Premiership: Harlequins strike late to beat Leicester, Wasps thump Worcester and Northampton snatch win at Bath

·9-min read
 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

A late Andre Esterhuizen try finished off a classic Harlequins comeback to give them a 26-20 home win over Premiership leaders Leicester Tigers.

Freddie Burns had nudged Leicester 20-18 ahead with six minutes to go having relieved George Ford of the kicking duties, but Quins’ response was immediate as Esterhuizen showed his strength to finish in the right corner.

A first half that finished 15-12 became even tighter after the interval as Tigers showed their resilience to weather long spells of pressure before taking control.

The tide was turning in their favour when Jasper Wiese crashed over but once an exchange of place kicking between Ford and Marcus Smith subsided, the champions burst into life to engineer the decisive score.

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Quins finished the Premiership title clash strongly as they kept alive their hopes of a home semi-final, but if they meet again in the knockout phase Leicester will believe their strongest line-up could finish the job.

It was a tight contest that ebbed and flowed with the start offering little idea of what was to come as Quins surged ahead as reward for choosing touch over a routine three points.

A slick line-out allowed waves of runners to push Leicester backwards and the crucial moment arrived when Alex Dombrandt broke a tackle and then popped a pass off the ground to Will Collier who touched down.

Nemani Nadolo replied with the help of some frail home defending before Quins had a Smith try disallowed for obstruction.

A play later and they were over, however, as Smith fired a bullet pass to Cadan Murley who was given a simple run in because of the speed and precision of the move.

Murley’s fearless tackle on the giant Nadolo drew a roar from the crowd and perhaps in the sign of the difficulties faced by Leicester, director of rugby Steve Borthwick walked down from the stands to the sideline to have a lengthy chat with his veteran replacement scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth.

Tigers saw an attack on the line repelled as they looked to claw back the 12-7 deficit but they had gained a foothold up front as the tempo of the game slowed.

Esterhuizen plucked a kick out of the air two handed but his clearance was poor and the mistake was costly as a counter-attack was continued by a dynamic run from Matt Scott for Hanro Liebenberg to score.

When Quins next took a scrum in front of the posts they took the points and were back in front, but the half finished with Leicester in the ascendency.

Ellis Genge and Jasper Wiese were among four Tigers forwards summoned from the bench soon after the interval and their first task was to stop the pressure building in their 22.

Once that was achieved, Leicester moved downfield and took the lead for the first time by using their forwards to pick and go until Wiese crossed.

Ford directed the conversion on to the right upright and at 17-15 the match was finely poised heading into the final quarter.

A series of scrums became fractious with Genge and Wilco Louw the source of the problem.

Louis Lynagh had a foot in touch after Smith’s clever switch of direction gave him sight of the line as Quins stepped up the attack with a Smith penalty nudging them back in front.

With points now at a premium, Ford took aim at the posts but he was wide before Burns proved successful shortly after.

The closing stages was all Quins, however, with Esterhuizen touching down and Smith adding a penalty.

Wasps surge past Worcester to continue home hot-streak

Wasps secured an eighth successive home victory in all competitions with a 41-12 win over Worcester Warriors at the Coventry Building Society Arena.

Lee Blackett’s side took a 15-point lead in at the break courtesy of tries from Tom West and Josh Bassett plus five points from the boot of Jimmy Gopperth.

Worcester’s first score came in early into the second half when Harri Doel finished neatly only for Gabriel Oghre and Elliott Stooke to strike and secure Wasps a bonus point.

Ted Hill’s try gave Warriors hope of salvaging something from the game but those slim chances were erased as Oghre grabbed his second and Tom Willis’ opportunistic score at the death completed a comprehensive win for the hosts.

It was Wasps who flew out of the blocks and opened the scoring within four minutes when West survived a collision to reach over and ground the ball.

Worcester threatened in attack and teased Zach Kibirige into a deliberate knock-on that was punished with a yellow card.

Joe Launchbury appeared to have stretched Wasps’ lead when he crossed only for it to be chalked off by the television match official.

Buoyed by their reprieve, Worcester broke free with Oli Morris latching on for a run-in only for Charlie Atkinson to hunt him down.

Billy Searle, up against his former club, pushed a penalty wide while Gopperth made no mistake from his next shot at goal.

Wasps stretched their lead further when Bassett profited from slick work from the half-back paring of Dan Robson and Atkinson to scorch home on an unstoppable diagonal run from 40 metres out.

