Big Game 7 required big performances to match from Northampton Saints, who had to fight tooth and nail to hold off Harlequins at Twickenham on Saturday.
Mike Brown spearheaded Harlequins’ attack, beating eight defenders – twice as many as the Northampton team put together – while making 57 yards.
Indeed, Northampton carried the ball the fewest number times (44) of any Aviva Premiership Rugby team this season – but at the breakdown the Saints did their match-winning work.
Tom Wood made a round-leading 17 tackles, closely followed by Sam Dickinson and Mike Haywood (both 15), while Calum Clark won back the ball from Quins three times, according to the Opta Statistics for Aviva Premiership Rugby released today.
Their combined efforts see the reigning champions head into the New Year top of the table but Bath Rugby are nipping on their heels after a pulsating clash with West Country rivals Exeter Chiefs.
Anthony Watson, who scored Bath’s fourth try, scurried for 134 metres and chipped in with five breaks and teammate Horacio Agulla was no less impressive by jinking his way past nine defenders.
That brand of running rugby ultimately downed the Chiefs, though Matt Jess had his way with the Bath defence with 103 metres gained and three breaks of his own.
In contrast Wasps left Kingsholm with victory having made the fewest metres of a winning side in Aviva Premiership Rugby this season (129).
However, Dai Young can always count on his forwards as Nathan Hughes emerged with two turnovers and James Gaskell with one steal. Even the diminutive Christian Wade got in on the act, forcing two turnovers himself.
As for Gloucester Rugby, David Humphreys and company may point to a season-low 79 percent tackle success rate as the chief cause for the loss.
Only a last-gasp missed conversion separated Newcastle Falcons from Saracens on the weekend, which extends their losing streak against the London club to nine games.
But Dean Richards’ men can take heart from the fact that three of their last four encounters with Sarries have been settled by seven or fewer points.
Saracens’ winning formula was in their 11 clean breaks despite the best efforts of Newcastle back-row Mark Wilson, who made 15 of 15 attempted tackles.
And Sale Sharks suffered a similar hammer blow in front of their biggest-ever crowd at the AJ Bell Stadium, as Owen Williams held his nerve with a conversion to hand Leicester Tigers the victory.
Mike Haley, however, continues to dazzle for the Sharks with an eye-catching 186 yards while also posting 20 carries – tied for the most in the round with Leicester’s Jordan Crane.
Elsewhere, London Welsh equalled their worst Aviva Premiership Rugby run with an 11th-straight defeat, this time coming at the hands of London Irish.
Irish ended their own rut of six losses on the spin to record their first home victory of the season, and while Welsh’s streak lives on, improvement is coming – their eight missed tackles was the team’s lowest total in a match so far this year.
Selected statistics from Opta:
Tom Wood (Northampton Saints) 17
Mike Haywood, Sam Dickinson (Northampton Saints), Dan Braid (Sale Sharks), Mark Wilson (Newcastle Falcons) 15
Jordan Crane (Leicester Tigers), Mike Haley (Sale Sharks) 20
Billy Vunipola (Saracens) 19
Sam Tuitupou (Sale Sharks), Nick Easter (Harlequins) 16
Mike Haley (Sale Sharks) 186
Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby) 134
Will Addison (Sale Sharks) 114
Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby 113
Matt Jess (Exeter Chiefs) 103
Horacio Agulla (Bath Rugby) 9
Mike Brown (Harlequins) 8
Will Addison (Sale Sharks) 7
Sinoti Sinoti (Newcastle Falcons), Anthony Watson, Matt Banahan (Bath Rugby) 5
Tom Catterick (Newcastle Falcons) 16
George Ford (Bath Rugby) 15
Joe Simpson (Wasps) 12
Freddie Burns (Leicester Tigers), Shane Geraghty (London Irish), Will Robinson (London Welsh) Danny Cipriani (Sale Sharks) 11
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