Care leads Quins back to the top
Harlequins returned to the top of the Premiership log thanks to an enthralling 21-25 win over Leicester Tigers at The Stoop on Saturday.
Harlequins returned to the top of the Premiership log thanks to an enthralling 21-25 win over Leicester Tigers at The Stoop on Saturday.
Bath bagged their sixth win on the trot, downing London Irish 40-16, Saracens marked their first Premiership match at their new Allianz Park home with a 31-11 win over Exeter Chiefs and Northampton Saints came out 27-18 victors over Worcester Warriors.
We look at Saturday’s action!
Harlequins 25-21 Leicester Tigers
England scrumhalf Danny Care produced a moment of magic as Harlequins regained top spot in the Premiership after sneaking a narrow thriller against Leicester Tigers at The Stoop.
Trailing at the break, Care ran half the length of the field from a tap penalty to reignite Quins, with the mercurial Ben Botica adding 20 points from the boot in an impressive kicking performance as Leicester crumbled.
Toby Flood scored 16 points for Leicester on his return to Premiership action, while Adam Thompstone touched down for the Tigers but it wasn't enough for the visitors.
Leicester were the biggest recipients of England boss Stuart Lancaster wanting his Six Nations fringe players to experience game time in the Premiership this weekend, with Flood, Manu Tuilagi and Thomas Waldrom all returning for the Tigers, while Quins welcomed back Care from international duty.
And it was Care who shone brightest in the opening exchanges as the England No.9 sniped around the fringes, creating a meaningful break for Harlequins after an offload from giant second row George Robson.
With Saracens claiming a bonus point win against Exeter Chiefs earlier in the day, the clash between last season's Premiership finalists took on extra significance.
It was Leicester who struck first despite persistent Quins pressure in the opening five minutes - former England No.8 Nick Easter, playing in the second row, attempted to keep the ball alive and Flood intercepted in his own half and sprinted through for a score despite being chased all the way by Tom Williams.
Flood, desperate to put in a performance and catch the eye of England boss Lancaster, converted his own score to give Leicester the unlikeliest of early leads.
Botica, deputising for compatriot Nick Evans, dragged Quins back into the game on 13 minutes - Leicester were penalised at scrum time and the Harlequins' No.10 made no mistake with his effort at goal.
While Quins continued to needlessly play from deep, it was the continued low error count for Leicester that saw them add to the scoreboard.
Care was penalised at the breakdown, handing his England colleague Flood the opportunity to stretch Leicester's lead inside 20 minutes despite being outplayed early on.
From the restart England wing Ugo Monye collected a drop-out, forcing Leicester into a mistake and allowing Botica a chance to drag Quins back to within four points with a penalty.
And Quins were back to within a point of Leicester on 25 minutes as the Tigers were penalised for dragging down a maul and Botica slotted over a penalty.
Flood extended Leicester's lead on 29 minutes with a penalty, while Botica matched the England man's effort on 34 minutes with a kick at goal of his own to make the score 13-12.
Flood may have been made to play second fiddle to Owen Farrell for England during this year's Six Nations but his opening 40 minutes for Leicester will have given Lancaster a timely nudge.
On the stroke of half-time it was Flood's kick-through after multiple Tigers' phases that unlocked the Quins defence and allowed Leicester wing Thompstone to touch down - the England man failed to add the extras though with almost the last kick of the half.
Harlequins were desperate for a piece of magic after the break to get back into the game and it was England scrumhalf Care who served it up on 50 minutes.
Frustrated at playing a watching brief in the Six Nations, Care took a quick tap-penalty on halfway and ran half the length of the field, jinking in and out to fool former England man Mathew Tait and force his way over - Botica adding the extras to put Quins ahead.
Leicester struggled after the break as Quins started to dominate the breakdown, with Care particularly effective sniping around the fringes and kicking behind the Tigers defence into space.
It was further Leicester indiscipline at the breakdown that led to Botica extending the Quins lead to four points with a penalty after a spell of sustained pressure from the defending Premiership champions.
Quins thought they had wrapped up the points with 13 minutes remaining but Monye's score in the corner was brought back for obstruction in the home side's midfield.
And just a minute later the error looked costly as Leicester scored their first points of the second-half as Flood kicked a penalty to bring the Tigers back to within a point of the hosts.
The game looked in the balance as the Tigers pressured the Quins line in the dying minutes but the home defence held firm, while a late penalty from Botica ensured it would be Leicester going home empty-handed.
Pens: Botica 6
Tries: Flood, Thompstone
Pens: Flood 3
Harlequins: 15 Ross Chisholm, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Matt Hopper, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Tom Guest. 7 Luke Wallace, 6 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 5 George Robson, 4 Nick Easter (captain), 3 James Johnston, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Mark Lambert.
