By Sam Durham, LV= Young Reporter Competition winner
As the crowds descended on Sixways, it was clear both sets of supporters were in good voice and ready for some high intensity action. That's exactly what they got as finalists Harlequins and Sale battled it out to be crowned LV= Cup champions.
Harlequins, who remain contenders for the Aviva Premiership and Heineken Cup, entered the final as favourites but Sale were strong and their fans were in full voice throughout the tough encounter.
After two brutal scrums it was Harlequins who took the first steps towards victory. A try from Tom Williams following a phase of silky smooth passing and another not long after from Tom Guest put Quins in a 15-3 lead. Sale could only register a measly 6 points in the first half from the boot of Danny Cipriani but they weren't out just yet.
The Sharks came out all guns blazing in the second half and weren't taking no for an answer. Ruthless work at the breakdown and effortless play between phases from the destructive Andy Powell, who was a constant threat to the opposing defence throughout, resulted in Harlequins being forced back further and further with every passage of play.
Eventually Sale got the try they desired from Johnny Leota but they couldn't prevent Tom Casson and Luke Wallace of Harlequins scoring one each beforehand after some efficient work at the lineout and solid scrummaging which Sale were unable to prevent as they watched the game escape their grasp.
It was Sale boss Steve Diamond who was first to confess to his side's defensive slip-ups saying: "A couple of defensive errors cost us dearly and, against a side like Harlequins, you don't come back from that."
With an 18 point deficit facing them, Sale's fans provided Sixways with a rendition of "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" which provided a fitting end to another LV= Cup season with a full time score of 32-14 to newly crowned champions Harlequins.
It was a day the young Quins side would remember.
For the club not only is it a major trophy but when you look at four guys in the tight five who are 21 and under, that is something for them to store away in the locker for years to come and they are the cornerstone of what this club will be about for a decade or more.Harlequins Director of Rugby Conor O'Shea praised his young side on their professional performance in the final
Sixways, Worcester - Harlequins beat Sale Sharks 14-32 to win 2012/13 LV=Cup
Harlequins kept the prospect of a historic treble alive with a well fought win over Sale Sharks, to claim the LV=Cup title for the 2012/13 season.
The defending Premiership champions went into the final as favourites, but Sharks had a point to prove, so the game was by no means a certainty.
However, it was the south Londoners that drew first blood at Sixways. Tom Williams was sent over for the games first try, when soft hands from his fellow winger Sam Smith saw Williams dart over the line.
Uncharacteristically, Harlequins young fly-half Ben Botica was unable to add the extras. Botica went into the final as the competitions most accurate kicker, with a record of 24 successful kicks from 26 attempts at goal.
His opposite number, Danny Cipriani, was keen to make his mark on the score board though, registering his side's first points, with a converting penalty.
Harlequins kept attacking though; a five meter scrum on the edge of Sharks try line allowed Quins number eight and subsequent Man of The Match Tom Guest to seize his opportunity, and bulldoze over for another five points. This time Botica obliged with a successful conversion to send his side in at half time with an 18-6 advantage.
Just as they did against Bath in their home semi-final the weekend before, Harlequins came shooting out of the blocks early in the second half. Despite Sharks earning the first points of the second half, when Cipriani slotted an early penalty, their opposition were not in the mood to relinquish the lead.
After a well executed line-out, the ball found its way to centre Tom Casson who fed Sharks number eight Andy Powell a huge dummy and went searing through to score Quins third try of the match, before Botica added another successful conversion to his tally for this season's LV=Cup.
Not long after, Harlequins captain and LV=Breakthrough Player Award nominee Luke Wallace barged his way over for a well deserved try.
In response, Sharks registered their first try of the game through centre Johnny Leota, who swatted Quins replacement winger Charlie Walker out of the way to make for the try line. Cipriani duly added the extra points to install some hope for the travelling Sharks fans.
By this stage, Sharks had too much of a mountain to climb, and it was a day for the Harlequins youngsters to savour. With the Quins squad consisting of 16 players under the age of 23, it was further proof of the young talent breaking through thanks to the platform the LV=Cup offers.
Sale upset the form guide as tries from Tom Holmes and Nathan Fowles helped them secure a 21-15 win over current Premiership leaders Saracens to seal their place at Sixways this Sunday.
And reserving special praise for man-of-the-match Andy Powell and Danny Cipriani, Moody is confident Steve Diamond's side will do enough between now and the end of the season to stay in English rugby's top flight having endured a tough campaign to date.
Sale moved off the bottom of the table last week after London Welsh were deducted five points for fielding an ineligible player, and are now in pole position to stay up with five matches left.
