Hodgson masterclass not enough
Sat, 22 Dec 2012 16:01
A moment of magic produced the game's only try
Charlie Hodgson produced a masterclass of wet-weather rugby to lead Saracens to a comprehensive 22-0 win away at Bath.
However, it was not enough to secure top spot on the Premiership table for Sarries, even though they briefly moved to first place.
The boot of Nick Evans proved the difference, as Harlequins maintained their place at the top of the Premiership with a 18-9 victory over Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens in a later match.
* In other Saturday action Leicester Tigers consolidated their place in the Premiership top four as a pair of penalty tries and Niall Morris scores inflicted a 31-9 defeat on London Irish.
And Freddie Burns snatched a late win for Gloucester on the kind of wet Kingsholm afternoon that could go a long way to deciding play-off places at the end of the year, seeing off sixth-placed Exeter Chiefs 18-16.
We look at all Saturday's action!
Bath 0-22 Saracens
Charlie Hodgson produced a masterclass of wet-weather rugby to lead Saracens to a comprehensive 22-0 win away at Bath.
The former England flyhalf slotted 17 points and created the only try of the game for Richard Wigglesworth as Sarries temporarily moved top of the Premiership.
Bath were able to dominate much of the possession, especially after the break, but their lack of cutting edge proved costly.
For Saracens the halfback pairing of Wigglesworth and Hodgson were influential, with their defence also outstanding as Bath threw wave after wave of attacks at them to no effect.
In difficult conditions neither side was able to impose themselves early on, with Hodgson's missed drop-goal 12 minutes in the first real chance of points.
However they did manage to take the lead two minutes later when Hodgson slotted a penalty from 40 metres out.
While Sarries appeared to have the better of the territory, Bath were edging the battle up front, winning a couple of penalties through their scrum to get them out of trouble.
However it was a moment of magic from Hodgson which brought the first try, the flyhalf dummying his way past Stephen Donald before finding David Strettle, and the wing produced a neat offload to Wigglesworth for the try. Hodgson converted to extend the lead to 10-0.
After another Hodgson penalty Donald had the chance to get Bath on the board but his effort stayed just wide to the right.
And Hodgson added another three points with seven minutes remaining in the first half to put Sarries 16-0 up at half-time.
The second half began in scrappy fashion as Bath tried to press forward but struggled to take advantage of their territorial dominance.
Bath piled the pressure on the Saracens line but the visitors were able to stop a powerful maul before clearing their lines when the home side were penalised for piling over the top.
And when Sarries forced another penalty, Hodgson made no mistake to stretch their lead to 19-0 on the hour.
Hodgson then missed his first kick of the afternoon as Bath were again penalised but the home side couldn't capitalise as a line-out deep in Saracens territory didn't go to hand.
And even when they created a hint of an overlap, it was Francois Louw who knocked on to relieve the pressure for the home side.
Hodgson's radar appeared to have gone astray however as he missed his second penalty after some good work from replacement James Short. But almost immediately he made amends with his fifth penalty of the afternoon.
Pens: Hodgson 5
Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Kyle Eastmond, 12 Ben Williams, 11 Tom Biggs, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Simon Taylor, 7 Guy Mercer, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Stuart Hooper (captain), 3 David Wilson, 2 Lee Mears, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Charlie Beech, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Will Skuse, 21 Mark McMillan, 22 Tom Heathcote, 23 Dan Hipkiss.
Saracens: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Kelly Brown, 7 Will Fraser, 6 George Kruis, 5 Mouritz Botha, 4 Steve Borthwick (captain), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 Eoin Sheriff, 20 Andy Saull, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 James Short.
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant Referees: Roy Maybank, Gareth Copsey
TMO: Graham Hughes
Gloucester 18-16 Exeter Chiefs
Freddie Burns snatched a late win for Gloucester Rugby on the kind of wet Kingsholm afternoon that could go a long way to deciding play-off places at the end of the year, seeing off sixth-placed Exeter Chiefs 18-16.
In his first Premiership game since beating the All Blacks, Burns kicked six penalties, including a 73rd minute winner, to end the Chiefs' eight-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
Level at the break, it was the home side that came out firing - and despite some impressive Exeter play on both sides of the ball - the England man was the difference when it mattered, stepping up and taking over, both with his tactical kicking and from the tee.
A dominant start in the scrum by Gloucester's impressive young front row saw the home side win a penalty just outside Exeter's 22m. Burns shook off an early knock to put his side ahead ten minutes in.