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Darryl Marfo, 18 Will Collier, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Joe Trayfoot, 21 Jordan Burns, 22 Ben Botica, 23 George Lowe.
Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Scott Hamilton, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Brett Deacon, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Louis Deacon (captain), 3 Logovi'i Mulipola, 2 Rob Hawkins, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Kieran Brookes, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Ed Slater, 20 Jordan Crane, 21 Micky Young, 22 George Ford, 23 Matt Smith.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant referees: Peter Huckle Ashley Rowden
TMO: David Grashoff
Worcester Warriors 18-27 Northampton Saints
Two second-half tries helped Northampton Saints get back to winning ways in the Premiership after an error-strewn first period at Sixways.
Both sides struggled to gain any momentum before the break as flyhalves Andy Goode and Stephen Myler went toe-to-toe, trading penalties on a busy afternoon for referee Greg Garner.
But the game took a decisive turn late on when Saints lock Samu Manoa squeezed over the line, and a penalty try gave the visitors some breathing space as the Warriors were condemned to a fourth straight league defeat.
Worcester had the best of the early exchanges, Josh Drauniniu breaking for the corner after collecting a loose ball in midfield only to be held up five metres short of the line.
Saints cleared their lines but coughed up a penalty at the resulting line-out, and Warriors flyhalf Goode made short work of the chance, knocking it home to make it 3-0.
Worcester's record points-scorer then increased his personal tally with a monster effort from inside his own half to extend the home side's lead to six points.
After a slow start Northampton worked their way back into the game and twice Goode had to resort to the boot to ease the pressure on the Worcester defence.
But then Drauniniu was pinged for picking up the ball in an offside position and Stephen Myler converted the penalty to reduce the deficit.
The Warriors were then penalised for going offside in the middle of the park and Myler made no mistake with the penalty to level the scores.
The sides continued to trade three-pointers, ex-Saints man Neil Best winning a penalty from Lee Dickson for failing to release the ball after Goode had charged down the scrumhalf's clearance.
Goode - back in the side after illness - made it 9-6 only for Worcester to infringe at the re-start and allow Myler the chance to pull Saints back level from in front of the posts.
The first real attack of any note arrived when Jon Clarke collected the ball and fed Matt Kvesic, and with Worcester driving forward the Saints went offside and Goode made it four penalties from four.
The Warriors kept up the pressure and from a line-out the ball went wide to Drauniniu via David Lemi only for Dylan Hartley to infringe at the breakdown.
It was one penalty too far for referee Greg Garner, who sent the Saints skipper to cool his heels in the sin bin. Goode couldn't extend his sequence of successful kicks, however, missing with the subsequent penalty.
With Hartley off the field Phil Dowson took over at the line-out, only for his first call to be called not straight.
But Warriors were penalised for pulling down the set-piece giving Myler a shot at goal, only for the Rugby League convert to push a simple chance wide of the posts.
With the clock running down to half-time, Warriors won a penalty but saw it reversed for a stamp by scrumhalf Jonny Arr on Saints lock Mark Sorensen. Myler lined up the penalty but failed from distance to send Warriors in 12-9 ahead.
After the interval Myler had the chance to make amends when Euan Murray was penalised at scrum on Warriors' own put-in and the former St Helens man made short work of the penalty to peg the home side back once more.
And Northampton took the lead for the first time when Worcester were pinged for not rolling away from a driven maul and Myler knocked over his fifth penalty of the day.
But the visitors seemed determined to shoot themselves in the foot and Courtney Lawes picked up their second yellow card of the afternoon for a late tackle on Goode as he chipped the ball behind the defence. That gave Goode a close-range shot at goal, and he dispatched it to bring Warriors level once more.
With neither side seeming able to pull away, Murray was penalised again at the scrum only for Myler to strike the post with his penalty effort with Goode scrambling the ball away.
But the game took a decisive turn when Northampton drove towards the Worcester line and Best saw yellow for infringing at the line-out. Myler kicked the penalty to the corner and from the line-out, Samu Manoa managed to squeeze over the line out wide.
The Northampton flyhalf sliced his penalty wide of the target giving Warriors hope, and a sixth Goode penalty from around 45 metres made it a two-point game going into the last quarter. But Northampton pushed the hosts back deep into their own half and from an attacking line-out earned another penalty.
Going to the set-piece again, Warriors were pushed back towards their posts before collapsing the drive, only for referee Garner to award a penalty try that Myler converted with ease.
Trailing 27-18, Warriors tried to force their way back into the game late on but despite the reappearance of Best from the sin bin they couldn't find a way past the Saints defence as they succumbed to defeat.
