Rugby union: talking points from the Premiership’s weekend action

Guardian sport

1) Pat Lam’s vision gives Bristol a sharper focus

A third Premiership try of the season for Charles Piutau against Sale on Friday night, in what was his ninth league start of the campaign, was not enough to secure the win for Bristol. He has been blighted by injury throughout the season, and is obviously not alone in that, but while Bristol will have hoped for more game-time from their marquee signing, it is to their credit that they have enjoyed such a prosperous return to the Premiership having been denied his services for long parts of the campaign. In his place the youngsters Piers O’Conor and Mat Protheroe stepped up admirably and their performances are proof of Pat Lam’s vision for Bristol coming to fruition. Gerard Meagher

Bristol 20-20 Sale

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2) Poor home form knocks Falcons off top-flight perch

Newcastle’s players went into a huddle on the pitch at Kingsholm at the end of their 15th defeat of the Premiership campaign, the one that confirmed the relegation of a club who have spent most of the season at the foot of the table. It was the losers’ equivalent of a lap of honour and few words were spoken. The time for talking had passed and while a team that had finished in the top four a year before could think of itself as too strong to go down, promoted Bristol were never going to disappear quietly back to where they had emerged from. The Falcons never recovered from a dreadful start when they lost six of their first seven league matches. Close games they edged last season went against them this time, but it was their poor form at home – only three victories at Kingston Park – that cost them. The pitch there is artificial and those winter Friday nights, when opponents would sink on the soft surface, have less of a chill now. Exeter, Wasps, Gloucester and Leicester all won there by seven points or fewer; home advantage not quite what it was. Paul Rees

Match report: Gloucester 28-19 Newcastle

3) Tigers need summer overhaul to re-establish winning culture

Leicester have been spared a few blushes by Newcastle’s relegation. With one round left no side in the competition has leaked more points than Leicester and it was apparent a while ago that, for the first time, they will not feature in Europe’s top competition next year. With the World Cup set to deprive the Tigers of several backs, this summer will be crucial in re-establishing a winning culture and identifying the best way forward. Harlequins, still in play-off contention, were in a similar position last year and have rebounded well, as have Northampton under Chris Boyd. Leicester will be back; the million dollar question is how long it will take. Robert Kitson

Match report: Harlequins 23-19 Leicester

4) Saints eye-catching style leaves them on verge of play-offs

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Mission accomplished for Northampton, who took just 31 minutes to secure the required try bonus point against Worcester. It was hardly a surprising outcome considering Worcester have little left to play for, having secured their Premiership safety at home to Gloucester six days earlier, but Northampton set about their task with the eye-catching brand of rugby they have been developing under Chris Boyd this season. They are now in the box seat for the last play-off spot, a point above Harlequins, but travel to the leaders Exeter on the final day of the season. The reward for victory against the Chiefs could well be a return to Sandy Park a week later. GM

Northampton 39-10 Worcester

Northampton’s Tom Collins tries to escape the attentions of two Worcester defenders.

Northampton’s Tom Collins tries to escape the attentions of two Worcester defenders. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

5) Second strings no substitute for leading players

Take nothing away from Saracens’ youngsters, who, led by Max Malins, demonstrated just how much strength in depth the Premiership champions have at their disposal. But while it is entirely understandable that Saracens and Exeter saw fit to field second-string sides, it is hard not to perceive Saturday’s match as an opportunity missed and wonder what CVC Capital Partners made of it all. Comparing club rugby with football is often difficult but there is an obvious parallel in that both of England’s top leagues have two teams head and shoulders above the rest and it is unthinkable that Manchester City and Liverpool would ever contest a fixture with so many leading players absent. Part of the problem is scheduling – why did this match take place so late in the season and just a week before the European Cup final? – but surely this is precisely the kind of thing CVC will be looking to avoid, having acquired the Premiership’s commercial arm. GM

Match report: Saracens 38-7 Exeter

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6) TV review system under spotlight after ruling out Bassett try

If the aim of the television review system is to clarify and minimise error, decisions should be made based on the clear and the obvious, both in awarding a try and in ruling one out. Josh Bassett looked to have scored one of the tries of the Premiership campaign at the end of the first half of Bath’s win against Wasps, a flowing move that started from deep with forwards and backs – Joe Launchbury was involved twice – offloading with abandon before Gaby Lovobalavu, the Fijian centre who provided most of the opening period’s highlights, supplied the scoring pass. The try was reviewed and ruled out on the grounds that the pass had been made with a forward movement of the hands, although none of the replays appeared to confirm that. The television commentary team were unanimous that the pass complied with the rules, the pitch markings supporting their view. Yet there was not a review of Bath’s first try which followed a lineout that did not quite appear to satisfy the definition of a straight throw? There was more confusion than clarity, again. PR

Match report: Bath 29-17 Wasps

Cipriani shines again

For the second week running Eddie Jones chose to attend a watch Gloucester fixture. There are, of course, plenty of reasons why he may have elected to, but iI for the second week running and it is hard not to wonder if he is casting an eye over Danny Cipriani. Before Wasps’s last match of the regular season a year ago, Jones challenged Cipriani to prove his worth. The fly-half duly produced a fine performance against Newcastle and was included in the England squad to face South Africa five days later. Jones doesn’t not name his World Cup training squad for a while yet, but on Saturday Cipriani certainly didn't do his chances any harm against Newcastle.

Try of the weekend

Michael Young

Gloucester v Newcastle

From a scrum deep in their own half, Newcastle’s Toby Flood started a move from which the centre Alex Dunbar and Johnny Williams raced ahead. Flood then found Dunbar again before Young went over under the posts.

Exit in cruel fashion for Benetton

Benetton were undone by a contentious decision late-on against Munster in the Pro14 playoffs. The Italian club were 13-12 to the good when Nigel Owens awarded a penalty to CJ Stander at the breakdown., Benetton’s Dewaldt Duvenage then kicked the ball away, Owens marched Munster forward 10 metres and JJ Hanrahan struck the winning kick from halfway.

Team of the weekend

15 Jason Woodward Gloucester

14 Joe Cokanasiga Bath

13 Billy Twelvetrees Gloucester

12 Gaby Lovobalavu Wasps

11 Taqele Naiyaravoro Northampton

10 Max Malins Saracens

9 Danny Care Harlequins

1 Ross Harrison Sale

2 Reece Marshall Northampton

3 Vincent Koch Saracens

4 Nick Isiekwe Saracens

5 Chris Vui Bristol

6 Jamie Gibson Northampton

7 Chris Robshaw Harlequins

8 Zach Mercer Bath

Compiled by Gerard Meagher