England head coach Eddie Jones relied heavily on his ‘finishers’ during the RBS 6 Nations, and Saracens hooker Jamie George believes his side have a similar strength in depth after their replacements sparked a remarkable comeback on Sunday.
Trailing 20-6 at stadium:mk to Northampton Saints early in the second half – with Harry Mallinder opening the scoring before Dylan Hartley’s try shortly after the interval – Mark McCall rang the changes to great effect.
Alex Lozowski’s boot had kept Sarries in the contest, and despite another try for Saints through Ken Pisi, the Londoners’ reinforcements off the bench somehow hauled them ahead.
— Alex Goode (@Alex_goode0) April 16, 2017
Schalk Brits, Hayden Thompson-Stringer, Petrus Du Plessis, Michael Rhodes, and Billy Vunipola all came onto the field to change the momentum of the Saracens scrum, but it was another replacement in Chris Ashton that sparked the comeback with a try.
And after Marcelo Bosch’s overlap score and Lozowski’s ice-cool conversion, Saracens emerged 27-25 winners, with captain on the day George tipping his cap to those that made the impact.
“The character and the fight that we showed in the last 25 minutes was unbelievable really and I’m just very happy for the boys that we could get that result,” he said.
“Just having the ability to bring on people like Billy makes a difference; he’s obviously a fantastic player but also very level headed. Mike Rhodes is very similar and Schalk Brits has obviously played a lot of rugby.
“Although, I was particularly impressed with Henry Taylor who came on with 15 minutes to go, I thought that the energy he brought to the game was brilliant and I’m so happy for him and Hayden Thompson-Stringer as well.
“He came on and the scrum went forward and he added a lot around the field so I’m just happy for those guys.”
Elsewhere on Sunday, Wasps also had to come from behind to down Bristol Rugby 36-21 at Ashton Gate, with Josh Bassett (twice), Tommy Taylor, Joe Simpson and Guy Thompson all scoring.
Christian Wade also crossed on his 100th Aviva Premiership Rugby appearance, and despite Jason Woodward’s opener, and two consolation efforts from Jack O’Connell and Nick Fenton-Wells, Mark Tainton’s Bristol are now guaranteed to finish 12th in the Aviva Premiership Rugby table this term.
The win tightens Wasps’ grip on a home semi-final spot, and director of rugby Dai Young was impressed with the way his side pulled away from Bristol.
“We were pretty comfortable once we got ourselves a lead,” he said.
“We were sensible; in aspects of the game we kept things a little bit tighter so we didn’t make the mistakes, and got ourselves into a commanding lead.
“The set-piece was also pretty good, so all-in-all there were far more positives today to go with the five points.”
— Guy Thompson (@GuyThompson87) April 16, 2017
Round 20 got underway at Twickenham Stoop on Friday evening, where Exeter Chiefs maintained their superb form and became only the second side in Aviva Premiership Rugby history to take a perfect 30 points from six matches.
They beat Harlequins 39-26, with Dave Ewers, Michele Campagnaro, Lachlan Turner and Henry Slade all getting themselves on the scoresheet.
Saturday’s action saw Worcester Warriors – inspired by three second-half tries from Josh Adams, Wynand Olivier, and Will Spencer – put a big dent in Bath Rugby’s semi-final hopes with a 25-19 win at Sixways, which also ultimately ensured they would not finish bottom of the Aviva Premiership Rugby pile.
Gloucester Rugby downed Sale Sharks 39-30 in a nine-try encounter, with Billy Twelvetrees’ late score and a wonderful display by Tom Marshall settling a topsy-turvy clash, while Matt O’Connor’s return to Leicester Tigers got off to a flying start with a 30-3 humbling of Newcastle Falcons.
Ben Youngs scored a sparkling individual effort and performed a try-saving tackle, while Ellis Genge became the first Tigers prop since 1997 to score twice, with O’Connor left singing the praises of his scrum-half.
“Why would you not pick him [to go on the Lions tour]?” he said. “He is as good as there is at nine in the world at the moment and the added responsibility of the captaincy worked in his favour.
“He is a world-class player and he delivers most weeks. I am happy he is playing really well for us.
“I think we have 25, 30, 40 per cent growth in us, so it will be interesting to see how we go in the next two games.”
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) April 15, 2017
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Northampton Saints 25 Saracens 27
Northampton Saints 25
Tries: Mallinder, Hartley, Pisi
Cons: Myler, Mallinder
Pens: Myler 2
Tries: Ashton, Bosch
Pens: Lozowski 5
Referee: Matthew Carley
Bristol Rugby 21 Wasps 36
Bristol Rugby 21
Tries: Woodward, O’Connell, Fenton-Wells
Conversions: Henson, Searle 2
Tries: Bassett 2, Taylor, Simpsom, Wade, Thompson
Conversions: Gopperth 3
Referee: Greg Garner
Worcester Warriors 25 Bath Rugby 19
Worcester Warriors 25
Tries: Adams, Olivier, Spencer
Conversions: Mills 2
Penalties: Mills 2
Bath Rugby 19
Penalties: Ford 4
Referee: Luke Pearce
Gloucester 39 Sale Sharks 30
Tries: Marshall 2, Hibbard, Trinder, Twelvetrees
Conversions: Burns 4
Sale Sharks 30
Tries: James, Phillips, Longbottom, McGuigan
Conversions: MacGinty 2
Penalties: MacGinty 2
Referee: Tom Foley
Leicester Tigers 30 Newcastle Falcons 3
Leicester Tigers 30
Tries: Genge 2, Veainu, Youngs
Cons: Burns 2.
Pens: Burns 2
Newcastle Falcons 3
Referee: Ian Tempest
Harlequins 26 Exeter Chiefs 39
Tries: Luamanu, Evans, Visser
Penalties: Evans 3
Exeter Chiefs 39
Tries: Ewers, Campagnaro, Turner 2, Slade
Conversions: Slade, Steenson 3
Penalties: Slade 2
Referee: Wayne Barnes