Individual Player Watch: Itoje, Simmonds and Tompkins shine on semi-final weekend

Individual Player Watch: Itoje, Simmonds and Tompkins shine on semi-final weekend

Semi-final weekend went the way of the league table as the top-two secured their spots in the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final.

Saracens were at their destructive and clinical best to beat Gloucester Rugby 44-19 and Exeter Chiefs showed a second-half surge to turn a two-point advantage at half-time into a 20 point lead by the end, as it finished 42-12 against Northampton Saints.

There were a host of memorable showings, particularly on the winning sides, with players putting their hands up to ensure a start at Twickenham on Saturday afternoon.

Click here for tickets to the biggest game of the season – the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final on 1 June. Tickets from £35 for adults and £15 for juniors

Here we look at some of the best individual performances.

Player of the week

When it’s down to the four best sides in the country you need your big players to stand up – and Saracens’ Maro Itoje did just that.

Packing down at blindside flanker the England man was at his niggling and no-nonsense best.

His brilliance was underlined as he set up Ben Spencer for Sarries’ second try, galloping away through a gap before dummying to dodge Willi Heinz before fixing his defender to release his No.9.

Exeter’s No.8 Matt Kvesic pushes him close here after a stellar display against Northampton which earned him the man of the match award.

Try of the week

Plenty of contenders but the finest solo effort of the weekend was Exeter wing Tom O’Flaherty touching down his sides’ fourth.

After leaving two defenders clutching at air around the halfway line, he proceeded to accelerate on a curve around Dan Biggar before dashing away from Piers Francis and diving over.

It more than repented for the wing’s first-half yellow card for coming in at the side of the ruck.

As an alternate choice, for those who prefer a flowing passing move, Nick Tompkins’ second for Saracens or Gloucester’s Ben Morgan getting opener in the first semi-final are both fine scores in their own right.

Young player of the week

Joe Simmonds orchestrated an Exeter back line which looked in fine fettle down in Devon.

But the young fly-half, equally adept in the No.15 jersey, also took his chance to showcase his eye for a gap – showing and going to get the Chiefs’ second at Sandy Park.

On top of that he was successful with all six of his conversions, showing he can do it off the kicking tee too.

Replacement of the week

Only one man to fill this spot, as Saracens Nick Tompkins came off the bench and scored a 15-minute, second-half hat-trick.

The centre grabbed his chance with club captain Brad Barritt forced off with injury, but the Men in Black’s strength in depth is well documented – especially after their Premiership Rugby Shield win earlier this month. 

Tompkins stepped into the sizeable void and arguably showed more attacking edge then is usually expected of Barritt.

Mark McCall has said it is unlikely the skipper will be back for the final, so he will be hoping Tompkins can muster more of the same if club captain is forced to sit out.

Skill of the week

As you would expect in the Gallagher Premiership Rugby semi-finals there were all kinds of scintillating skills on show.

Tom Collins and Rory Hutchinson combined for arguably the best of the weekend, to set up Ahsee Tuala for their second try of the contest.

Collins got Joe Simmonds and Ollie Devoto to commit to taking him down before offloading to Hutchinson, who juggled the ball while hitting it at pace before offloading on the back of the hand while on his way down to give him teammate a clear path to the line.

There should also be a nod to Alex Goode, who showed why he was a Gallagher Premiership Rugby Player of the Season nominee and winner of EPCR European Player of the Year 2019, for some superb sweeping work at full-back.

He was in the right place at the right time to gather a Danny Cipriani grubber kick before dodging two defenders inside his own tryline before clearing the lines for Saracens with a deep kick.

Powerplay of the week

With a metre to the tryline, a man like Exeter’s Harry Williams in the sort of player you want battling to touch the ball down.

The tighthead prop, who weighs in at almost 132kg, showed his ability to bust a tackle as he stayed on his feet despite defenders on his ankles and roll away from them to touch down for the opening score in the second semi-final.

World Cup watch

Ben Spencer was named man of the match at Allianz Park and his showing in these business-end games, off the back of starting as Sarries secured European glory in the Heineken Champions Cup earlier this month, mean he stays in the forefront as England’s other No.9 option as an alternative to Ben Youngs.

As already mentioned, Maro Itoje was imperious form – just what Eddie Jones would want to see – while Harry Williams was impressive at the set piece and in the loose for the Chiefs at tighthead.

Meanwhile, Sam Skinner continued his comeback from injury as he came off the bench and will have hoped to put himself in Jones’ mind with his try for Exeter.

Away from England, Scotland wing Sean Maitland showed his finishing prowess to touch down on the end of an Owen Farrell grubber – no doubt the kind of skills Gregor Townsend will want to see if he gets the nod for Japan.

Click here for tickets to the biggest game of the season – the Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final on 1 June. Tickets from £35 for adults and £15 for juniors

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