Dave Ward has earned his crust as a hooker but he is proving a revelation at flanker for Harlequins after impressing in his side’s thriller with Exeter Chiefs on Saturday.
Harlequins left Sandy Park on the end of a 26-25 defeat but Ward was a huge positive, securing three turnovers, making 14 tackles and carrying the ball 16 times according to Opta stats for Premiership Rugby.
Ward had impressed at No.7 after coming on as an early replacement against Cardiff Blues but even his efforts could not stop Chiefs, who have now won 11 of their last 14 in Aviva Premiership Rugby.
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Eight matches featuring Exeter have been decided by one point in their Premiership history – but this was only the third time the result went in favour of the Chiefs, who were also bolstered by Dave Ewers’ 22 tackles.
Tonga international Telusa Veainu continues to look like an inspired signing for in-form Leicester Tigers, his 150 metres made the best of the round in a 21-11 win over Bath Rugby.
That was in much part thanks to his length-of-the-field intercept try, though on a day where the weather was at its worst, Anthony Watson also did superbly to rack up 139 metres for Bath.
Watson also beat a joint league-best six defenders, but Bath were restricted to one or no tries for the fourth time in their last six Aviva Premiership Rugby matches.
The result was some measure of revenge for Leicester – it is just their second victory over the West Country side in their last seven league matches, including the 47-10 semi-final defeat last season.
Nathan Hughes was one of the stars on parade at the London Double Header and he delivered after waltzing his way past six defenders and making an eye-watering 24 carries – both top of the Opta charts for Round 5.
Wing wizard Frank Halai also made a round-best four clean breaks though Matt Symons defended valiantly for London Irish, recording a league-leading 25 tackles for the weekend.
Still, Symons could not prevent the Exiles from falling to a 33-15 defeat – Wasps have now scored 121 points in their last three Aviva Premiership Rugby games against Irish for two wins and a draw.
Saracens also maintained their march at Twickenham with a 48-18 win over Worcester Warriors and the result brought up their eighth Aviva Premiership Rugby triumph in a row.
But few teams have put in as a big a defensive effort as Worcester this season – Phil Dowson’s seven tackles took him up to 64 for the season, a league best, while teammates Donncha O’Callaghan, Ryan Mills, Darren Barry and Niall Annett are also all in the top seven.
Danny Cipriani missed a last-gasp kick as Newcastle Falcons clung on for a 15-15 draw against Sale Sharks – whose last tie in Aviva Premiership Rugby came back in 2013 against London Irish (33-33).
But there are no more accurate defenders in the league than Tommy Taylor, as the Sale hooker’s 53 tackles are the highest of any player yet to miss one this season.
Stephen Myler helped kick Northampton Saints to a 15-3 victory over Gloucester Rugby on Friday night though the Saints are without a try in two consecutive Aviva Premiership Rugby matches.
They’ve not gone three matches without a try at any point since they returned to the top flight in 2008, while Gloucester’s six points over their last two league clashes are their fewest-ever in consecutive Aviva Premiership Rugby fixtures.
Matt Symons (London Irish) 25
Dave Ewers (Exeter Chiefs) 22
Tommy Taylor (Sale Sharks) 20
Nathan Hughes (Wasps) 24
Nick Easter (Harlequins) 20
Thomas Waldrom (Exeter) 19
Telusa Veainu (Leicester Chiefs) 150
Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby) 139
Bryce Heem (Worcester Warriors) 121
Charles Piutau (Wasps) 113
Mike Haley (Sale Sharks) 105
Jonny May (Gloucester Rugby) 100
Nathan Hughes (Wasps), Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby) 6 Ben Foden (Northampton Saints), Jack Nowell, Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Alex Tait (Newcastle Falcons) 5
Dave Ward (Harlequins) 3
Frank Halai, Sailosi Tagicakibau (Wasps), Juan Figallo (Saracens), Jeremy Thrush (Gloucester Rugby), Tommy Taylor, TJ Ioane (Sale Sharks), Mark Wilson, George McGuigan (Newcastle Falcons) Francois Louw (Bath Rugby), Mike Williams (Leicester Tigers), Elvis Taione (Exeter Chiefs), James Horwill (Harlequins)
Frank Halai (Wasps) 4
Chris Ashton (Saracens) 3