Sale beat Wasps despite four yellow cards
PREMIERSHIP WRAP: Sale Sharks survived four yellow cards to claim a narrow 20-19 win over Wasps on Saturday.
South African Akker van der Merwe scored one his Sale Sharks’ tries as their secured the hard-fought win at the Ricoh Arena.
In the other fixture, Ollie Sleightholme dotted down four times as Northampton Saints swept Worcester Warriors aside in the second half at Sixways, running in nine tries in total to keep themselves firmly in top-four contention.
Elsewhere, two tries from Ben Loader helped London Irish maintain their excellent home record with a pulsating 36-33 win over Bath.
While, Callum Sheedy’s last-gasp conversion gave Bristol a stunning 35-33 comeback victory over Harlequins in an enthralling contest at Ashton Gate to further extend their lead at the top of the Premiership.
Bristol Bears 35-33 Harlequins
Two Bears tries in the final moments of the game snatched victory away from title rivals Harlequins, who had looked almost certain to inflict just a second home defeat on Bristol this season.
But the leaders showed their perseverance for a second successive week to boost their bid for a maiden Premiership crown. It was an all-action, back-and-forth encounter between the Premiership’s first and third-placed teams, as Six Nations stars Sheedy, Kyle Sinckler, Ben Earl and Joe Marchant all returned to club duty.
Quins began the brighter as flyhalf Marcus Smith hit the post with his first shot at goal. But the resulting play saw Bristol pounce from their own line and burst up the field with Dave Attwood collecting a fortunate fumble to stroll in from 25 metres for the game’s opening try.
Nevertheless, the visitors’ positive start continued. A string of infringements by the hosts close to their try line following constant pressure saw referee Hamish Smales award Harlequins a penalty try. Bristol number eight Earl was sent to the sin bin as a result.
The league leaders hit back almost immediately, as Bryan Byrne’s neat offload to Fitz Harding on his shoulder saw him cross, with Sheedy adding the extras. But, less than a minute later, Harlequins were back level. Earl, back on the field after time in the bin, was stripped in the tackle on his five-minute line by the evergreen Danny Care, who then dived over in the corner. Smith’s excellent conversion from the touchline boosted the score.
As the early spring sun shone on Bristol, running rugby was certainly the beneficiary. The returning Semi Radradra helped put Pat Lam’s side back ahead after the Fijian’s sumptuous offload to centre partner Piers O’Conor gave him an easy run to the line.
However, a pair of Smith penalties on either side of half-time cut Quins’ deficit to just a single point. The second period was a quieter affair with both sides guilty of making mistakes, but Care’s opportunistic drop-goal saw Quins take the lead once more.
The contest then burst back into life, and this time it was the visitors’ midfield combination of Andre Esterhuizen and Marchant combining terrifically for the latter to score under the posts and extend Quins’ lead.
A third penalty from fly-half Smith edged his side further ahead but a late penalty try for Bears, with a Marchant yellow card, threatened an intriguing conclusion. An exciting finish it was, as Sinckler powered over in the final minute of the game to give Sheedy a kick out wide for the win.
The Wales international calmly slotted over the conversion on his 100th appearance for the club to give Bears a memorable victory.
Tries: Attwood, Harding, O’Conor, Penalty, Sinckler
Cons: Sheedy 4
Tries: Penalty, Care, Marchant
Cons: Smith 2
Pens: Smith 3
Drop goals: Care
Bristol Bears: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Henry Purdy, 13 Semi Radradra, 12 Piers O’Conor, 11 Siva Naulago, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Ben Earl, 7 Dan Thomas, 6 Steven Luatua (captain), 5 Chris Vui, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 John Afoa, 2 Bryan Byrne, 1 Jake Woolmore
Replacements: 16 Will Capon, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Joe Joyce, 20 Fitz Harding, 21 Tom Kessell, 22 Sam Bedlow, 23 Alapati Leiua
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tyrone Green, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Cadan Murley, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Alex Dombrandt (captain), 7 Will Evans, 6 James Chisholm, 5 Dino Lamb, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Jordan Els, 18 Simon Kerrod, 19 Glen Young, 20 Tom Lawday, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Brett Herron, 23 Luke Northmore
Referee: Hamish Smales
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace & Paul Dix.