Outside of the scrum however, it was the Chiefs who were looking more comfortable, the boot of full-back Luke Arscott finding space in behind Charlie Sharples on several occasions, pinning the Cherry and Whites deep in their own half.
An Arscott chip on 18 minutes earned his side a penalty after Gloucester impeded his chase - with the home side compounding their mistake, being penalised a further 10m for ill-discipline. Irishman Gareth Steenson knocked over a difficult kick in the heavy conditions to level the scores.
Breaking from deep through a series a nice offloads, the Chiefs demonstrated why they lead the league in tries.
Despite aggressive defence from captain Jim Hamilton, Gloucester appeared unable to stop Exeter, eventually sneaking offside to gift Steenson an easy penalty in front of the posts.
Ten minutes before the break though Gloucester came to life - Tonga's Sione Kalamafoni powering through two tackles to break into Chiefs territory before first a Rob Cook chip and chase, and then a Jimmy Cowan dart came up just short. They were however rewarded with a penalty, which Burns knocked over to tie the game.
The England man misfired on a snapped drop-goal attempt just before the end of the first half leaving the score at 6-6 at the break.
Gloucester made a perfect start to the second-half - Burns stepping up with the rain hammering down to drill a penalty from half-way after Exeter were pinged for leaving their feet.
He then went close minutes later, hitting the left post before doubling his side's lead with a penalty from 15m.
After making some half-time adjustments Exeter's front-row bit back, blitzing the Gloucester scrum to win a penalty inside the home 22m - Steenson knocking it over to bring his side to within three points of the hosts.
Rob Baxter's men then took the lead on 58 minutes through hooker Simon Alcott, stepping inside to beat a drifting defence from close range, in what finished an awesome display of ball retention by Exeter - Thomas pulling the strings as his side moved the ball left and right for over 20 phases.
By contrast the home side struggled to build any momentum in the Exeter half, however Burns kept them in touch, hitting back from the tee on 65 minutes to bring them within a point 15-16.
With the clock winding down, Exeter gave up another breakdown penalty in their defensive third, and Burns stepped up to steal the win 18-16.
Pens: Burns 6
For Exeter Chiefs:
Pens: Steenson 3
Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Mike Tindall, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Shane Monahan, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Jim Hamilton (captain), 4 Tom Savage, 3 Shaun Knight, 2 Darren Dawidiuk, 1 Nick Wood,
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Will James, 20 Matt Cox, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Tim Molenaar, 23 Martyn Thomas.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Phil Dollman, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Richard Baxter, 7 James Scaysbrook (captain), 6 Dean Mumm, 5 James Hanks, 4 Aly Muldowney, 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Simon Alcott, 1 Brett Sturgess.
Replacements: 16 Neil Clark, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Carl Rimmer, 19 Tom Hayes, 20 Ben White, 21 Kevin Barrett, 22 Ignacio Mieres, 23 Ian Whitten.
Referee: Llyr ApGeraint Roberts
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix, Robin Goodliffe
TMO: David Hudson
London Irish 9-31 Leicester Tigers
Leicester Tigers consolidated their place in the Premiership top four as a pair of penalty tries and Niall Morris scores inflicted a 31-9 defeat on London Irish.
Irish had closed the gap to five points at one stage in the second half but Leicester rallied late on to make it six consecutive defeats for the Exiles.
A Morris try following Toby Flood's crossfield kick and a penalty try gave Leicester a comfortable 14-3 half-time cushion.
Although Ian Humphreys kicked two penalties to close the deficit, a second penalty try and Morris' solo effort at the end ensured Leicester left the Madejski Stadium with maximum points.
London Irish had made a solid start gaining parity with Leicester in the scrum but they fell behind thanks to a piece of quick thinking from Flood.
After winning a penalty on halfway, Flood, instead of kicking to the corner, picked out Morris with a crossfield kick with a kind bounce of the ball and a good step taking the Leicester wing over the line. Flood converted.
The closest London Irish came was from an overthrown Tom Youngs lineout that Topsy Ojo hacked ahead but the ball just went out of play before the wing reached it.
Instead Irish fell further behind on 31 minutes when a series of scrums on their tryline resulted in referee Luke Pearce awarding a penalty try that Flood converted.
Humphreys did kick a penalty just before half-time but London Irish still trailed 14-3 although they soon had a man advantage after Ben Youngs was sin-binned.
