Before the Break Allianz Premier 15s – Round 14

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(Super Rugby Aupiki results below)

One thoroughly exciting game versus four walk-overs. That is not how the Prem 15s was meant to work out.

As we move into the 6 Nations break, the gap between the top 5 and bottom 5 opens out to twelve points; within those bottom five the margin is a chasm-like 29 points.


Bristol Bears 31 Harlequins 26
DMP Sharks 0 Saracens 73 (played at Billingham RUFC, Darlington Arena frozen))
Wasps 5 Loughborough Lightning 70
Gloucester-Hartpury 50 University of Worcester Warriors 12

Sunday Match

Exeter Chiefs 52 Sale Sharks 14 (Chiefs’ own youtube livestream)

Bears v Harlequins

All the excitement was at Shaftesbury Park, where fourth met fifth. And Quins disturbed the confidence of the home supporters by taking an immediate lead. In the electric battle between England’s two top hookers Amy Cokayne went ahead with a try.

Almost inevitably Lark Davies responded with one of her own. She is in grave danger of leading the try-scoring charts for a third time. By half-time three more tries had been completed, leaving Quins ahead and the Bears troubled.

Both Davies and Rownita Marston completed their second try of the day, but Bella McKenzie made a dramatic charge-down to complete a try that she converted herself to bring scores level.

It needed a special intervention from a player all too used to such moments; Sarah Bern drove over the line to clinch a game that had swung thrillingly this way and that.

Despite Bern’s tour de force at the close, the Bears could move only four points away from their challengers. Two points from a losing game remain a rare consolation. Whether they can prove decisive, only the final four rounds will tell. But for them we have to wait till the distant future, 13 May to 3 June.

One curiosity in Bristol was the return of Heather Cowell to the Quins’ starting XV, another indication of the blurred distinction between the GB 7s squad, club rugby and the Red Roses.

In turn it meant Abby Dow played at full-back; that may have been an official request from the England management or simply Amy Turner’s reading of the best resources available to her.

In the remaining Saturday games it was largely one-way traffic

Molly Saunders did well to get the opening score for Wasps at home before Lightning commanded the scene, scoring a dozen tries. As one-sided as this game was, it ended a worrying sequence of eight away losses for Lightning.

The result at Billingham was also what every realist expected. Only here DMP couldn’t manage a score against a Sarries’ squad that knows it can’t afford to give anything away if it wants to return to the top of the pile.

Holly Aitchison had another opportunity to stake a claim for the England No 10 shirt, and Jess Breach reminded the selectors of her qualities playing at full-back. She too will want to be back in the mix come the first round of the 6N on 25 March. A typical end-to-end score won’t do her chances any harm. Coreen Grant of Scotland took the scoring honours with four tries.

Only at the Alpas Stadium was the losing side able to reach double figures, thanks to a determined thrust to the line by Lydia Thompson in the closing moments. But Glos-Pury had the bonus-point secured by half-time, and they continued to enjoy themselves to reach yet another half-century of points.

So scoreboards up and down the land looked uncomfortably like cricket scoreboards.

Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks

These were the two new entrants in 2020, so it’s interesting to see how they are dealing with the challenges of elite club rugby. A few stats tell their tale: both had five England-qualified starters only. There were two Red Roses on view among the 46, Poppy Leitch, captaining the hosts, and Claudia Macdonald, who signed tween-season from Wasps. North American accents predominated across large tracts of turf.

Now both mangements are planning how to deal with the limitation placed on non England- qualified players next year. Precisely how many will they need to get rid of?

The Game

The usual wind was gusting off the Atlantic, but Sale made too little use of it in the first half.

It took Chiefs four minutes to set the scoreboard moving, Ebony Jefferies going over behind a drive. (5-0)

There was a sharp contrast in the handling skills of the two sides: Chiefs were slick and accurate, Sharks laboured and unproductive.

Like Quins, Sharks make great use of the caterpilar ruck, but to little effect. Mhairi Grieve’s slow reclaim of the ball and inaccurate box-kicks gave the defences time to position themselves. When she did kick short for her forwards, only one was there to effect a tackle, and possession was handed over yet again.

On 10 minutes Lori Cramer finished a clean passing move on the right. (10-0) Rachel Johnson was allowed a long run, DaLeaka Menin finished the job. (17-0)

It took Sharks 25 minutes to make their first first line-break; they seemed unable to string three consecutive passes together before they ran into another brick wall.

Things improved after half-an-hour, Catie Benson going over after good combos, especially by Katana Howard. Sarah Law converted. (17-7)

Chiefs countered, Nichola Fryday finishing an attack just before the break, a bad time for a side to concede.

Half-time 24-7, and the bonus point assured.

The second half began ominously for the Sharks; they were driven off a scrum, and although they kept possession initially, the ball fell into the grasp of Claudia Macdonald, the only player on view to represent England at the World Cup. She ran in from a distance, no-one able to lay a hand on her.

Almost inevitably, Chiefs went on to reach the half-century, completing four out of five across the weekend.

Sara Tounesi epitomised Sale’s commitment, scoring the last try of the game. She had been prominent throughout, constantly looking for adventurous off-loads. But it was all too late.

Result: 52-14

Table                       P​     W​      L​      Pts

Exeter​​​                    14       13      1         65
Gloucester-H       14       13     ​ 1         64
Saracens​​               14        11     3         55
Bristol​​​                    14       9       5         46
Harlequins  ​​         14        8      6         42  ​
UWW      ​​               14       5       9         30
Sale                   ​​      14       5       9        24
Lightning         ​​​      14       4       10      23
DMPS ​​                    14        ​2      12       10
Wasps                    14         0      14       0

Exeter Chiefs 14 Gloucester-Hartpury 14
Saracens Bristol Bears Harlequins UWW
Sale Sharks Lightning DMP Sharks Wasps

Super Rugby Aupiki

Chiefs Manawa 46 Matatu 38
Referee: Maggie Cogger-Orr
ARs: Ben Woolerton and Tiana Ngawati TMO: Lee Jeffrey

Hurricanes Poua 22 Blues 31
Referee: Nick Hogan
ARs: Tarsha Ganley and Jack Sargentina TMO: Aaron Paterson

with thanks to