Falcons edge Saints in Premiership thriller
PREMIERSHIP SATURDAY WRAP: Toby Flood kicked Newcastle Falcons to a pulsating victory over Northampton Saints in the Big One at St James' Park.
The Falcons flyhalf racked up 20 points with the boot while a Vereniki Goneva try also played a part in Dean Richards' troops racking up their eighth win in nine Premiership Rugby matches.
Maro Itoje showed his international class on his return as Saracens beat Harlequins 24-11 in the first ever Premiership game at the London Stadium.
Tries from Itoje and Liam Williams, plus 14 points from the boot of Alex Lozowski, proved the difference in front of a crowd of 55 329.
Despite Owen Farrell and George Kruis being unavailable, Saracens were able to call on six of their international heavyweights following the conclusion of the Six Nations.
Sale Sharks ran in eight tries as they cruised to a bonus-point 58-25 win over Worcester Warriors in a try-fest at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Steve Diamond’s men had the bonus point wrapped up before half-time, and continued in the same vein after the break to move into the top six.
Meanhwile, A fine brace from Tom Marshall helped Gloucester to their first away victory in the Premiership since November as they downed London Irish 33-29.
Josh McNally and Piet van Zyl dotted down to give Irish a perfect start but two tries from Marshall and scores from James Hanson, Lewis Ludlow and Mark Atkinson put the visitors in command.
Theo Brophy Clews and Joe Cokanasiga crossed the whitewash late on but Gloucester held out to ensure Declan Kidney’s first game in charge of the Exiles ended in defeat.
Newcastle Falcons 25-22 Northampton Saints
With a crowd of 30 174 in attendance, both sides were welcomed into a white-hot atmosphere and the hosts very nearly thought they had blazed into the ascendancy in a heartbeat.
With just a minute on the clock, Sinoti Sinoti streaked away to dot down after the ball span loose favourably but the try was ruled out for a knock-on.
Instead, the Falcons took flight through a Toby Flood penalty but in the 11th minute, the visitors went over with their first meaningful offensive of the match, David Ribbans powering over the line from the breakdown.
However, another Flood penalty shortly afterwards put Newcastle 6-5 to the good and then the home side caught their opponents napping, Vereniki Goneva somehow afforded the space to saunter clear, waltz over the line for his 50th Premiership try, and then pay tribute to St James' by performing Newcastle United legend Alan Shearer's trademark celebration.
With just under six minutes until the break, however, back came Northampton, George North and Rob Horne putting the Falcons under pressure from an aerial ball, with the latter managing to knock forward before dotting down, Stephen Myler adding the extras.
Flood kicked his third and fourth penalties of the game either side of half-time for the Falcons to make it 19-12 but it didn't take long for the Saints to get back on level terms, Nafi Tuitavake showing fleet of foot before stretching the ball over the line, Myler adding the extras to tie things up.
That deadlock was maintained as Flood and Myler exchanged penalties.
And then, with 13 minutes to go, Flood booted his sixth effort of the day, this time from 47 metres, in what would prove to be the match-winning penalty, despite a last-gasp rally from the Saints.
For Newcastle Falcons:
Pens: Flood 6
For Northampton Saints:
Tries: Ribbans, Horne, Tuitavake
Cons: Myler 2
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Michael Young, 8 Nili Latu, 7 Will Welch (captain), 6 Evan Olmstead, 5 Sean Robinson, 4 Calum Green, 3 Trevor Davison, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Sam Lockwood.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Rob Vickers, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Will Witty, 20 Ally Hogg, 21 Sam Stuart, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Maxime Mermoz.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Piers Francis, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Ben Nutley, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 David Ribbans, 5 Christian Day (captain), 4 Api Ratuniyawara, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Campese Ma’afu.
Replacements: 16 Reece Marshall, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Michael Paterson, 20 Mitch Eadie, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Harry Mallinder, 23 Ben Foden.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant referees: Ian Tempest, Hamish Smales
TMO: Sean Davey
Saracens 24-11 Harlequins
It did not take long for the hosts to get on the scoreboard, with Alex Lozowski converting the opening three points with a penalty after two minutes.
Saracens continued to starve Quins of possession in the early stages and their next visit to their opponents' 22 resulted in the game's first try.
Wing Sean Maitland’s weaving run forced the visitors on the back foot, before the ball went through the hands of Marcelo Bosch, Brad Barritt and Alex Goode to set up Liam Williams to dot down in the corner.
Lozowski added the extras to put Saracens 10-0 ahead, but just as they looked to be running away with it, Quins' scrum powered them back into the game.
Buoyed by the return of Kyle Sinckler and Chris Robshaw, the pack forced two penalties which were both converted by Demetri Catrakilis to cut the deficit to four points.
After a positive response to going behind, Quins were hit with two setbacks in as many minutes. A knock left Catrakilis unable to continue, before Maro Itoje showed his class – and lack of fatigue after starting all five of England’s Six Nations games.
He slipped a tackle and fended off four defenders on his way to his first try of the season. Lozowski was unsuccessful with the touchline conversion attempt, but a penalty on the stroke of half-time gave Saracens a 18-6 lead at the break.
Quins came out firing at the start of the second half and appeared to have the momentum with them when captain James Horwill crashed through the Saracens defence for the visitors’ first try.
But the positive vibes did not last long. Another penalty from Lozowski restored Saracens' ten-point advantage and their defence kept Quins at arm's length.
A yellow card for Saracens replacement Max Malins for knocking the ball into touch deliberately gave Quins some hope, but Lozowski made sure of the result in the 78th minute with his fourth penalty.
