Earl hat-trick inspires Saracens while Henshaw and Leinster fall agonisingly short

Ben Earl 6/2/2021
Guinness Six Nations stars rose to occasion for their club sides in a blockbuster weekend of domestic rugby action.

Guinness Six Nations stars rose to occasion for their club sides in a blockbuster weekend of domestic rugby action.

The semi-final ties in both Gallagher Premiership Rugby and United Rugby Championship (URC) were full of thrills and spills but there were contrasting fortunes for the northern hemisphere’s best.

Earl earns Sarries Twickenham return

England flanker Ben Earl capped a great week with a hat-trick in Saracens’ semi-final win, having earlier been crowned the league’s Player of the Season.

The 24-year-old was named man of the match as Saracens beat London rivals Harlequins 34-17 to reach the final on their return to the top-flight.

The 13-cap England man has not featured for Eddie Jones’ side since the 2021 Six Nations but could be reintegrated ahead of the Red Roses summer tour of Australia.

He’ll hope to follow in the footsteps of last year’s Player of the Season, Exeter’s Sam Simmonds, who worked his way back into international contention having previously been cast out by Jones.

Wales duo Aled Davies and Nick Tompkins were also on the scoresheet for Sarries, while all of Quins’ points came from England stars, in the form of Alex Dombrandt, Danny Care, Cadan Murley and the boot of Marcus Smith.

Ford provides reminder of his class

In the other semi-final, George Ford’s Man of the Match display steered Leicester Tigers past Northampton Saints in a tense 27-14 victory.

On his final appearance at Welford Road, the fly-half notched a ‘full-house’ with a try, conversion, penalty and drop goal.

He emerged victorious in the battle of the veteran 10s, with Wales’ Dan Biggar departing in the early stages of the second half.

Leicester’s other points came courtesy of England Men’s Player of the Year, Freddie Steward, who once again ruled the skies on the big occasion.

Henshaw’s titanic effort not enough for Leinster

Leinster fell at the semi-final stage of the inaugural United Rugby Championship in heart-breaking fashion, going down 27-26 to the Bulls.

That was despite the best efforts of Robbie Henshaw, with the Ireland centre on the scoresheet for the losing Champions Cup finalists.

He started and then finished a classy move which brought his side back into the game at the end of a first period which the South African side had dominated.

Two Irish front-rowers at either end of their careers were also on the scoresheet, but efforts from Dan Sheehan and Cian Healy were ultimately in vain as Leicester’s season finished trophyless for the first time since 2017.

Ireland’s stars of tomorrow shine but Ulster fall short

There was agony for Ireland’s other URC representative on Saturday, as an overtime Stormers score denied Ulster a spot in the final.

Ulster led from the 29th minute but could not fight off a late onslaught from 14-man Stormers.

There were some bright spots, however, as two of Ireland’s future stars dotted down in the first half to silence a capacity Cape Town crowd.

Robert Baloucoune scored in the corner and then turned provider to set up 22-year-old centre Stewart Moore for the equalising score.

But Stormers rallied at the last to triumph 17-15 and ensure their place in an all-South African final next weekend.