Vunipola injury mars Saracens success
PREMIERSHIP SATURDAY WRAP: Reigning English Premiership champions Saracens continued their quest for a 'double Double' with a 40-19 win over London rivals Harlequins at Wembley on Saturday.
But Mako Vunipola gave the British and Irish Lions an injury scare when he limped off early in the second half with his knee heavily strapped.
The Saracens and England prop is a leading contender for one of the front row berths in the Lions squad for the combined side's three-Test tour of New Zealand due to be announced by coach Warren Gatland on April 19.
But Saracens boss Mark McCall said he had been taken off Saturday as a precaution ahead of the European kings' Champions Cup semifinal away to Irish giants Munster in Dublin in a fortnight.
"Mako took a little bang to his knee just before half-time and felt a little bit uncomfortable," McCall said.
"We don't think it's anything serious at all, but we just wanted to be sensible with the big game coming up in two weeks' time."
* In other Saturday action Thomas Waldrom's late try gave Exeter Chiefs victory over bottom side Bristol in a breathless Premiership encounter at Sandy Park.
* Anthony Watson's late double handed Matt O'Connor a nightmare start to his time in charge of Leicester Tigers as Bath won The Clash in thrilling circumstances 27-21 at Twickenham.
We look at Saturday's matches!
Bath 27-21 Leicester
Anthony Watson's late double handed Matt O'Connor a nightmare start to his time in charge of Leicester Tigers as Bath won The Clash in thrilling circumstances 27-21 at Twickenham.
In the glorious sunshine Leicester were on course to give O'Connor the perfect start to his second spell with the Tigers, as they led 21-13 with 15 minutes to go, but Watson popped up twice in three minutes to turn the game around.
As a result Bath moved level on points with Leicester in the table in fourth, and with three games to go it's all to play for in the battle for a semifinal spot.
In front of 61,868 supporters, Leicester had looked set to run away with it with two early tries and they led for the majority of the encounter before Watson's late intervention.
Leicester had burst out of the blocks with Brendon O'Connor crossing just five minutes in after Bath failed to deal with a Burns up-and-under.
The flyhalf added the conversion before some individual magic from Telusa Veainu stretched the Tigers lead.
Jonathan Joseph had been turned over in the ruck by Brendon O'Connor, and the ball was shifted quickly to Veainu. The Tongan international spotted space in behind, kicked through and had too much gas for Matt Banahan as the ball stopped just over the line and he was able to dot down. Burns couldn't convert on this occasion.
Bath were rocked but in George Ford they had a constant threat with ball in hand, with Leicester struggling to contain their future flyhalf.
And it was his wide pass that gave Joseph the easy run-in for Bath's first try, with Ford knocking over the conversion for good measure to make it 12-7.
The Bath flyhalf added a penalty just before the half-hour, although that was cancelled out by three points from Burns with Leicester getting the upper hand in the scrum.
Leading 15-10 at the break, Leicester extended their lead with a Burns penalty three minutes into the second half.
Ford matched him but when Burns slotted another with 14 minutes to go, Leicester looked to be stretching clear.
However two Watson tries in a matter of minutes, the first created by a brilliant Taulupe Faletau break, turned the game on its head.
In between JP Pietersen had been sin-binned for an intentional knock-on, and once he had departed Bath used their electric backline to put Banahan away and his no-look pass gave Watson the simplest of run-ins.
Ford converted both and Bath led 27-21 with less than ten minutes to go.
Leicester gave it everything to try to come back, but struggled to create a clear cut chance, with their last opportunity disappearing when they failed to make touch from a late penalty.
Tries: Joseph, Watson 2
Cons: Ford 3
Pens: Ford 2
For Leicester Tigers:
Tries: O'Connor, Veainu
Pens: Burns 3
Yellow cards: JP Pietersen (Leicester Tigers, 69), Beno Obano (Bath, 75)
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Tom Ellis, 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Charlie Ewels, 3 Kane Palma-Newport, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Nathan Catt.
Replacements: 16 Chris Brooker, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 David Denton, 20 Zach Mercer, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Tom Homer.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Mathew Tait, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Luke Hamilton, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Mike Fitzgerald, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Dom Barrow, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Mike Williams, 20 Harry Thacker, 21 Ben White, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Jack Roberts.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant referees: Simon McConnell, Andrew P Jackson
TMO: Graham Hughes
Exeter 38-34 Bristol
Thomas Waldrom's late try gave Exeter Chiefs victory over bottom side Bristol in a breathless Premiership encounter at Sandy Park.
Waldrom's score three minutes from time, his second of the match, secured a 38-34 win for the Chiefs, who had to come from behind twice to finally get past a spirited Bristol.
In a match where the lead changed hands four times, Mitch Eadie's try with 20 minutes to go put the visitors within touching distance of a famous victory before Waldrom had the final say.
Chiefs had won five of the previous six fixtures in all competitions going into the game, the only defeat being the 16-12 loss to Leicester Tigers in the Anglo-Welsh Cup Final.
And the hosts might have thought they were on their way to a routine win when Olly Woodburn gave them the perfect start.
Woodburn crossed after less than two minutes, after a break down the left hand side from Ian Whitten. Henry Slade added the extras to make it 7-0.
But Bristol responded almost immediately, and were back on level terms after Will Harrell intercepted a Slade pass for a 50-metre breakaway score.
The visitors were galvanised by this early response, and Jason Woodward snaffled a pass on the Bristol 22-metre line before racing away for a second interception try.