They took full advantage with Humphreys kicking two further penalties to cut the gap to just five points.
That brought the crowd back to life and the home support inside the Madejski were on their feet when Sailosi Tagicakibau cut a brilliant line on halfway but could not get his offload away before being pulled down at the 22.
Jonathan Joseph also sliced his way through the visitors' defence but again Irish could not get support to him quickly enough.
The door seemed to shut on their hopes when Flood kicked a penalty with 13 minutes to go to take Leicester a score clear and although a second penalty bounced off the crossbar they did close the game out.
Morris broke down the blindside from a ruck and after kicking ahead was tackled before he reached the ball by Jamie Gibson in the in-goal area.
Gibson was sin-binned for his efforts with Leicester awarded a second penalty try and, in the final move of the match, Morris scorched through the middle to wrap the bonus point.
For London Irish:
Pens: Humphreys 3
For Leicester Tigers:
Tries: Morris 2, Penalty tries 2
Cons: Flood 4
Yellow cards: Ben Youngs (Leicester Tigers, 46), Jamie Gibson (London Irish, 72)
London Irish: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Darren Allinson, 8 Chris Hala'ufia, 7 Jebb Sinclair, 6 Declan Danaher (captain), 5 Matt Garvey, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 David Paice, 1 Max Lahiff.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Kieran Low, 20 Jamie Gibson, 21 Guy Armitage, 22 Shane Geraghty, 23 Jack Moates.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Niall Morris, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Brett Deacon, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Louis Deacon (captain), 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Logovi'i Mulipola, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Ed Slater, 20 Geoff Parling, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 George Ford, 23 Matt Smith.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Ashley Rowden, Peter Huckle
Northampton Saints 9-18 Harlequins
The boot of Nick Evans proved the difference as Harlequins maintained their place at the top of the Premiership with victory over Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens.
In tough conditions, running with the ball was particularly difficult and the game was very much a battle between the forwards on the ground and ability under the high ball.
But Evans racked up all of his team's points and fittingly had the last kick of the game to round off a fine 18-point performance and deny Saints a losing bonus point.
Quins' forward pack showed early dominance as they forced the Saints back ten yards before winning a penalty which Nick Evans converted.
But the scrum evened up and Stephen Myler scored one of his own to square it up after 19 minutes.
Handling was proving tricky in tough conditions and the boot was dominating the game - Evans slotting over another three points on 28 minutes after he and Myler exchanged misses.
A cheeky kick from Evans put some pressure on the Saints line-out which was being well contested but they passed the test as the half entered its final stages.
And with the wet weather affecting much of the running play, the half ended with Quins just ahead in a tight game.
Nick Easter with a fine kick and go which teammate Danny Care would have been proud of ran a half-length of the pitch but the No.8 was caught and brought down ten yards short of the line by Ben Foden just minutes after the break.
Evans missed a seemingly simple penalty to open the gap to six on 47 minutes but Quins kept on the attack as Ugo Monye broke through a few tackles but some feverish defence kept them at bay long enough for the slippery ball to go loose.
James Johnston was sent to the sin bin on 55 minutes for not rolling away but Saints were unable to make the absence felt despite levelling things up through Myler.
The match saw two of England's best full-backs in Foden and Mike Brown and they were given plenty to do from high balls - but it was Foden's attempt to run which led to Evans' penalty to make the score 9-6.
And as Johnston returned back to the pitch Evans added another to stretch the gap - a vital gap considering the difficulty to score in the conditions.
And with eight minutes to go it appeared Harlequins had done enough when Evans took his points tally to 15 with an easy kick in front of the posts.
On 75 minutes Saints kept themselves just in touch when substitute Ryan Lamb squeezed a penalty through the posts from a tight angle.
But Quins held on and Evans slotted a final penalty with the last kick of the game.
For Northampton Saints:
Pens: Myler 2, Lamb
Pens: Evans 6
Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Tom May, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Gerrit-Jan van Velze, 7 Phil Dowson (captain), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Paul Doran-Jones, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Brian Mujati, 19 Mark Sorenson, 20 Calum Clark, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Luther Burrell.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Matt Hopper, 12 Tom Casson, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 5 George Robson, 4 Olly Kohn, 3 James Johnston, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Tom Guest, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Sam Smith.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Nigel Carrick, Kevin Stewart
TMO: David Grashoff
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