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Premiership Rugby

2018 In Review: April to June

2018 In Review: April to June

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With just days to go until the curtain falls on a stunning year of Gallagher Premiership Rugby action, lets indulge in a spot of nostalgia by looking back at the key moments that shaped 2018.

Here we take a look at the final few months of the regular session that saw Exeter Chiefs, Saracens, Wasps and Newcastle Falcons all qualify for the semi-final spots.

London Irish were confirmed as the relegated side while Leicester Tigers finished outside of the top four for the first time in 13 years.

For the January to March Review click here

Saracens ran out eventual Premiership victors in a stunning Twickenham final with a 27-10 win over table toppers Exeter Chiefs before the Red Roses went on a three-Test tour of South Africa.

APRIL

Exeter Chiefs started and finished round 19 on the top of the pile, a 46-10 victory over Gloucester Rugby at Sandy Park taking them to the brink of the Premiership semi-finals.

Alec Hepburn, Sam Simmonds and Olly Woodburn all went over in the first 40 minutes for the Chiefs as they led 22-3 at the break.

Callum Braley pulled one back for the Cherry & Whites but two scores for replacement Jack Nowell and a late try for Gareth Steenson sealed the victory for Exeter.

Elsewhere Saracens tightened their grip on second place by running in nine tries from nine different scorers in a 63-13 victory against Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens.

The victory put significant daylight between Saracens and their closest rivals Wasps who were beaten by a mere point against Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Sharks grabbed the 28-27 win in dramatic fashion as an overtime Marland Yarde try completed a remarkable comeback.

Round 20 saw Saracens and Exeter officially confirm their places in the play-offs as they beat Bath comfortably 41-6, on the day of Chris Wyles’ 250th club appearance.

Wyles was given a standing ovation before the match as he paraded with his son Finn and then played his part in a complete Saracens display.

Schalk Brits, who left the club last summer along with Wyles, got the ball rolling before further scores from Liam Williams, Richard Wigglesworth, Farrell, Schalk Burger and Ben Spencer cemented victory.

Meanwhile a Sam Simmonds hat-trick helped league-leaders Exeter cruise to a comfortable win over relegation-threatened London Irish at the Madejski Stadium.

And Round 21 brought more misery for London Irish, who had to dust themselves off after their defeat to Exeter, only to come up against Saracens straight afterwards.

It didn’t end well for Irish as five unanswered second-half tries for Saracens confirmed their relegation.

Meanwhile Wasps booked their place in the semi-finals after a tight game against Northampton Saints.

After a nail-biting first-half, Wasps were able to pull away in the second, with Elliot Daly and Juan de Jongh going over for Dai Young’s side before resisting a Saints comeback.

Newcastle Falcons completed the semi-final roster with a dramatic late victory against Leicester Tigers to end a 20-year wait for a win at Welford Road.

Sonatane Takulua converted Ally Hogg’s last-minute try as the visitors snatched all four points at the death with a 25-23 triumph, following an earlier brace by Vereniki Goneva.

Tigers themselves had appeared to be in pole position to leapfrog Falcons in the top four battle thanks to tries from Jonny May and Michael Fitzgerald, with George Ford kicking 11-points from the tee.

However, the hosts ended up missing out for the first time in 13 years as Dean Richards’ side secured the final spot.

MAY

The victory helped set up a tantalising Round 22 clash between Newcastle and Wasps in the last of the regular seasons fixtures.

Tries from Tom Cruse, Elliot Daly, Danny Cipriani, Josh Bassett, Jimmy Gopperth and Willie Le Roux put the game beyond Newcastle – who would match up with Exeter Chiefs in their semi-final clash, while Wasps would face Saracens.

The Londoners made the perfect preparations for their semi-final, showing no mercy against Gloucester at Allianz Park as the visitors suffered a comprehensive 62-12 defeat.

Gloucester finished the season in seventh and narrowly and missed out on the top six to West Country rivals Bath Rugby.

Bath Rugby ended on a high as Matt Banahan brought the curtain down on his time at The Rec with a hat-trick that helped fire his team to a sixth-place finish.
The 31-year-old, who had already agreed a deal to join Gloucester at the end of the season, signed off by going over three times against relegated London Irish helping Todd Blackadder’s troops clinch a Heineken Champions Cup qualification berth.

Exeter Chiefs continued their fine-tuning for the semi-finals in perfect style as Joe Simmonds inspired them to down Harlequins, 41-17.

Elsewhere Ben Foden capped his last game for Northampton Saints with a try, an assist and a yellow card as they saw off Worcester Warriors 32-24 at Franklin’s Gardens.

Saints ended the season in ninth while relegated London Irish were the only team to finish behind Worcester as they ended up 11th.

George Ford produced 20 points as Leicester Tigers beat Sale Sharks to secure a fifth-place finish and Champions Cup rugby next season.

The defeat meant Sale had to settle for eighth and Challenge Cup rugby.

SEMI-FINALS

Saracens made their way to the final in style as they held off a Wasps fightback to earn a 57-33 victory at Allianz Park.

