Exeter head coach Rob Baxter took plenty more away from Sandy Park than the Aviva Premiership double over Northampton thanks to yesterday’s victory.
The Chiefs moved back into the top four in the league standings while the defeat means Saints missed out on guaranteeing a place in the play-offs.
The sides were evenly matched at the break after Henry Slade had put the Chiefs in front with a penalty, but the England prospect was unable to convert Phil Dollman’s touchdown while James Wilson crossed for the Saints who trailed 8-5.
Slade added two penalties and the conversion of a penalty try in the second half while the Saints had to settle for a late consolation try from Jamie Elliott.
After the victory, Baxter said: “It was all about collecting some important league points because everyone has been saying that we have had the toughest run-in for the last five or six games –which is probably true – but that makes for some great games.
Exeter Chiefs celebrate their 1st ever season double over Northampton Saints. Exeter 21 – 10 Northampton pic.twitter.com/mIecxZYt5V
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) April 12, 2015
“No doubt Northampton will feel slightly different but if you look at the first half it was cat and mouse but we probably didn’t make the most of the conditions; mainly because we didn’t force that scrum pressure into being a try.
“But I think that we grew as the game went on and we did do well in the forward exchanges – there is no getting away from that – and ultimately that pressure counts for a lot. Defensively we did everything different that we did at Leicester a couple of weeks ago where we made it very hard for Northampton to score – there wasn’t a lot of easy penalties given up.”
Elsewhere, Sale suffered a surprise 25-23 defeat to London Irish at the Madejski Stadium.
Sale remain in seventh but they lost valuable ground on their closest rivals as they continued their miserable run in Reading, where they have failed to win since 2006.
That is the league double for Exeter Chiefs against Northampton Saints. The dominant pack laid great foundations for the impressive win.
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) April 12, 2015
Tom Arscott, who touched down twice, and Mike Haley were Sale’s try scorers with fly-half Danny Cipriani kicking two penalties and a conversion.
Irish responded with three tries through Alex Lewington, who dotted down twice, and Andrew Fenby with Chris Noakes adding two penalties and two conversions.
Tom Varndell helped himself to a hat-trick against London Welsh as Wasps won away from home in the Premiership for the first time in 2015 to keep their top-six hopes alive. They claimed a 40-13 win over Welsh with tries from Varndell, Ashley Johnson, Sailosi Tagicakibau and Alapati Leiua.
David Pocock has the edge over Australia warrior Michael Hooper to head the Wallabies fight for Rugby World Cup glory, according to legendary former winger Joe Roff.
Ex-national skipper Pocock has returned to action during the latest Super Rugby season after two nightmare years containing a succession of serious knee injuries.
Waratahs ace Hooper stepped into the void in his absence, wearing the captain’s armband and providing a vibrant presence at openside flanker. The duo were named in a 50-man pre-World Cup training camp at the end of last month, providing a dilemma for new Aussie boss Michael Cheika ahead of this autumn’s tournament.
The situation has echoes of the George Smith and Phil Waugh battle for the No7 jersey when Roff was donning the gold jersey with distinction more than a decade ago.
Then, the latter was often cast in a replacement role despite his outstanding ability.
Imagine Pocock and Hooper in the same Wallaby backrow at the World Cup. Or the option of having one of them on the bench.
— Christopher Jones (@chjones9) November 25, 2014
Speaking to Sport360° prior to his guest spot at the 2014-15 UAE Rugby Awards, to be held on Thursday night at the Montgomerie Golf Club in Dubai, 1999 World Cup-winner Roff picked fellow Brumbies alumni Pocock as the man to start for the Wallabies.
He said: “It is one of the great selection dilemmas for Australia.
“Australia will select the player to suit the team they are playing, but that creates a headache as the captain needs to be consistently playing. Pocock is stringing games together, he has had such an unlucky run with his injuries.
“You always think about who you would throw into the mix during a World Cup final, and he is absolutely that guy. I am a bit partial as a Brumbies fan, so I would go Pocock.”
Australia have been drawn in a brutal Pool A, containing hosts England and Wales. Only two will proceed to the quarter-finals.
Both the northern hemisphere sides took part in a stupendous final round of the 2015 Six Nations, Ireland emerging as champions on an epic day when all three were gunning for a points-difference victory.
A remarkable 221 points were scored across the trio of clashes, containing 27 tries. Roff believed this served as a “wake-up call” to southern hemisphere heavyweights Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
“We keep drumming on that northern hemisphere rugby is just penalty goals and scrums,” the 39-year-old said.
“It was a real jolt to see a lot of tries scored and a lot of end-to-end rugby. It is a statement that this is going to be the closest-fought World Cup ever seen. It is a real wake-up call for the southern hemisphere.”
Roff was an outstanding all rounder during an international career stretching from 1995 to 2004. His mixture of sharp skills, blistering pace and imposing physique epitomised the changing face of the sport at the dawn of the professional era.
He scored 30 tries in 86 Tests from his usual wide position, though he was also a more-than-capable kicker in one of the most successful Australia sides of all time.
His experiences at three World Cups made him promote the virtues of returning winger Nick Cummins, believing the man known as ‘the Honey Badger’ has the type of infectious personality that would provide real value now he is back in the Western Force setup.
