Title favourites cancel each other out

The rivalry between Wasps and Leicester intensified as the Guinness Premiership favourites drew 29-29 at Causeway Stadium in a repeat of last season's Grand Final. [more]

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The rivalry between Wasps and Leicester intensified as the Guinness Premiership favourites drew 29-29 at Causeway Stadium in a repeat of last season’s Grand Final.

While it was no classic, the game was finely poised throughout, with the 23-23 interval score setting the tone for a similarly tense second half which was ultimately wrecked by heavy rain.

As with the final score, the try-count finished level, flanker Tom Rees crossing twice for the home side with Tom Varndell and Harry Ellis touching down for Leicester – but Rees was then taken to hospital with a possible broken ankle.

Director of rugby Ian McGeechan said: "We’re keeping our fingers crossed it’s not a fracture. He’s gone to hospital for x-rays. It might just be the joint but you worry when you see the ankle twist like that.

"I’ve been having chats with (England coach) Andy Robinson about various players and I told him Tom isn’t far away. We don’t want him picking up injuries up because to get international selection you need to be playing consistently."

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Leicester head coach Pat Howard admitted the torrential rain in the second half took its toll on the match but declared himself satisfied with the two-point haul.

"We wanted to win but I’m happy we fought back when we went behind. We took our opportunities and kept our composure. We’re OK with the result," said Howard.

Gloucester overcame the loss of England centre Mike Tindall to a thigh strain to steal a dramatic 21-18 victory against Sale at Kingsholm after referee Roy Maybank awarded them a penalty try 10 minutes into second-half injury-time.

The Sharks finished with 13 men after Maybank’s patience finally snapped and he sin-binned forwards Chris Jones and Andrew Sheridan for technical offences.

"Sale were sharper than us, but we had more power, and the conditions turned it into a power game," said head coach Dean Ryan.

Sale equivalent Philippe Saint-Andre reflected on what he felt to be costly errors.

"I am very disappointed. We were in control of the game, but three or four silly mistakes cost us," he said.

Sale pinched a one-point victory over Newcastle last weekend, but this time they were on the receiving end of the drama, and Saint-Andre added: "To be the coach of Sale, you need to be young and have a good heart."

Jubilant Northampton coach Budge Pountney paid tribute to his players after Irish centre Seamus Mallon finally kick-started their season with a breakaway try to steal a 17-9 victory at Bath late in the second half.

"The most important thing was the attitude we took into the game," Pountney said.

"We turned around a big defeat at Leicester last week with a relatively new team and that’s good. I think they found the passion that we have always had at Northampton.

"These boys have worked hard during the week to find what they are about and what the team is about."

The west country side’s troubles continue, however, and confidence visibly drained away as they slipped to their second defeat in six days.

This time there was not even the consolation of a losing bonus point and again the finger was being pointed at their goalkickers, Olly Barkley and Chris Malone, who missed six kicks between them.

Bath head coach John Connolly was in understandably subdued mood.

"In games like that with so much rain you tend to lose games not win them. The balance swings to the side in defence," he said.

"The try came from a move which is a bit tough to attempt in those conditions, we didn’t execute it well.

"We lost our first two games last year and finished fourth – it’s best not to look at the bottom of the table."

On Sunday, Dave Walder wore the number 10 shirt in Jonny Wilkinson’s absence as Newcastle Falcons crashed to a 16-14 defeat against Bristol at Kingston Park.

Just as Wilkinson missed a touchline conversion with the last kick of the match at Edgeley Park to give Newcastle a win, this time Matt Burke had exactly the same kick from the left-hand touchline which would have given the Falcons a draw.

He missed and it would have been hard on Bristol, who went top of the table with the result.

Bristol coach Richard Hill said: "We have had a great two weeks.

"I thought I would have a problem keeping the players’ feet on the ground after the win against Bath because they were as high as kites for a few days.

"But the players have been terrific and we have Gloucester next week and I don’t think there will be a problem getting the players focused for that one.

Walder kicked a 13th-minute penalty before Jason Strange stepped inside him, shipped a clear forward pass to Rob Higgitt and he put in Shaun Perry for the try.

Strange kicked the conversion and knocked over a penalty when Newcastle lost their own ball at an unwieldy scrummage.

A Walder penalty for Newcastle followed but Strange landed two more penalties to make it 16-6 before Walder kicked a penalty with a minute of normal time left.

Strange had a chance to wrap it up for Bristol with a drop goal but he was inches wide and then in the ninth minute of stoppage time, Toby Flood made a half break to put Noon over in the corner for a try.

Burke had a chance to give the Falcons a draw with the touchline conversion – but he was off target.

"We just didn’t give Bristol the respect they deserved," said coach Rob Andrew, "and that’s a very dangerous mindset to get into – we paid the price."

Saracens full-back Dan Scarbrough masterminded a 34-16 victory over former side Leeds and issued a reminder of his potential to watching England coach Joe Lydon.

Scarbrough, who won his only England cap in the pre-World Cup win over Wales, scored once and had a hand in Saracens’ two other first-half tries as the hosts opened an emphatic 27-3 lead by the interval.

Hooker Matt Cairns then secured Saracens the bonus point with the fourth try after 46 minutes, rendering Chris Murphy’s late score for Leeds mere consolation on a dreadful afternoon for the Tykes.

Scarbrough was praised by coaches from both sides, with Leeds boss Phil Davies particularly rueful that one of Yorkshire’s own had performed like he did.

"It was great to see Scarbs (Scarbrough) play like that. He ran the ball well, he stepped with good balance. It was good to see him play as well as he did, it was just a shame it was against us," said Davies.

The Leeds director of rugby continued: "Saracens know how to pressure teams and how to win games.

"You can’t give any team in this competition those opportunities and it ended up being 34-16.

"You can beat yourself up and beat the players up but you have to keep working and keep building the players’ belief and resilience."

Saracens were outplayed by Wasps last week, but showed hunger and desire to make amends. They were dominant at the scrum, quick in defence and incisive in attack, forcing Leeds to feed off scraps.

"We want to try and achieve something this year and I think it showed," said coach Mike Ford.

"It was a massive day for Scarbs. He missed a lot of rugby last year with injuries and he was playing against his old club. It was a great performance."

Worcester Warriors director of rugby John Brain was happy to "win ugly" after the 20-15 away victory over London Irish.

A 78th-minute penalty try was awarded after referee Martin Fox ruled the Irish front row had illegally halted the drive by a rampant Warriors pack in front of their own post.

It was converted by replacement fly-half Shane Drahm, who then added a superb 40-metre drop-goal in the 80th minute.

"We didn’t play very well. It was an ugly win but we’ll take the points," said Brain.

Worcester also came from behind to draw with Gloucester in their opening match last weekend and Brain said: "We’re pleased to have notched six points from our two matches having not played particularly well in either game.

"Wins in this league are hard to come by and away wins are very hard to come by.

"We battled away. There were times when we were under a lot of pressure but we came through."

London Irish captain Mike Catt said: "We know where we went wrong. We weren’t clinical enough.

"We tried to do too many things rather than stick to the basics which brought us four tries against Leeds last week."

"Our performance was a little bit off the money in the second half. We got under a little bit of pressure with our own set piece and conceding that try was difficult but we came back and put them under a lot of pressure at the end."

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