Premiership: Five takeaways from the round, including a record-breaking wing, Bath’s woes and England contenders

James While

Following the Round 24 action in the Premiership, here’s our five takeaways from a memorable weekend as the season reaches a pivotal stage.

The top line

With an enormous 409 points scored over six games this weekend, the health of the Premiership isn’t in doubt. Leicester cemented their home semi-final tie as they demolished Bristol 56-26 and with Saracens beating Worcester convincingly 38-16 it seems likely they will follow suit.

Franklin’s Gardens were lit up by a thriller of a match that saw Northampton Saints triumph 32-31. For one brief moment they might have thought that they were in the box seats for the fourth team to qualify with Harlequins through bar a mathematical miracle, but Gloucester were not having any of that and put on a masterclass of attacking rugby to annihilate a beleaguered Bath 64-0.

Even London Irish are silencing the fat lady from opening her pipes. England hopeful Henry Arundell engineered a compelling comeback to draw with a record scoreline of 42-42 against Wasps in a fixture noted for its ability to throw up remarkable outcomes.

It was an incredible weekend in numbers and the main digital take outs are below:

· 409 points scored – 3rd biggest round total of all-time after 503 (Rd 30 1998/99) and 414 (Rd 20 1999/00)

· 57 tries scored – only higher round was 68 in Rd 30 1998/99

· 10 try bonus points – new record beating 9 (Rd 22 2005/06 & Rd 20 this season)

· The highest scoring draw in Prem history, surpassing 41-41 Leicester v Gloucester on 16 Apr 2011


He might have had enough clubs to fill up a tournament golf bag, he might be discarded and unwanted by England and he might have a question mark over his attitude at times but, when it comes to finding the try line, the Premiership has never quite seen a points machine like Leicester wing Chris Ashton.

He started the day level on 92 tries with his illustrious Tigers predecessor, Tom Varndell. By the end of the afternoon, he’d added three more to take him racing on to 95 and still counting. If you consider he also crossed the line 26 times in his sojourn to Toulon, 24 times in his two-year career in rugby league with Wigan, 20 times at international level and 40 times in European competitions, that leaves him with a career tally of around 215 tries (not counting tour and other representative matches), and we’re quite sure he has a few more left in his legs before he calls it a day.

The secret to Ashton’s success is his peerless support play – few wings go searching for work off the shoulder of a carrier like he does. His ability to crash on to a pass at pace and accelerate away is the hallmark of his career. As Tigers continue to fight a battle on two fronts, both in the Premiership and in Europe, having the depth in their ranks of the likes of Ashton will be a huge asset. He is, without question, the deadliest finisher in Premiership history.

The chasing pack

As noted above, with Saracens and Leicester now sure of a play-off place, and Harlequins there but for a spreadsheeting miracle, the attention now turns to the fight for the last place. Theoretically, any of Exeter, Sale or Wasps are still in the running, but the real attention is on two sides that put on commanding performances this weekend, Gloucester and Northampton.

With a smart new 4G pitch free of mud and with a team more noted for their flying backline than their gnarly forwards, Kingsholm’s Shed must think the apocalypse has indeed arrived but, despite a superbly balanced back-row and a serviceable set-piece, it’s the brilliance of their centres and wings that has seen their late charge for the play-offs come to fruition. Mark Atkinson and Chris Harris were magnificent in feeding their finishers against Bath, a team for whom the 2022/23 season cannot arrive soon enough.

Gloucester’s run-in sees them travel to try and beat Quins, followed by a very tricky hosting of Saracens in the last encounter.

Saints, powered by the bionic Courtney Lawes and Lewis Ludlam, and driven by a brilliant display at the base by Alex Mitchell, relied upon a James Grayson penalty to snatch a vital win versus champions Harlequins. With Saracens away in the next round, the order of the day will be to snatch a bonus-point or two so that they can open the taps against the beleaguered Falcons in the last match of the season at Franklin’s Gardens.

Bath time

Things are rotten in the city of Bath. Quite how a team that has the likes of Taulupe Faletau, Sam Underhill, Charlie Ewels, Danny Cipriani, Jonathan Joseph and a host of other international quality players in their ranks can ship 64 points in a local derby would have the likes of Jack Rowell, John Hall and Andy Robinson frothing at the mouth with fury and indignation.

At the final whistle, there’s no doubt they were a completely broken side; a team that are rudderless, without any form of confidence and without any convincing voice or point of winning reference.

Time and time again over the last two seasons, they’ve been absolutely annihilated at breakdown and in contact and yet again, their back-row (and wider pack) were smashed off the ball in collision.

Bruce Craig has shown a lot of faith in this leadership team. Had they been the managers of his property empire he would have called in the official receivers long ago and, despite the appointment of Ed Griffiths in an overseeing role, it’s now time to make the changes needed, otherwise this once great club could see themselves consigned to Championship rugby.

England watch

Eddie Jones spent an afternoon at Brentford taking in the compelling spectacle that London Irish and Wasps provided. In his notebook, you can bet there was a massive tick next to the name of Jack Willis, a player who, despite only having three caps, is one of the most important players England have at their disposal for the 2023 World Cup.

Alongside Willis, Joe Launchbury is also inked in, whilst Arundell and Ollie Hassell-Collins probably did enough for Jones to reach for his finest propelling pencil. With the third hooker berth still a question mark, Gabriel Oghre might also just be in the notebook, with a question mark following his name, as will Newcastle Falcons burly front-rower, George McGuigan

Elsewhere, Ruan Ackermann is a player that’s pulling up trees in terms of his impact in carry – Mark Atkinson again suggested that he was unlucky not to earn some caps during this year’s Six Nations – and at Franklin’s Gardens, we saw the two best scrum-halves in England put in superb performances. The only problem is, when they shared their post-match pint together, both Danny Care and Mitchell could be forgiven for asking each other quite what they have to do to earn a place in Jones’ thinking.

READ MORE: Late penalty try secures London Irish a dramatic draw against Wasps