Before they return to league action Sale will face Harlequins in the LV= Cup final but win or lose against the defending Premiership champions, Moody believes Sale's run in the LV= Cup will give them the confidence needed to stay up.
"It was a remarkable achievement for Sale. Saracens maybe didn't play their strongest side but they were expected to win and win easy but that certainly didn't materialise," said Moody.
"Saracens had a strong bench and tried to use that in the second half but Sale stood firm and deserve to be in the final.
"There was a great performance from Andy Powell who has been struggling with injuries and he was desperate to prove himself as I think he is out of contract in the summer.
"And he went out there and put in a man-of-the-match performance to prove the doubters wrong as he has this bad boy reputation a bit like Danny Cipriani but they both came through.
"They are desperate to get some sort of consistency in their level of play and get wins on the board and the more games they can play the better.
"The LV= Cup final is perfect for them. They need more games to keep going out and performing and correcting the issues they are having.
"London Irish have found a bit of form but this will give Sale that boost and I can't see them going down now. Regardless it has been a tough year and it will be a tough final."
But while Moody, who himself helped Leicester Tigers lift the Anglo-Welsh title back in 2007, was impressed with Sale on Sunday, he admits the smart money is on Quins landing the first silverware of the season.
"I can't see them beating Harlequins but it is fantastic for them to reach the final and anything can happen because it is a one-off game and it only takes one mistake or one bit of magic to win," he added.
"Sale can almost sit back and relax as all the pressure is on Harlequins and maybe during their analysis they have found a few chinks in Harlequins' armour and they will relish the position they are in."
Tickets for the LV= Cup Final on Sunday 17 March at Sixways Stadium, Worcester are now on sale. Buy yours - from £20 - at ticketmaster.co.uk or from 0844 8440444 (Tickets on sale 24 hours a day).
Harlequins v Bath
The LV= Cup is all about the next generation and home side Harlequins underlined this with sixteen of their matchday squad all under 23 years old for the first semi-final on Saturday against Bath. The visitors under Gary Gold naming a full strength side including LV=Breakthrough Player Award nominee Tom Heathcote.
With the game just seven minutes old, a Quins lineout allowed Ben Botica to feed Tom Williams who came through off his wing, Maurie Fa'asavalu on hand to link beautifully over the 22m line and feed Tom Guest for the game's opening try.
With a quarter of the game gone, Bath were putting some threatening phases together but when Kyle Eastmond’s pass was read by Williams, the Quins winger was able to intercept and sprint the length of the field to score his second, Botica again adding the extras.
When Bath were awarded a penalty, they opted for the corner rather than for the posts, knowing they needed to make ground on their hosts fast. The decision was vindicated when a strong drive for the line saw Francois Louw as the man to crash over, the deficit halved with the conversion.
The fourth try of the match was made by Karl Dickson who scored moments after a superb solo break that took play downfield, the scrum-half sniping round the corner from a few yards out.
Tom Heathcote nailed a penalty either side of half time to take the scores to 21-13 but Tom Williams was next on the scoresheet to claim a brace of tries after a superb offload in the tackle from LV=Breakthrough Player Award nominee Luke Wallace.
With just over a quarter of the game remaining, Bath came forward with intent and forced a yellow card out of Sam Smith. With Quins down to fourteen men, Nick Abendanon crashed over from close range, the conversion closing the gap to eight points.
When George Lowe conceded a penalty, Heathcote was happy to punish Quins from the boot but Bath were unable to add to their tally, Botica in fact the man with the final word after Nathan Catt was sent to the sin bin, three points taking the final scores to 31-23.
Sale Sharks v Saracens
The second semi-final took place in sunny conditions on Sunday in Salford with Sale Sharks owing much to the competition that kick started their season only a few weeks ago. Saracens, like Harlequins, are competing on three fronts but would dearly love an early piece of silverware to lock in the cupboard at their new ground.
The game got underway with an early penalty from Sale fly-half Danny Cipriani, but LV=Breakthrough Player Award nominee Ben Spencer replied with three of his own within a nine minute spell. One more for each man took the scores to 6-12 after 23 minutes before the game's first try.
An unclaimed lineout throw from Tommy Taylor saw Tom Holmes as the quickest to react and he was able to break through almost unopposed. The conversion was missed and so there was just a point in it at the break, 11-12.
Just after the hour mark, Ben Spencer got the scoreboard moving again, slotting his fifth penalty for Saracens. But four minutes later and replacement Nathan Fowles was the man to dot down for Sale after a concerted piece of forward driving at the Saracens line. Cipriani slotted a tough touchline conversion and Sale were back in front by three points.
