Northampton Saints returned to the summit of Aviva Premiership Rugby with a seven-try triumph over London Welsh and head coach Jim Mallinder admitted his side’s clinical performance quickly allayed his fears of an upset.
After an impressive away victory over title-rivals Saracens last weekend, Mallinder was wary of complacency creeping in until Calum Clark, Stephen Myler and Samu Manoa crossed to give Saints a 19-0 cushion at half time.
The reigning champions turned on the style after the interval as Jamie Elliott wrapped up the bonus point before Ben Forden, James Wilson and Ben Nutley all touched down to secure a 43-14 win.
And despite Taione Vea and Nic Reynolds scoring for the hosts at the Kassam Stadium, Mallinder is confident the win will set them up for another surge when league duties resume in three weeks’ time.
“There is always that danger that you don’t concentrate, you don’t do your preparation in the week or get your mentality right at the weekend but thankfully we had a good week,” he said.
“We weren’t perfect in the first half but we put pressure on them and that created three good tries through the forwards.
“In the second half we played a bit more rugby and scored some very good tries so we are pleased to get the bonus-point win and it leaves us top of the league and in a good position.
“There was some great 15-man rugby with good links between the backs and forwards for our second-half tries, as well as some real quality handling and good lines of running.”
Steve Diamond continued to lead the call for Danny Cipriani’s return to the England set up after the fly-half’s piece of exquisite skill helped Sale Sharks edge out Newcastle Falcons 18-13 at Kingston Park.
The hosts took the lead through Juan Pablo Socino’s early try before Sale responded through captain Dan Braid but the visitors still trailed 13-11 going into the final ten minutes.
Cipriani then chipped ahead inside his own 22 and collected his kick to offload for Mark Jennings, whose inside ball sent Johnny Leota under the posts to secure a third consecutive Aviva Premiership Rugby victory for the Sharks.
“Danny has really settled in with our team ethic," said Diamond. “His former life has gone.
“He can see things other players can't and if he keeps doing that he will be right on George Ford's coat-tails.
“We knew Newcastle would be tough, but we kept the pressure on with the drive and then using our two centres and Danny showed a bit of brilliance to crack the game open.”
Gloucester Rugby did not need their England contingent as they beat London Irish 21-9 at the Madejski Stadium, but director of rugby David Humphreys believes their imminent return will add to the renewed confidence of his side.
A lifeless first-half saw the visitors lead 3-0 at the break before Henry Purdy touched down and Steve McColl scored late on to quell any potential Irish comeback through the boot of Shane Geraghty.
And with a run of three consecutive Aviva Premiership League defeats brought to an end, Humphreys is confident the Cherry & Whites can continue to move up the table.
“If we are going to be successful we’ve got ensure we are developing not only players but also leaders, not one or two, we need to develop leaders right throughout the spine of the team,” he said.
“The next challenge is bringing back the English players who will come in and hopefully the confidence that they will have got from winning last week will bring a huge amount back to the team.
“Our big challenge over the next couple of weeks is winning in Europe, getting those players back and then preparing ourselves for what is a pretty tough Christmas and New Year period in the Premiership.”
Exeter Chiefs cemented their standing as title hopefuls with another impressive scalp as Gareth Steenson landed nine penalties to down Saracens 27-19 at Sandy Park on Saturday.
The fly-half was at his metronomic best as the Chiefs pack dominated the visitors at the set piece, with Saracens only able to respond through four Charlie Hodgson penalties and a late consolation try for Maro Itoje.
A sublime kicking display from Owen Williams saw the fly-half score all his side’s points to guide Leicester Tigers to a narrow 18-16 triumph over Wasps at Welford Road.
Alapati Leuia scored a dramatic converted try just seven seconds into the second half but Williams held his nerve to lead his side up to fifth in the table after their early-season struggles.
And on Friday night, Sam Burgess made the headlines with his first Aviva Premiership Rugby appearance but it was a consummate team performance that secured Bath Rugby a 25-6 win against Harlequins at the Rec.
Matt Banahan, Kyle Eastmond, Ross Batty and Leroy Houston all crossed over for the hosts to claim the bonus point, leaving Mike Ford’s side second at the close of round nine.
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Newcastle Falcons 13 Sale Sharks 18
Penalties: Clegg 2
Tries: Braid, Leota
Penalties: Cipriani 2
Referee: Dean Richards
London Welsh 14 Northampton Saints 43
Tries: Vea, Reynolds
Conversions: Ross, Robinson
Tries: Clark, Myler, Manoa, Elliott, Foden, Wilson, Nutley
Conversions: Myler 4
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
London Irish 9 Gloucester Rugby 21
Penalties: Geraghty 3
Tries: Purdy, McColl
Penalties: Laidlaw 3
Referee: Matthew Carley
Exeter Chiefs 27 Saracens 19
Penalties: Steenson 9
Penalties: Hodgson 4
Referee: Greg Garner
Leicester Tigers 18 Wasps 16
Penalties: Williams 6
Penalties: Goode 3
Referee: Luke Pearce
Bath Rugby 25 Harlequins 6
Tries: Banahan, Eastmond, Batty, Houston
Penalties: Evans 2
Referee: Wayne Barnes