Slade's penalty got Rob Baxter's side to within a score, but Gavin Henson landed another decisive blow when he muscled down the left and dotted down, before kicking converting his own try to move Bristol further ahead of a shell-shocked Exeter.
However, the home side rallied and hauled themselves back into the match on the stroke of half-time. Geoff Parling crossed after a long period of Chiefs pressure, Slade adding the two points with an impressive touchline kick.
This gave Chiefs momentum and they struck within seconds of the second period, with Whitten crashing over and Slade kicking the extras to pull the scores level.
Baxter's side had the bit between their teeth and retook the lead 12 minutes into the second half after a heavy period of Chiefs dominance. Waldrom was the man to dot down, with Slade securing the conversion.
But Bristol roared back. Henson's penalty from the angle reduced arrears and they got their noses in front when Mitch Eadie scored a converted try to make it 34-31 and secure a bonus point for the visitors and within range of a stunning win.
Chiefs responded and were camped in the Bristol half, and their pressure told when Waldrom crossed the white line from close range, with Gareth Steenson adding the extras.
For Exeter Chiefs:
Tries: Woodburn, Parling, Whitten, Waldrom 2
Cons: Slade 4, Steenson
Tries: Hurrell, Woodward, Henson, Eadie
Cons: Henson 4
Pens: Henson 2
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Don Armand (captain), 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Dave Ewers, 21 Stuart Townsend, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Michele Campagnaro.
Bristol: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Ryan Edwards, 13 Will Hurrell, 12 Gavin Henson, 11 Jack Tovey 10 Billy Searle, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8. Mitch Eadie, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Sam Jeffries, 5 Mark Sorenson, 4 James Phillips, 3 Gaston Cortes, 2 Marc Jones (captain), 1 Ryan Bevington.
Replacements: 16 Max Crumpton, 17 Jack O'Connell, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Ben Glynn, 20 Nick Fenton-Wells, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 James Newey, 23 Charlie Amesbury.
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant referees: Adam Leal, Jonathan Healy
TMO: Rowan Kitt
Saracens 40-19 Harlequins
Defending Premiership champions Saracens kept up the pressure on Exeter Chiefs and Wasps in the hunt for a home semifinal, with a dominant 40-19 win over London rivals Harlequins at Wembley Stadium.
Harlequins, the away side in the 'Derby Day' fixture, opened the scoring but Saracens soon surged ahead with tries from flying winger Chris Ashton and the fleet-footed Schalk Brits to lead 17-9 advantage at the break.
Michael Rhodes went 30 metres to get the hosts' third, and while Quins fought back through the boot of Nick Evans and James Horwill's score, Alex Goode had the final say to secure the crucial bonus point and dent the south-west Londoners' hopes of making the top four.
England's Owen Farrell was flawless from the tee, notching up 20 points, and the 'Derby Day' triumph also means that Sarries confirm their place alongside Wasps and Exeter in the Premiership semifinals.
The sixth Wembley encounter between the London rivals started with both sides trying to establish territory through the boot.
With just five minutes played Quins were unlucky to lose Jack Clifford with a head injury, and Dave Ward replaced the England back row forward.
Former All Black flyhalf Evans struck the first points of the match with twelve minutes played, slotting a penalty from 28 metres out.
Sarries were soon putting on the pressure and were rewarded in the 17th minute – Alex Goode deftly grubbering the ball into the corner for Chris Ashton to touch down his sixth try at Wembley.
Three minutes later Farrell kicked to the corner from a scrum penalty, Sarries took a catch-and-drive, but the Quins defence held firm and turned the ball over after nine phases.
Ashton sent a neat chip back into the corner and from the next passage of play South African hooker Schalk Brits was able to burrow over from ten metres out.
In response Quins kept the tempo high and a penalty conceded by Maro Itoje for not releasing gave Evans the chance to get an easy three points back.
Evans further reduced the deficit to 14-9 before Quins were handed a reprieve when Chris Ashton dropped the crucial pass after an excellent break from substitute Joel Conlon.
Farrell struck back with a penalty to send the sides in at half-time 17-9.
Farrell extended that lead two minutes into the second half with a long-range penalty but Evans responded with his fourth of the afternoon.
John Kingston then rang the changes in an attempt to wrestle back control; gaps in both defences were proving rare though and a third penalty from Farrell kept the scoreboard ticking over.
Quins threatened with Marland Yarde's searing break down the left to gain them valuable territory, but Farrell kept pinning the visitors back with typical Sarries accuracy.
Things looked ominous for the visitors when Farrell sailed another penalty over from 46 metres out with only 11 minutes left on the clock.
Lions contender Mike Brown almost got Harlequins back into the game but chipped slightly too long, and in a cruel sting Sarries went down the other end and scored their third try through Michael Rhodes.
James Horwill butchered his way over to get a consolation for Quins, but Sarries soon had their fourth try when Goode touched down with only two minutes left to play.
Tries: Ashton, Brits, Rhodes, Goode
Cons: Farrell 4
Pens: Farrell 4
Pens: Evans 4
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Brad Barritt (captain), 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jackson Wray, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Titi Lamositele, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Mark Flanagan, 20 Joel Conlon, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Nick Tompkins.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown,14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care (captain), 8 Mat Luamanu, 7 Jack Clifford, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 James Horwill, 4 George Merrick, 3 Will Collier, 2 Rob Buchanan, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Dave Ward, 21 Charlie Mulchrone, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Alofa Alofa.
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Roy Maybank
TMO: David Sainsbury