There was a late scare for the hosts as a shuddering Malakai Fekitoa hit on Morris was checked but the former All Blacks ace was punished by a penalty only.

The score Worcester had threatened in the first half eventually came eight minutes into the second as Searle and Hearle combined to free Doel into the left corner.

It wasn’t to be a score they would build upon as the hosts struck back entering the final quarter.

Robson’s quickly-tapped free-kick allowed Gopperth and Kibirige to break into the 22, upon the recycle, Alfie Barbeary’s soft hands freed Atkinson to tease a ball out in front of Stooke to stride in from 10 metres out.

A brilliant Willis penalty win at a breakdown was turned into seven points as Oghre rumbled a driving maul over with Umaga adding the extras.

Perry Humphreys’ offload to Hill kept Worcester in with a shout, only for Oghre to drive over before Willis stayed alert to Gareth Simpson’s fumble to ground a bizarre final try.

Northampton stay hopeful for play-offs after victory over Bath

Northampton stayed on course for the Premiership play-offs after staging a remarkable second-half fightback to beat Bath 36-31.

Saints, who trailed 31-12 with 20 minutes to go, moved into fourth place as they somehow conjured a bonus-point win at the Recreation Ground without their suspended Wales captain Dan Biggar and injured England skipper Courtney Lawes.

Tries from Alex Mitchell and Tommy Freeman, plus a 76th-minute penalty try, hauled them level before substitute hooker Mike Haywood touched down in the final act of a gripping game.

Bath finished the game down to 12 men after all the replacements had been used, as Josh Bayliss went off injured and Jaco Coetzee, then Semesa Rokoduguni were yellow-carded during the closing seconds.

Scrum-half Ben Spencer’s try double, plus touchdowns from centre Max Clark and wing Will Muir, looked to have been enough to send Saints packing, while Spencer and his half-back partner Danny Cipriani each kicked two conversions, and Cipriani added a penalty.

But Northampton, who saw substitute back-row forward Brandon Nanson carried off following a lengthy second-half stoppage, ultimately moved fourth above Exeter and Gloucester.

Centre Matt Proctor and number eight Juarno Augustus scored earlier Northampton tries as they claimed a first Premiership away win against Bath since 2015, ending a run of six successive defeats.

There were a few anxious moments for Bath as Saints rallied late in the game, and then Northampton upped the pressure and their hosts could not respond.

Bath showed four changes from the side knocked out of European Challenge Cup contention by Edinburgh last weekend, with Cipriani, Muir, lock Mike Williams and flanker Miles Reid all returning.

Biggar’s suspension, meanwhile, meant that George Furbank moved to fly-half for Saints, with Freeman at full-back and Ollie Sleightholme on the wing. Teimana Harrison replaced Lawes, and lock Alex Coles also started.

Bath made the early running, and it took some frantic Northampton defending to deny Clark a try following his midfield partner Jonathan Joseph’s well-placed kick.

Saints, though, responded by setting up camp inside Bath’s 22, and they took the lead following a number of close-range charges that Bath managed to repel.

But there was no stopping the visitors when they worked possession wide, and scrum-half Mitchell’s pass sent Proctor over for a 17th-minute try that Furbank converted.

Bath then hit back early in the second quarter, and this time the Joseph-Clark combination conjured a try as Clark gathered possession following his midfield partner’s kick and crossed unopposed.

Cipriani converted to put Bath level, and after Furbank missed a straightforward penalty chance, Bath struck again.

Saints completed some outstanding last-ditch tackles, but they ran out of defensive numbers, and Cipriani’s short pass gave Muir a simple run-in, with the fly-half’s conversion making it 14-7.

Northampton were their own worst enemies at times, kicking poorly or guilty of wrong options, and Cipriani opened up a 10-point interval advantage when he kicked a 20-metre penalty.

Saints needed a response, and it arrived just five minutes into the second period when Augustus crashed over from close range, but Furbank was unable to convert.

And it proved short-lived hope for the visitors as Bath stung with them with two quickfire tries both scored by Spencer.

He darted around the blindside of a lineout for his first, the finished off following an opportunist break, and he brilliantly converted both tries in the face of a gusting breeze as Bath moved past 30 points.

Mitchell gave Saints a glimmer of hope when he darted over for a try 15 minutes from time, then Freeman crossed shortly afterwards to set up a rousing finish, and Northampton squeezed over the finishing line amid dramatic scenes.

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