Pens: Goode 6
Tries: Manoa, Penalty
Pens: Myler 5
Yellow cards: Dylan Hartley (Northampton, 32), Courtney Lawes (Northampton, 57), Neil Best (Worcester, 65)
Worcester: 15 Errie Claassens, 14 Josh Drauniniu, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Jon Clarke, 11 David Lemi, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 Matt Kvesic. 7 Sam Betty, 6 Neil Best, 5 Dean Schofield, 4 James Percival (captain), 3 Euan Murray, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Ed Shervington, 17 Ceri Jones, 18 John Andress, 19 Craig Gillies, 20 Jake Abbott, 21 Paul Hodgson, 22 Danny Gray, 23 Josh Matavesi.
Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 James Wilson, 13 George Pisi, 12 Tom May, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 GJ van Velze, 7 Phil Dowson, 6 Samu Manoa, 5 Mark Sorenson, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Tom Mercey, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Paul Doran Jones, 19 Rhys Oakley, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Dom Waldouck.
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant referees: Kevin Stewart, Paul Burton
TMO: David Hudson
Saracens 31-11 Exeter Chiefs
Mako Vunipola scored two tries as Saracens recorded their first Premiership win at their new Allianz Park home at the first attempt with a 31-11 victory over Exeter Chiefs.
The England prop, released back to the club by head coach Stuart Lancaster this week, scored along with Charlie Hodgson and Matt Stevens on the first Premiership match to be played on Saracens' new artificial surface.
The win means the home side got back to winning ways after their loss to London Irish last week to cement their position in the play-offs, while the Chiefs have now lost two on the bounce.
Sarries started with intent on their new pitch and within the first few minutes the home side should have had a try in the right corner. James Short just needed ball to hand to cross the whitewash, but Joel Tomkins failed to find the wing with his pass.
Hodgson and Exeter flyhalf Gareth Steenson both missed penalty attempts early on and the game was scoreless after the opening 15 minutes.
Hodgson missed two penalties before Chiefs fullback Luke Arscott was sin-binned for killing the ball to prevent Sarries recycling quickly after a scintillating break from Ben Ransom.
The visitors were the first to eventually put points on the board after Saracens failed to roll away at a ruck - Steenson making it 0-3 after 24 minutes.
Sarries finally got their try at the tail end of the half. The forwards battered into the Exeter defence for a few phases and Hodgson ghosted through a gap to score on his 43rd appearance for the club, converting his own try to make it 7-3 at half-time.
A fast start to the second half from Saracens earned them a penalty when Exeter were caught offside and Hodgson extended the home side's lead to 10-3.
Saracens managed to make a mess of an Exeter line-out close to the visitors' line and had the Chiefs defence at sixes and sevens. The attack ended with prop Stevens barging over from close range. Another successful conversion from Hodgson put daylight between the sides at 17-3.
Right from the kick-off though Steenson clawed some points back for Exeter, taking the score to 17-6 with a penalty.
The points started to come thick and fast after that and Vunipola bagged Saracens' next try. The 22-year-old England prop couldn't be stopped on the crash ball from a few yards out.
The Exeter defence was hugely committed in the face of strong Saracens pressure but they eventually succumbed to another try. Again it was Vunipola, this time lurking on the right wing, who rode one tackle before crossing the line.
Saracens led 31-6 with eight minutes to play but Exeter got a reward for their superb defence with a consolation score five minutes before full-time, captain Richard Baxter with it to make the final score 31-11.
Tries: Hodgson, Stevens, Vunipola 2
Cons: Hodgson 4
Pens: Steenson 2
Yellow card: Luke Arscott (Exeter, 19)
Saracens: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 James Short, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Adam Powell, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Mouritz Botha, 4 Steve Borthwick (captain), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 John Smit, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 Alistair Hagreaves, 20 Justin Melck, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Nils Mordt, 23 Joe Maddock.
Exeter: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Kai Horstmann, 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Richard Baxter (captain), 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Neil Clark, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Alex Brown, 19 Tom Hayes, 20 Aly Muldowney, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Ignacio Mieres, 23 Phil Dollman.
Referee: Martin Fox
Assistant referees: Robin Goodliffe, Stuart Terheege
TMO: Geoff Warren
Bath 40-16 London Irish
Bath made it six wins on the spin as they kept alive their Premiership play-off charge with a 40-16 bonus-point win against London Irish despite injuries to Stephen Donald and skipper Francois Louw.
Both players limped off in the opening 40 minutes but a penalty try following a high tackle from Exiles wing Topsy Ojo and a Nick Abendanon score, with Nathan Catt and Anthony Perenise going over after the break, were enough for Bath to take the points.