TMO: David Rose
London Irish 36-33 Bath
After a tight first half which ended with Bath trailing by just four points, their discipline unravelled after the break as they finished the contest with 13 men following red cards for Tom Dunn and Charlie Ewels.
Will Muir’s early try put Bath in front, the Loader and Matt Rogerson registered before the interval.
Anthony Watson marked his return from Six Nations duty with a try moments after the resumption but as their numerical advantage grew, Irish took control.
An inspired Tom Parton added a third, before Loader and Curtis Rona went over to give Irish a healthy lead.
They very nearly relinquished it after late scores from Josh McNally and Jack Walker gave Bath the consolation of two bonus points and had the game lasted five more minutes, the outcome may have been different.
A flowing first half saw both sides enjoy plenty of ball in hand, the two scrum-halves – Ben Spencer and Nick Phipps – moving the ball quickly from the breakdown.
A confident Bath outfit, coming off the back of three away wins on the bounce, struck first through a Muir effort, aided by Max Clark.
The centre hit a lovely line at pace before offloading smartly to Muir for an easy finish.
An exchange of penalties between Paddy Jackson and Spencer kept Bath in front, but Irish finished the half strongly, aided by Ewels’ yellow card.
Loader skipped past three tacklers on his way to dotting down underneath the sticks to draw Declan Kidney’s men level, before a moment of individual brilliance from Parton set Irish up for a second.
Collecting a high ball in his own half, he proceeded to glide through the middle of the pitch without a hand being laid on him, leading to Jackson teeing up Rogerson.
Turning around 17-13 down, Bath started the second half with intensity, Watson pouching an easy finish from Spencer’s short pass but from there, discipline became an issue.
Dunn saw red for a smash into the face of Agustin Creevy, before Ewels followed after collecting a second yellow, Muir having also gone to the bin in between as Bath were reduced to 12 for a spell.
Loader and Rona exploited the gaps to secure a bonus point for Irish as they opened up a 36-23 lead with just 15 minutes to play.
Those two tries sandwiched a sublime team score, finished by Parton, which will be right up there in the try of the season discussion.
But the men from the Rec rallied late to keep their own play-off hopes alive.
McNally was pulled over by his team-mates from a dominant rolling maul, with Walker adding one right at the death as Irish lost Jack Cooke and Ben Donnell to yellow cards in a contest that finished 13 against 13.
For London Irish
Tries: Loader 2, Rogerson, Parton, Rona
Cons: Jackson 4
Tries: Muir, Watson, McNally, Walker
Cons: Spencer 2
Pens: Spencer 3
London Irish: 15 Tom Parton, 14 Ben Loader, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Theo Brophy Clews, 11 Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Matt Rogerson (captain), 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Ben Donnell, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Chunya Munga, 3 Lovejoy Chawatama, 2 Matt Cornish, 1 Will Goodrick-Clarke
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Facundo Gigena, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 George Nott, 20 Jack Cooke, 21 Sean O’Brien, 22 Ben Meehan, 23 Will Joseph
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Max Clark, 11 Will Muir, 10 Orlando Bailey, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Tom Ellis, 5 Charlie Ewels (captain), 4 Josh McNally, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Jack Walker, 1 Juan Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Will Spencer, 20 Miles Reid, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Max Ojomoh, 23 Alex Gray
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Robert Warburton & Philip Watters.
TMO: David Grashoff
Worcester Warriors 14-62 Northampton Saints
Scores from George Furbank and Sleightholme handed the visitors a 15-7 half-time lead, but Saints were irresistible after the break.
Sleightholme added three more to his tally with Alex Mitchell, Piers Francis, and David Ribbans all crossing too in a blistering Northampton burst, and a Penalty Try was also awarded to the visitors following a searing break from prop Paul Hill.
