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Monday Maul
Seventh heaven adds season-ending spice
Tom Hamilton
April 21, 2014
Nathan Hughes on the charge for Wasps © PA Photos
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Stingers, a rampaging Fijian and two Dannys looking to be champions of the world - ESPN looks back at the key talking points from the last weekend of rugby.

Seventh-placed hype a timely addition

How do you make the end-of-season run-in more appealing? Introduce a new curveball. For the last few seasons, Aviva Premiership supporters up and down the country have known at the start of the season exactly what it will take for their team to survive, get into the play-offs or secure a spot in the Heineken Cup. There were other permutations which could have seen an extra place offered in Europe's premier tournament based on who had won it, but there was never another option set in stone.

Until now. Finishing in seventh now gives teams from the Top 14 and the Premiership a shot at European salvation. Not only does it bring a new added incentive for the team but it is also a great addition for broadcasters, stakeholders and clubs alike as they attempt to sell games to the punters at the season's end when much has already been decided. Mention of the seventh-placed Holy Grail dominated talk running up to Wasps' game against Gloucester and will no doubt be rolled out over the next two rounds of the Premiership and over the Channel in France.

Weekend's Awards

  • Player: Danny Cipriani
  • Team: Sale Sharks
  • Coach: Great effort from Wasps' Dai Young
  • Try: Sinoti Sinoti's score for Newcastle was fantastic
  • Bounce of the ball: Oh that rugby ball is a funny old thing - Fotuali'i's try for Northampton showed that in all its bizarre brilliance as the ball bounced on the touchline in a science-defying manner and he snuffled up the opportunity.

Wasps back in the big time

Credit has to go to Wasps for selling 38,294 tickets for their date with Gloucester at Twickenham, roughly eight times their normal gate at Adams Park. Such events normally have a gluttony of pomp and circumstance surrounding them and this was no different, but Wasps did superbly well to bring that number of people through the gates.

Cynics will say it was not on the same page as Saracens' 83,889 world-record attendance against Harlequins but that was a match played between two successful London-based sides in what was Saracens' 11th crack at filling out Wembley. For Wasps, they have struggled in recent years, narrowly avoiding administration and relegation, and have seemed a shadow of their former selves. But those Wasps fans who experienced the heady days of the Lawrence Dallaglio era may have been forgiven for lapsing into a comfortable state of nostalgia at Twickenham on Saturday as they saw their team run in tries in front of a healthy crowd. It was a victory for Wasps both on the field and for the club as a whole.

Time for Danny and Danny?

On Friday night the Twickenham Stoop witnessed the battle of two of England's three scrum-halves - Danny Care v Ben Youngs. That Harlequins won the match 24-20 and Care was named Man of the Match suggests he won the battle and will be England's first-choice scrum-half heading into their tour of New Zealand.

Still up for grabs is the fly-half spot for that first Test in Auckland, based on the presumption Owen Farrell is likely to be on Saracens duty in the Premiership final. George Ford appeared to be the next cab off the rank but doubts remain over his defensive attributes. On the flip side, Danny Cipriani is excelling for Sale and impressed in front of the watching Andy Farrell in the Sharks' 55-12 win over Exeter on Saturday. Reports at the weekend suggested Cipriani has impressed the England management and there is every chance it could be Danny and Danny facing the All Blacks on June 7.

Fiji must secure Nathan Hughes

At the end of the season, talk sometimes turns to just who was the best recruit of the entire campaign, but surely knocking on the door is Wasps' Nathan Hughes.

He is just 22 but is already causing a stir in the Premiership after his Man of the Match showing against Gloucester on Saturday, something he also achieved in their Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final. An international future clearly awaits Hughes but now comes the difficult part. He was born in Fiji but is yet to declare his international allegiance and, while Hughes admitted England have been in contact, for the good of the Pacific Isles you hope he ends up playing for Fiji.

Inconsistencies of the mid-air tackle

In the Heineken Cup quarter-final, Jared Payne was issued a red card for his mid-air tackle on Alex Goode. It was a decision that provoked a difference of opinion. In Bath's win over Worcester, the referee issued two yellow cards for two mid-air challenges, decisions that riled Dean Ryan. "Both yellow cards were a bit of a shambles," he said. "Neither were particularly dangerous in the way the lads came down."

Come Sunday, there was another incident of this offence in the Scarlets' match against the Blues. Liam Williams' tackle on Alex Cuthbert was probably worse than Payne's on Goode yet he was only issued with a yellow card. There needs to be a clear message across the board regarding this area of the game.

Perpignan teetering on the brink

The final round of the Top 14 should be an absolute belter. Perpignan, Oyonnax and Bayonne are all locked on 50 points at the foot of the table as they seek to avoid being the team joining Biarritz in the PROD2 next season. Of those teams Perpignan have the hardest task in the final round as they journey to Clermont, a team who are 76 games unbeaten at home and chasing a bonus point win to help their cause for a home semi-final in the play-offs. It is a sorry story for Perpignan, a team who won the Top 14 in 2009, but if relegation does occur, then they will look to rebuild and replicate what Harlequins and Northampton have achieved in the Premiership.

Edinburgh stripped back to basics

You really hope Alan Solomons knows what he is doing at Edinburgh. Their chances of a place in next season's European Rugby Champions Cup are slim following their loss to Zebre at the weekend. Geoff Cross, Greig Laidlaw, Sean Cox and Nick de Luca are all leaving at the end of the season and in their place, the team have been bolstered with imports from South Africa and New Zealand. And all this while Glasgow continue to push those at the top of the table as they did back on Friday when they beat Ulster.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

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