London Irish will be hugely disappointed with the result and the performance, despite a wonderful second-half score from Jack Moates, having won five of their last six games, including a memorable win last weekend against Saracens as they continue to battle against the Premiership drop.
Bath dominated the early possession and territory, with their experienced front five - including international props Paul James and David Wilson; back from Wales and England Six Nations duty respectively, pulling the strings.
New Zealand World Cup winner Donald had the first shot at goal after just three minutes after London Irish were penalised for pulling down a Bath maul but the No.10 missed.
Donald was made to pay for his error in front of the posts as London Irish fullback Tom Homer - against the run of play - showed the Kiwi how it should be done, threading the ball through the posts after Bath were penalised for failing to release.
And just two minutes later it was 6-0 to the visitors - who last week shocked high-flyers Saracens to win - as Homer knocked over his second penalty after Bath messed up the restart.
On 18 minutes Donald, who minutes later hobbled off injured, hauled Bath back into the game - slotting over a penalty of his own after London Irish wing Topsy Ojo escaped a yellow card for a high tackle.
As the game progressed, London Irish No.10 Ian Humphreys started to get the exciting Exiles backline moving and after going through the phases, Bath were penalised for offside but Homer missed a very kickable penalty on 24 minutes.
There was further bad news for Bath shortly after as skipper Louw was forced off with a hip injury and was replaced by Mat Gilbert.
The disruption to the back row and at flyhalf did little to derail Bath's attacking rugby as the home side were awarded a penalty try on 29 minutes; converted by Tom Heathcote.
Tom Biggs was tackled high just as he seemed certain to go over in the corner by England wing Ojo - referee David Rose awarded the penalty try and sent the London Irish man to the bin.
And it got even better four minutes later as Abendanon chose not to put Horacio Agulla over in the corner and instead bustled his way over, with Heathcote again adding the extras for a 17-6 lead.
Homer ensured Irish were still within touching distance at the break though as he landed his third penalty of the afternoon with the final kick of the half.
Bath extended their lead four minutes after the break as the Exiles were penalised for bad language at the breakdown and Heathcote made them pay with an accurate strike at goal.
Despite failing to add to their score in the first ten minutes of the second half, London Irish were much improved after the break, with Marland Yarde particularly menacing for the Exiles with ball in hand.
But just as it looked as though London Irish might find a way back into the game, Homer became the second Exile to receive a yellow card.
He was penalised on 53 minutes for failing to release Bath's Kyle Eastmond, with Heathcote extending the score to 23-9 from the subsequent shot at goal.
Midway through the half, Bath turned down a shot at goal and instead kicked for the corner, they successfully claimed their lineout and drove over the London Irish line but under a pile of bodies there was adjudged to be a knock-on by Rose.
With a man disadvantage, Humphreys dragged London Irish back in the game, dummying two Bath defenders to spark a long-range try as Jack Moates finished a flowing move, with the Exiles No.10 adding the extras with a quite brilliant kick from the touchline to make it 23-16 with just over 15 minutes to play.
Heathcote importantly stretched Bath's lead to ten points with just five minutes remaining as he slotted a penalty after Jon Fisher was yellow carded for London Irish - the unlucky recipient for persistent infringement.
With four minutes remaining the game was effectively sealed as Catt went over for Bath, with Heathcote adding the extras, while in stoppage time Anthony Perenise secured the bonus point by burrowing over, with Heathcote again converting to take his personal tally to 17 points.
Tries: Penalty, Abendanon, Catt, Perenise
Cons: Heathcote 4
Pens: Donald, Heathcote 3
For London Irish:
Pens: Hodgson 3
Yellow cards: Topsy Ojo (London Irish, 29), Tom Homer (London Irish, 52), Jon Fisher (London Irish, 73)
Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Matt Banahan, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Tom Biggs, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Ben Skirving, 7 Carl Fearns, 6 Francois Louw (captain), 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Dominic Day, 3 David Wilson, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Will Spencer, 20 Mat Gilbert, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Tom Heathcote, 23 Semesa Rokoduguni.
London Irish: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Guy Armitage, 12 Shane Geraghty, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Pat Phibbs, 8 Chris Hala'ufia, 7 Jebb Sinclair, 6 Matt Garvey, 5 Bryn Evans (captain), 4 George Skivington, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Max Lahiff.
Replacements: 16 Mike Mayhew, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Jamie Gibson, 20 Ofisa Treviranus, 21 Jon Fisher, 22 Steven Shingler, 23 Jack Moates.
Referee: David Rose
Assistant referees: Andrew Pearce Andrew Watson