“He is truly one of the great characters of the game,” added Roff. “Is he going to push out the Henry Speights of the world? I cannot see that happening.
“The game has moved on a little bit. But the value of people rather than players is underestimated to a winning environment. Who adds value to the team, the James O’Connors [talented back who has suffered repeat disciplinary problems] or the Honey Badgers?”
A World Cup should be a chance for the planet’s finest players, teams and coaches to test themselves against their global counterparts . For Springbok captain Jean de Villiers, this has not been the case.
One of the most distinguished players in rugby union, De Villiers is a man with more than 100 Test caps and possesses inherent leadership qualities that make him one of sport’s finest role models. Yet he has played just four World Cup matches.
A torn bicep in South Africa’s opening fixture of their ultimately victorious 2007 campaign ruled him out for the rest of the competition, while in 2011 he watched them crash out in the quarter-finals, largely from the bench.
This year, the centre’s dream of influencing a World Cup is again in jeopardy after suffering a serious knee injury in the final Test of last season, a 12-6 defeat to Wales in Cardiff.
At 34, and having undergone a full reconstruction of the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments last December, it had been thought one final hurrah was out of the question.
i miss jean de villiers
— la flame (@el_teee_) April 1, 2015
But with the Springboks’ World Cup opener against Japan less than six months away, De Villiers is determined to be more than a spectator
“It was quite a big surgery but the recovery is going really well,” De Villiers says while visiting the Dubai Exiles at the city’s Sevens Stadium.
“I’m on target and hopefully I can be ready, or at least be up for selection for the World Cup later this year. That’s the goal and what I’m working towards – at this stage I see no reason why I won’t be able to make it.
“I’ve had some bad luck regarding World Cups but I’m at the end of my career now and it’s obviously the last opportunity I will have to play a part in one – I’m really looking forward to doing that.”
So good to see that Jean de Villiers could be back from his serious knee injury in time for the rugby championship. pic.twitter.com/ixYqPioO3M
— EatSleepRugby (@Eat_Sleep_Rugby) March 23, 2015
But De Villiers’ motives are less about egotism and more about esprit de corps; he is a man who brims with pride when recalling the players he has battled alongside. And some battles there have been.
He remains surprisingly mobile despite his body having been ravaged by injuries over the years, the scars running around his knees a reminder of the sacrifices he has made for that green and gold shirt.
“I’ve been a part of this current group of Springboks and the individuals that have been part of it have been fantastic on the field, but they’ve also grown to be my friends and we really have a great team culture at the moment,” he explains.
“I would like to celebrate with them if we can get success at the World Cup. I definitely think we’re good enough to.
“I think we can beat any team in the world on any given day and that excites me. You take part in competitions to be able to win them. You don’t just go to a World Cup to fill the numbers, you want to be the best and anything less than that won’t be called a success.
“It’s amazing to see where we were in 2012 when obviously it was a new coach and me being the new captain and how it’s progressed to now. The journey’s been fantastic. Hopefully the destination will be the same.”
That journey has by no means been easy but following the quarter-final defeat to Australia four years ago, South Africa have blossomed under De Villiers. They have lost just twice to northern hemisphere nations (Ireland and Wales last
December), with Australia beaten four times in six meetings.
De Villiers also led his side to victory over New Zealand in October last year, although the All Blacks have won the other five fixtures during his reign as captain.
The former Munster man, currently looking for a team after his contract with Western Province Stormers ended, sees their victory over the Kiwis, but also the defeats to Ireland and Wales, as a sign of what’s to come this autumn.
For him, an ultra-competitive tournament is in store, although he rejects the notion that the northern hemisphere sides have an advantage with it being played in England and Wales.
“I definitely think we can beat New Zealand,” he adds. “We’re looking at six, maybe even seven teams that can actually win this World Cup and are good enough to beat any team on the day.
“It’s going to be a fantastic World Cup and I’m really looking forward to it. A lot gets said about northern hemisphere versus southern hemisphere but it comes down to the conditions.
“When it’s raining in South Africa you’re not going to throw the ball around, if it’s dry you’re going to do that – and it’s the same if you’re playing at Twickenham. It’s the same for everyone and I don’t think anyone gets extra benefits from where it’s played.”
There’s no question South Africa will be better placed to relive that 2007 glory with their captain at the helm. It was a distant thought four months ago when De Villiers was stretchered off the Millennium Stadium pitch with severe damage to the ligaments in his left knee.
That he is even close to a return to the national team is testament to the work he and the medical staff have put in since the injury.
And with the tournament now tantalisingly close, De Villiers is confident he has the right support team to thrust him into contention for that Pool B curtain-raiser against the Japanese at Brighton’s Amex Stadium.
“I’m training on my own as I’m not with a team at the moment but there’s a medical group that’s helping me with that and that’s a 4-6 hour process a day,” he says.
“I’m strengthening the leg again and then getting back to running, and then the agility and mobility and of course getting back on to the pitch. I’m still probably another 3-4 months away but very happy with that and looking forward to just getting better day after day.”
Incentives don’t get much bigger than a World Cup swansong, and the tournament would surely be richer for the presence of one of rugby’s true gentlemen.