Saints were forced into a late change before kick-off, with fly-half Dan Biggar ruled out of the clash and James Grayson coming into the No.10 jersey to replace him – but it was the visitors who shot out of the blocks it Sixways regardless.
In the fourth minute Mitchell’s perfectly-timed offload found Furbank who sliced through the Warriors line to score in the corner.
Nick Isiekwe was called into action shortly after to make a try-saving tackle and stop Perry Humphreys from scoring in the corner after Ollie Lawrence had made some ground up the middle.
But as Saints looked to respond up the other end of the field after Sleightholme had been put into space by Mitchell, the hosts scrambled well and forced a turnover of their own with Teimana Harrison held up.
Worcester then grabbed their first points of the afternoon in the 18th minute as, with quick ball off the back of a scrum, Billy Searle flung it wide for Chris Ashton to score in the right corner – the fly-half’s touchline conversion put the hosts 7-5 ahead.
Northampton had to cope with further injuries as both Rory Hutchinson and try-scorer Furbank were forced off early on, bringing Fraser Dingwall and Tommy Freeman into the action, but Grayson put them back in front in the 25th minute with a penalty.
Harrison and Sleightholme latched over the ball to force two crucial turnovers in their own territory as Worcester looked to turn up the pressure, and Warriors threatened again when Ashton could not touch Searle’s grubber-kick down in the right corner.
But on the stroke of half-time Saints struck a big blow as they got the ball through the hands down the right, and Sleightholme turned on the gas to beat both Humphreys and Searle to the corner – Grayson’s sweetly-struck conversion gave his side a 15-7 advantage heading into the sheds.
Just three minutes into the second half Saints struck again; Tom Collins releasing Freeman and the young fullback’s left-footed grubber was perfectly weighted for Mitchell to score to the left of the posts.
And that was just an early sign of what we yet to come for Northampton as the men in Black, Green and Gold were ruthless after Ashton saw red for an illegal clearout on Freeman – despite also briefly losing Harrison for a yellow card of his own.
Sleightholme scored his second after gassing Lawrence on the outside following an effective lineout drive from Saints, before the visitors wrapped up the win on the hour mark when Tom Collins charged down Chris Pennell’s clearance – the ball found its way to Freeman, whose outrageous around-the-back offload was followed up by a basketball pass from Grayson to give Francis a simple finish in the corner.
Next came a Penalty Try for Saints after a rampaging run from Hill; Saints fizzed the ball right and Mikey Haywood’s attempted pass was slapped down by Francois Venter with Tom James waiting to score – the winger saw yellow and referee Andrew Jackson went under the posts.
With Warriors down to 13 now and Harrison back into the action, Northampton had all the space in the world and Ribbans scored following a lung-busting passage of play which saw Dingwall eventually break through a gap and send the big second row over.
Sleightholme’s hat-trick and fourth scores came in quick succession in the 76th and 78th minutes, with James assisting both after offloading nicely.
There was still just about time for Worcester to notch a consolation score through Pennell in the dying seconds, but the resounding 48-point win for Northampton shows they are in fine fettle heading into the European break.
For Worcester Warriors
Tries: Ashton, Pennell
Cons: Searle, Smith
For Northampton Saints
Tries: Furbank, Sleightholme 4, Mitchell, Francis, Penalty, Ribbans
Cons: Grayson 6
Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Ollie Lawrence, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Perry Humphreys, 10 Billy Searle, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Joe Batley, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Ted Hill (captain), 5 Justin Clegg, 4 Andrew Kitchener, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Ethan Waller
Replacements: 16 Isaac Miller, 17 Marc Thomas, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Tom Dodd, 20 Cornell du Preez, 21 Gareth Simpson, 22 Fin Smith, 23 Francois Venter
Northampton Saints: 15 George Furbank, 14 Tom Collins, 13 Rory Hutchinson, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Ollie Sleightholme, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Nick Isiekwe, 5 Api Ratuniyarawa, 4 David Ribbans, 3 Ehren Painter, 2 Sam Matavesi, 1 Alex Waller (captain)
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Alex Coles, 20 Shaun Adendorff, 21 Tom James, 22 Fraser Dingwall, 23 Tommy Freeman
Referee: Andrew Jackson
Assistant Referees: Jonathan Healy & Simon McConnell.
