Leeds Carnegie secure Premiership status with dramatic victory

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Leeds Carnegie secure Premiership status with dramatic victory

Incredible, unbelievable, miraculous: just a few of the words used to describe Leeds Carnegie’s great escape following the club’s vital win over Worcester Warriors in the Guinness Premiership on Sunday.

Billed as the “million-pound game”, there was a huge amount of pressure on both sides to walk away from this match with the points safely in the bag. The odds were firmly stacked against the visitors, and they showed little to suggest they were capable of winning this match in the opening 40 minutes, finding themselves 12-3 down at the break. With a nine-point advantage, Leeds looked almost home and dry – their admirable escape from the clutches of relegation so nearly complete.

However, a spirited second-half display from Worcester certainly made it a tense finale for the home crowd. They pulled back seven points with just 10 minutes remaining after Alex Grove crossed the line for the only try of the match. Leeds, though, who have earned a reputation in recent weeks for being dogged, held on to their narrow advantage, which sparked jubilant scenes from the hosts at the final whistle.

It’s the fairytale story of the season and will go down as one of the most remarkable great escapes in the league’s history. But for every relieved winner, there must be a despondent loser. Worcester were relegated following their six-year stay in the top flight, and now prepare for life back in the Championship.

It had been a tense, nervy wait for Sale Sharks, following their 32-30 home defeat at the hands of Newcastle Falcons, two days earlier. The visitors ensured survival with this narrow victory, but Sale were left to fret over whether Worcester would beat Leeds. Fortunately for the club’s under-fire coaching duo, Kingsley Jones and Jason Robinson, their latest defeat eventually meant little, as the big result at the bottom of the table went in their favour. 

At the opposite end of the table, Leicester Tigers ensured a home semi-final in the play-offs with a routine 40-22 victory against Harlequins at Welford Road. Following a disappointing first-half performance, Leicester came out all guns blazing in the second half and blitzed Quins by an 18-point margin. Fly-half Toby Flood was at his imperious best, scoring 25 points in total, five of which came from an early try.

The Tigers’ place at the top of the league at the end of the regular season was confirmed when Northampton Saints slipped up against Saracens at Franklin’s Gardens. The Sarries have began to find their form again over recent weeks, and this 28-27 away victory keeps them firmly in the hunt for that elusive second spot – although on the evidence of Saturday they might well prefer an away semi-final in the play-offs.

Jim Mallinder’s Saints, though, again lost out by a single point – the second time that had happened in the space of four days. It was the first defeat Northampton have suffered at home this season, but they still go into the final match of the regular season two points clear in second place. Rest assured, they will be doing their utmost to ensure their semi-final takes place at Franklin’s Gardens.

With the situation at the top and bottom of the table now resolved, the final round of the Premiership will centre around the increasingly unpredictable race for fourth place.

As if from nowhere, Bath are now the team in fourth spot with just one round of matches left to play. It had previously appeared a two-way fight between London Wasps and London Irish for that last play-off spot; but both have struggled in recent weeks, subsequently allowing Steve Meehan’s men to sneak above them in the league table.

Bath recorded a superb 35-19 away victory over London Wasps on Saturday evening – their third consecutive league win - in front of over 60,000 spectators at Twickenham. Victory over Leeds next Saturday afternoon will confirm their place in next month’s play-off semi-finals. Hands up who saw that one coming?

London Irish were presented with the chance to capitalise on Wasps’ defeat against Gloucester, but true to recent form, succumbed to yet another league defeat. Gloucester were the victors on this occasion, winning the match quite comfortably, 34-20. The win was enough to give the Kingsholm faithful something to smile about in an otherwise forgettable campaign; while the Exiles may have now wasted their best opportunity for a place in the top four.

As we enter May, the winners of the 2009/10 Guinness Premiership will soon be revealed after one of the most topsy-turvy campaigns since the league’s inception. Can Leicester secure back-to-back league titles, or will the Saints find enough in the tank to complete a marvellous season? Perhaps Saracens are now approaching their best after an almost catastrophic blip? Or maybe, just maybe, Bath can produce the biggest upset of the year by lifting the coveted Premiership trophy next month at HQ.

You wouldn’t bet on it happening; but then again, after this season, we’ve all come to learn to expect the unexpected.



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