The three-time champions were quick out of the blocks with early tries from Alex Lozowski and Vincent Koch, while Owen Farrell’s boot helped them lead 23-5 at half-time.

Chris Wyles added another after the break, but Wasps roared back thanks to tries from Jake Cooper-Woolley, Thomas Young and Willie le Roux, who had also crossed in the first half.

Juan Figallo’s effort just after the hour effectively wrapped it up, and scores from Maro Itoje and Ben Spencer padded the Londoners’ lead, while Christian Wade grabbed a consolation for Wasps.

In the other semi-final Joe Simmonds kicked 19-points for reigning champions Exeter Chiefs to book them a return to Twickenham with a 36-5 victory over Newcastle Falcons.

Nic White, Olly Woodburn and Don Armand got the tries at Sandy Park with the success stretching 21-year-old Simmonds’ unbeaten run in the Exeter Chiefs senior team to 14-games.

The fly-half kicked five penalties and a conversion, with Alex Tait going over in vain for the Falcons, as the Chiefs ensured that they would face Saracens for the Premiership crown for the second year running.

THE FINAL

The stage was set for Chris Wyles to ride off into the sunset as a Premiership champion, and he certainly delivered.

The veteran winger made history as his two tries helped Saracens spectacularly beat the Chiefs at Twickenham to win their third Premiership title in four years.

In his last game before retirement, Wyles became the all-time top try-scorer in Premiership Rugby Finals with four, as the 2015 and 2016 champions dethroned the 2017 winners 27-10 in a pulsating clash.

Exeter dominated the early stages but only emerged with three points before fit-again No.8 Billy Vunipola crashed over for his first try of the season before Wyles crossed to establish a 12-3 lead at the break.

The American looked to have put the game beyond doubt with his history-making second try but another retiring Saracen, Schalk Brits, was yellow-carded and Gareth Steenson dotted down to get Chiefs back to within nine.

However, Ben Spencer’s penalty and Nathan Earle’s score in the corner sealed the deal as Saracens’ impressive record at Twickenham continued – and scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth became the only man with five Premiership Rugby winners medals.

JUNE

With the Premiership wrapped up, rugby fans turned their attention to the summer internationals and England’s tour of South Africa.

Eddie Jones named seven new faces in his 34-man squad for England’s three-Test series including Wasps’ Brad Shields and Ben Earl (Saracens), Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs), Dan Robson (Wasps), Ben Spencer (Saracens), Cameron Redpath (Sale Sharks) and Jack Willis (Wasps).

Gloucester’s Danny Cipriani was also included in Jones’ squad, three years after his last England appearance and was introduced back into the fold in the pre-tour warm-up game against Barbarians.

It was another former England man who grabbed the headlines though after Sale man, Chris Ashton scored a 25-minute hat-trick as the Baa-Baas ran out 63-45 winners and inflicted a fourth consecutive defeat on Jones’ men.

FIRST TEST

The first Test at Ellis Park produced an absolute thriller as the Springboks staged a remarkable comeback to win 42-39.

The hosts conceded three tries in the opening 17 minutes as new head coach Rassie Erasmus took charge of his first full game.

England raced into a 24-3 lead as Mike Brown, Elliot Daly and Owen Farrell crossed for converted tries in Johannesburg, but the game was far from over.

The Springboks roared back into the game thanks to Sale Sharks’ Faf de Klerk, two tries from S’busiso Nkosi and a Willie le Roux try gave them a 29-27 lead at the break.

Aphiwe Dyantyi then went over for the hosts in the second-half and two Handre Pollard penalties meant tries from Maro Itoje and Jonny May’s scores were not enough for England.

SECOND TEST

The second Test produced a similar narrative to the first as England got off to another flyer.

The tourists raced into an early lead as Billy Vunipola bulldozed his way through heavy traffic before crisp passing enabled May to give Brown a simple run-in for the first try.

And they made it two shortly after with quick hands in midfield, allowing a juggling Brown to bat the ball to May who raced to the line from 40m out.

Before England were able to capitalise, however, the Boks were back in it and turned things around to lead 13-12 at half-time.

England were their own worst enemies and indiscipline from Mako Vunipola and Mauro Itoje aided the South African cause before Kyle Sinckler popped out of a scrum to hand South Africa a penalty try.

Danny Cipriani returned to the Test stage for the first time since 2015 and brought an attacking threat onto the pitch with him, but it wasn’t enough to get points on the board as a scoreless second-half for England saw the game finish 23-12.

The result handed Jones’ men their fifth consecutive defeat and wrapped up the overall series win for South Africa.

THIRD TEST

England needed a win from the third and final test in order to avoid a series whitewash.

Eddie Jones started with Danny Cipriani at fly-half, a decision that the rugby gods responded to by casting a torrential downpour over Cape Town, and the maverick proved pivotal in the match.

With little ball in hand Cipriani put himself about in the tackles and waited until late in the game to deliver a brilliant kick under pressure for a flying May to run on to and touch down with a metre to spare.

Six Own Farrell penalties meant that one try was enough to clinch the game and gave England a much-needed win to close out the summer.

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