs, 44)
Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Ryan Mills (captain), 11 Tom Howe, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Marco Mama, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Ted Hill, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Isaac Miller, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Pierce Phillips, 20 Matt Cox, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Jono Lance, 23 Ollie Lawrence.
Exeter: 15 Santiago Cordero, 14 Tom O’Flaherty, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Matt Kvesic, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Billy Keast, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Sean Lonsdale, 21 Nic White, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Sam Hill.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant referees: Michael Hudson, Matthew O’Grady
TMO: Trevor Fisher
Wasps 19-20 Newcastle Falcons
Ben Harris’ try, converted by Rob Miller, gave Dai Young’s side a two-point lead going into the final 12 minutes but Dean Richards’ men remained in the fight, with Toby Flood missing a kick to win it with five minutes remaining.
But there was a second chance in the waiting as Falcons earned a penalty with the clock deep in the red and substitute Brett Connon confidently converted to fire Newcastle to back-to-back Premiershipwins.
Rob Miller and Sonatone Takulua exchanged penalties early on before Wasps established a narrow 6-3 lead when Miller confidently converted over a 45-metre effort.
After the break, the visitors swung the pendulum back in their direction via Nemani Nagusa’s reach over from close range, Takulua converting.
A third successful Miller penalty from distance put Wasps back within a point with 25 minutes left but back came Newcastle, with a Josh Matavesi break clinically finished off, Simon Hammersley’s pass putting Takulua under the posts for a try he coverted.
Once more, it was a Miller penalty that brought Wasps within a converted try that duly came with 12 minutes to go when Tom Cruse popped from the deck to the on-rushing Harris to crash over for his first Wasps try. Miller’s conversion moved his side 19-17 ahead.
It was a lead Wasps looked to have improved upon with nine minutes remaining when Juan de Jongh leapt over but Anthony Watson’s foot was ruled in touch.
And where Flood failed from distance with five minutes remaining, his replacement Connon triumphed to score with the last kick of the game.
Pens: Miller 4
For Newcastle Falcons:
Tries: Takulua, Nagusa
Cons: Takulua 2
Pens: Takalua, Connon
Yellow card: Will Rowlands (Wasps, 57)
Wasps: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Marcus Watson, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Gaby Lovobalavu, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Rob Miller, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Jack Willis, 6 Ashley Johnson (captain), 5 James Gaskell, 4 Will Rowlands, 3 Will Stuart, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Ben Harris.
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse, 17 Tom West, 18 Biyi Alo, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Ben Morris, 21 Craig Hampson, 22 Jacob Umaga, 23 Ross Neal.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Johnny Williams, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Callum Chick, 7 Gary Graham, 6 Will Welch (captain), 5 Andrew Davidson, 4 Calum Green, 3 Logovi’i Mulipola, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Sam Lockwood.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Adam Brocklebank, 18 David Wilson, 19 Evan Olmstead, 20 Nemani Nagusa, 21 Sam Stuart, 22 Brett Connon, 23 Pedro Bettencourt.
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant referees: Greg Macdonald, Philip Watters
TMO: Nigel Carrick