Gallagher Premiership: Northampton and Saracens claim one-point victories as Exeter also win | Rugby Union News
Northampton beat Leicester by a single point as they took a 19-18 victory at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Saturday.
Ollie Sleightholme’s superbly-taken try was crucial for Northampton in this East Midlands derby.
Northampton twice battled back from behind after Harry Potter scored two tries for the Tigers.
The visitors’ afternoon did not start well as they had full-back James Ramm sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on Potter close to his own try-line after only three minutes.
There was relentless pressure from the Tigers in the opening stages of the game and it was no surprise when their first try came in the eighth minute as Potter slipped through Rory Hutchinson’s attempted tackle to score down the left.
Handre Pollard added the conversion, but Saints got off the mark just before Ramm returned to the field through George Furbank’s penalty.
Pollard then extended the hosts’ lead to 10-3 with a penalty of his own after Alex Coles was pinged for holding on under pressure from Julian Montoya.
Northampton then produced a spell of sustained pressure and a pair of Leicester infringements in their own 22 allowed Furbank’s boot to narrow the gap to just one point.
A vital tackle from Saints No 8 Juarno Augustus prevented Montoya crashing over to score from a driving maul.
Three minutes after the half-time restart, the visitors went in front for the first time as Furbank kicked his fourth penalty once the Tigers had been penalised at the breakdown.
Leicester soon retook the lead when Potter was able to step away from Tom James to score his second try, which Freddie Burns, in the absence of the now-injured Pollard, could not convert.
Northampton quickly hit back. Ramm did well to off-load to Sleightholme, who left Anthony Watson trailing in his wake to score, while Furbank added the extras.
Burns, playing his last match for Leicester before moving to Super Rugby franchise the Crusaders, then kicked a penalty to reduce Saints’ lead to 19-18 after 63 minutes.
Furbank then had another chance to kick for goal, although was bizarrely forced to take it while Burns was being given a standing ovation after being replaced, and he missed.
Fortunately for Saints it did not cost them as their defence held out in the face of late pressure from the hosts to record a vital result.
Saracens seize last-gasp win over Bristol
Francois Hougaard scored a dramatic winning try on his Saracens league debut as the Gallagher Premiership leaders edged out Bristol 20-19 at StoneX Stadium.
South African Hougaard struck with the clock almost three minutes in the red, rounding off a spell of relentless pressure that broke a resilient Bristol.
It was Saracens’ 12th Premiership win of the season and Bristol remain rooted to the bottom of the table, having lost eight from their last 10 league games.
The visitors led by nine points midway through the final quarter, yet wing Rotimi Segun followed up hooker Theo Dan’s earlier try with Saracens’ second touchdown, before Hougaard struck, while full-back Alex Goode kicked a penalty and conversion.
Hooker Harry Thacker and wing Gabriel Ibitoye touched down for Bristol, with centre James Williams kicking two penalties and fly-half AJ MacGinty one.
Saracens were disjointed and untidy, with Bristol monopolising territory as strong-running backs Semi Radradra and Siva Naulago tried to make headway.
Saracens were not helped by a horribly-misfiring lineout, yet Bristol failed to punish their opponents despite setting up camp inside the home team’s 22.
A handful of chances went astray before Bristol finally claimed the try their dominance warranted when a lineout drive ended in Thacker scoring his sixth Premiership touchdown of the season. The league strugglers led 8-0 at half-time.
Thacker went off at half-time, being replaced by Bryan Byrne, and Bristol were immediately on the back foot as a Goode penalty attempt hit the post and Billy Vunipola began making considerable ground through his trademark power.
Bristol took a long-range penalty to go 11 points clear midway through the third quarter before a Goode strike opened Saracens’ account.
Williams then found his range again, landing a second successful penalty from just inside Saracens’ half.
Saracens drove a lineout and it was Dan who touched down, and Goode’s conversion cut the deficit to four points.
But Bristol delivered a second try nine minutes from time. They moved possession wide from an attacking lineout, with Ibitoye finishing off after receiving Radradra’s pass.
There seemed no way back for Saracens after that, despite Segun’s late score, and Bristol looked as though they would be able to celebrate a rare Premiership victory on the road – but Hougaard gate-crashed their party.
Exeter move into Premiership top four
Exeter Chiefs leapfrogged Gloucester into the top four in the Gallagher Premiership table with a hard-fought 24-17 victory at Sandy Park.
Exeter’s young guns Dafydd Jenkins, Josh Hodge and Greg Fisilau caught the eye as the Chiefs made it back-to-back league wins for the first time since September.
Gloucester impressed in defence, but they were unable to offer much in attack, especially in the second half, when they struggled to get their hands on the ball inside Exeter territory.
They did not help their cause by missing two penalty kicks to the corner, which cost them the chance to gain valuable yards and field position.
Chiefs made a very bright start to the game and were rewarded with a try by Scotland international lock Jonny Gray – making his last Exeter appearance before the Six Nations Championship – finishing off a move off the back of a five-metre scrum, with kicker for the day Harvey Skinner adding the extras.
Gloucester responded rapidly when an uncharacteristic knock-on by Olly Woodburn gave the visitors their own close-range scrum, and when the ball was moved to the right, winger Jonny May answered his disappointment at being left out of Steve Borthwick’s first England squad by running in out wide for a try, improved by Billy Twelvetrees.
Powerful Tongan centre Solomone Kata made it three tries in seven minutes in a hugely entertaining first half when he fought his way over in the left-hand corner, but Gloucester’s England prop Val Rapava-Ruskin got on the end of a catch-and-drive on the half-hour mark, and with both of those tries converted, it was level pegging at 14-14.
Woodburn crossed the whitewash from close range five minutes before the break and with Skinner once more converting, it gave the Chiefs a 21-14 interval advantage.
To open the second half Exeter stretched their lead to 10 points with a penalty from Skinner.
The Devon side gave away a penalty in the final minute, slotted from 45 metres by Argentine full-back Santiago Carreras, which earned Gloucester a losing bonus point that could prove crucial come the end of the season in the battle for the top four and the Premiership semi-finals.