TMO: Trevor Fisher
Wasps 19-20 Sale Sharks
Sharks started the game brightly with the effervescent Raffi Quirke adding fizz in attack on his first start. The pressure eventually paid off with Akker van der Merwe scoring a try on 12 minutes after executing an attacking lineout perfectly with Rob du Preez adding the extras from the tee.
Wasps bounced back within minutes after a slick counter ended with Malakai Fekitoa crossing the try-line. Television match official Sarah Cox asked Christophe Ridley to check a forward-pass in the build-up, but Ridley decided that there was no clear infringement to overrule the try.
Jimmy Gopperth and Rob du Preez exchanged penalties to make it 10-10 with 25 minutes on the clock with the Sharks unable to make their territory count. A promising Sale move came to nothing after a succession of impressive offloads from the Sharks on 28 minutes.
A high tackle from Fekitoa allowed the Sharks to kick into the Wasps 22 and once again they executed their lineout play expertly with Wasps conceding a further penalty. Sam James kicked to the corner giving the Sharks a 5-metre lineout after a short break in-play following an injury to Wasps forward Theo Vukašinović. Persistent pressure from the Sharks was rewarded with yet another penalty, this time Rob du Preez opted to go for goal to make it 13-10 to the away side going into the break.
On 48 minutes Luke James was given the first yellow card of his career after Josh Bassett slipped into his outstretched arm. Wasps began to add pressure with Gopperth eventually levelling the scores against the 14-man Sharks on 50 minutes.
Sharks were reduced to 13 men on 54 minutes after Akker van der Merwe was sin binned for a high tackle on Michael Le Bourgeois. Minutes after being restored to 14 men the Sharks received yet another yellow card after Byron McGuigan was deemed to have deliberately knocked on, once more leaving Sale with 13 men. The away side continued to yield penalties which lead to Gopperth scoring a penalty to give the home side a 16-13 lead.
The depleted Sharks continued to hold their own but astonishingly received a 4th yellow card of the second half after AJ MacGinty was penalised for deliberately knocking the ball on.
Sale refused to give up and eventually drove Josh Beaumont over the line before Rob du Preez converted to win the match in the dying minutes.
The extraordinary victory moves the Sharks up to 3rd in the league ahead of next weekend’s Champions Cup fixture against Scarlets.
Pens: Gopperth 4
For Sale Sharks:
Tries: Van der Merwe, Beaumont
Cons: R Du Preez 2
Pens: R Du Preez 2
Yellow cards: Luke James (Sale Sharks, 47), Akker van der Merwe (Sale Sharks, 54), Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks, 59), AJ MacGinty (Sale Sharks, 68), Gabriel Oghre (Wasps, 76)
Wasps: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Michael Le Bourgeois, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Alfie Barbeary, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Will Rowlands, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Ben Harris
Replacements: 16 Gabriel Oghre, 17 Jack Owlett, 18 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 19 Theo Vukasinovic, 20 Sione Vailanu, 21 Sam Wolstenholme, 22 Charlie Atkinson, 23 Paolo Odogwu
Sale Sharks: 15 Luke James, 14 Byron McGuigan, 13 Sam James, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Marlon Yarde, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Raffi Quirke, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Cameron Neild, 6 Jean-Luc du Preez, 5 Cobus Wiese, 4 Josh Beaumont (captain), 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Bevan Rodd
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Will-Griff John, 19 James Phillips, 20 Sam Dugdale, 21 Will Cliff, 22 AJ MacGinty, 23 Simon Hammersley
Referee: Christophe Ridley
Assistant Referees: Dean Richards & Gareth Holsgrove.
TMO: Sara Cox