Tries: Williams, Itoje
Pens: Lozowski 4
Pens: Catrakilis 2
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Nick Isiekwe, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Jamie George, 1 Richard Barrington.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Titi Lamositele, 19 Ben Earl, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Max Malins, 23 Chris Wyles.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Danny Care, 8 James Chisholm, 7 Luke Wallace, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Charlie Matthews, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Mark Lambert.
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Will Collier, 19 Mat Luamanu, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Francis Saili.
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant referees: Anthony Woodthorpe, Jonathan Healy
TMO: Graham Hughes
Sale Sharks 58-25 Worcester Warriors
Sale made the perfect start as they went through the hands to open up a sliver of space on the left with Bryn Evans putting Ben Curry away for the try. AJ MacGinty converted from the touchline.
And although Worcester responded with their first real period of concerted pressure, Sale had a second inside the first ten minutes. After a knock-on in the Sharks' 22, Mike Haley took a gamble with a wide pass and when the ball got out to Marland Yarde, the wingset off at pace down the left.
He found Haley waiting inside him and then once he had taken Sale into the Worcester half, he fed Faf de Klerk to his right, with the South African scrumhalf having the pace and then the strength to hold off Jamie Shillcock.
MacGinty missed the conversion, but slotted a penalty from a scrum infringement to stretch the lead to 15-0, only for that to be cancelled out by a Shillcock three-pointer.
Worcester’s task got harder when they lost Darren Barry to the sin-bin for a tackle off the ball on Curry when De Klerk had made a half-break.
Despite being a man down, it was the Warriors who struck next, with another Shillcock penalty, but soon after Sale had a third try.
After a couple of bulldozing carries from Josh Strauss, bumping off would be tacklers, they switched play to the left where Sam James’ wide pass caught out Jackson Willison. That left a two-on-one and Haley put Yarde in for the finish after a simple sidestep. MacGinty converted from the touchline to make it 22-6.
And they had the bonus point by half-time when Denny Solomona ran in his 11th try of the season after Andrei Ostrikov’s impressive break down the right had put him clear. MacGinty’s conversion made it 29-6 at half-time.
Josh Adams, who had been level with Solomona as the top try-scorer in the Premiership, responded with a long-range intercept score to start the second half.
However Sale bounced back with two quick tries, first from Haley, and then Strauss, as they eased towards maximum points.
Byron McGuigan then went over for the next, with Worcester responding through Adams' second before late tries from James O'Connor, for Sale, and Willison, for Worcseter.
Tries: B Curry, De Klerk, Yarde, Solomona, Haley, Strauss, McGuigan, O'Connor
Cons: MacGinty 5, De Klerk
Pens: MacGinty, De Klerk
Tries: Adams 2, Willison
Cons: Shillcock, Olver
Pens: Shillcock 2
Sale Sharks: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Will Addison (captain.), 12 Sam James, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Ben Curry, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 James Flynn, 18 Alexandru Tarus, 19 Josh Beaumont, 20 Tom Curry, 21 Will Cliff, 22 James O'Connor, 23 Byron McGuigan.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Josh Adams 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Ben Te’o, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Dean Hammond, 10 Jamie Shillcock, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 GJ van Velze (captain), 7 Alafoti Faosiliva, 6 David Denton, 5 Will Spencer, 4 Darren Barry, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Ethan Waller.
Replacements: 16 Kurt Haupt, 17 Ryan Bower, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Andrew Kitchener, 20 Matt Cox, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Sam Olver, 23 Tom Howe.
Referee: Andrew Jackson
Assistant referees: Steve Lee, Peter Allan
TMO: Trevor Fisher
London Irish 29-33 Gloucester
James Marshall sunk an early penalty for the hosts and six minutes later a midfield maul did its magic as Josh McNally was able to rumble over to help the Exiles into a 10-0 lead.
Things got even better for Declan Kidney’s side as Piet van Zyl produced a beautiful dummy to burrow his way through the base of the ruck and touchdown.
But Gloucester got back into the game and after building heavy pressure, James Hanson was able to bundle over from close range.
Gloucester were now in the ascendancy and were soon over yet again, this time from Marshall as the visitors took advantage of an overlap to dot down their second.
Johan Ackermann’s side had started poorly but were now hitting top gear and hitting the front four minutes before the break as Ludlow finished off a fine team move, carving open the Irish backline to make it 17-19.
Gloucester continued to turn the screw as Mark Atkinson was able to burst through the Irish defence before Marshall notched up his second with a sensational finish in the corner.
Theo Brophy Clews then fired London Irish back into the contest with 15 minutes to go, darting his way to the line after a neat offload from Joe Cokanasiga.
And Cokanasiga followed up his offload with a powerful finish from close range as the Exiles sensed a dramatic comeback with seven minutes remaining.
But Irish could not find a way over in the dying moments as they collected a losing bonus point.
For London Irish:
Tries: McNally, Van Zyl, Brophy Clews, Cokanasiga
Cons: Marshall 2, Bell
Tries: Hanson, Marshall 2, Ludlow, Atkinson
Cons: Twelvetrees 2, Burns 2
London Irish: 15 James Marshall, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Tom Fowlie, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Theo Brophy Clews, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Ofisa Treviranus, 7 Conor Gilsenan, 6 Arno Botha, 5 Josh McNally, 4 Franco van der Merwe (captain), 3 Ollie Hoskins, 2 David Paice, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Dave Porecki, 17 Harry Elrington, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Sebastian De Chaves, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Tommy Bell, 23 Aseli Tikoirotuma.
Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Tom Marshall, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Jake Polledri, 5 Mariano Galarza; 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 James Hanson, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Val Rapava Ruskin, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Freddie Clarke, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 Tom Hudson.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Adam Leal, Paul Burton
TMO: Martin Fox