With Saracens knowing a penalty would take the match into extra time, they were desperate to try and achieve a turnover. But in desperation they gave away a penalty at the breakdown and Cipriani was able to add three points with three minutes to go. As the clock ticked down, the ball was booted into touch for a tremendous victory for Steve Diamond's men.
With a Heineken Cup place up for grabs, it's a huge opportunity for Sale Sharks in the final next weekend at Sixways, after a disappointing league season so far.
World Cup winner Lewis Moody insists this season's LV= Cup has already discovered international stars of tomorrow as he prepares to watch Harlequins and Bath, plus Sale and Saracens go head-to-head this weekend in the competition's semi-final.
A host of youngsters have been nominated for the LV= Breakthrough Player award - won last year by Gloucester wing Jonny May - and Moody believes many are now knocking on the door for permanent Premiership or RaboDirect PRO12 inclusion.
Bath fly-half Tom Heathcote, who has already been capped by Andy Robinson for Scotland, has particularly caught Moody's eye, while the performances of London Irish wing Marland Yarde and young Harlequin Luke Wallace have also not gone unnoticed by the former Leicester and Bath flanker.
Heathcote has now leapfrogged World Cup winner Stephen Donald as the premier No.10 at Bath in Moody's eyes and he predicts it won't be long until others - Yarde and Wallace in particular will be automatic picks for their club sides.
Others nominated for the award are Exeter's Jack Nowell, Ospreys Morgan Allen and Sam Lewis, Saracen Ben Spencer, Sale Shark Tommy Taylor, Harlequin Joe Trayfoot and Northampton Saint Jamie Elliott.
And Moody is convinced club bosses across the land will only benefit from the exposure their youngsters are getting in a senior competition.
"Tom Heathcote is a good example of how this competition can help develop a youngster," said Moody. "He has had a very interesting 18 months, he won his first cap for Scotland under Andy Robinson, he's now pushing Stephen Donald at Bath - in fact his performances probably dictate he has now overtaken him.
"I think Tom Heathcote is 100 per cent capable of being the number one fly-half at Bath now going forward.
"Jonny May is an example of a player now turning out regularly in the Premiership and scoring tries that has made a name for him in this competition.
"The LV= Cup allows clubs to try out their youngsters, give them an opportunity and allows teams to see what they're like under pressure in a big-match situation.
"The award allows the young guys to be recognised for their performances in the competition and to gain some exposure, which only can help them at their club and in their careers.
"I think the fact that the clubs and the fans have games to watch while the Six Nations is on, see their young stars come through is only a good thing."
Harlequins boss Conor O'Shea has already stated he will stick with a youthful side for his side's LV= Cup semi-final with Bath at the weekend, which is a similar stance taken by last year's winners Leicester.
And Moody thinks the policy is spot on and applauded the bold stance taken by O'Shea.
"I love the fact these youngsters nominated for the LV= Cup Breakthrough award are pushing the senior guys for their places in the Aviva Premiership and also in Europe," added Moody
"They're setting the standards and if clubs do have international players away, there's no guarantee they'll walk straight back in.
"At Leicester if you were away on international duty and a youngster did very well in your absence, we were made fully aware you wouldn't walk straight back into the side and I think it's great that Conor O'Shea is adopting a similar policy this season.
"It allows clubs to try out players that coaches know are good but they're simply not getting the starts because there are international names ahead of them.
"It gives them the opportunity to play, put their hands up and say I want this shirt going forward - I'm now ready.
"I think it's a great competition and I completely disagree with those who think we shouldn't be playing club rugby during the Six Nations.
"It's not even just beneficial for the younger guys, it also allows older squad members who are out of favour to stake their claim, get some game-time and get amongst the headlines.
"It also means towards the end of the season when there's injuries, squads are more competitive and everybody has had some game-time."
As the 2012/13 LV= Cup reaches the knock-out stage, we cast our eye over each semi-final to find out who might move a step closer to having their name etched onto the trophy for the first time, come the final on March 17th.
Sat March 9th - Harlequins v Bath (12.15pm kick off)
At the Stoop on Saturday, Harlequins will run out against Bath hoping to get back to winning ways fast after an unexpected loss to the Chiefs in the Premiership last Saturday.
Conor O'Shea is likely to pick both of his LV= Breakthrough Player Award nominees in the starting matchday 23, Luke Wallace and Joe Trayfoot. While for Bath, Tom Heathcote is also expected to feature.
With the Six Nations fourth round kicking off later in the day, the match serves as another great chance for some of the younger members of each of the squads to make their impact with a few senior players away on international duty.
While Harlequins are unbeaten in the competition so far this year, Bath are the more in-form team having won six out of their last seven matches. However, Quins beat Bath 21-12 with a pool victory in Round 2 so the home side will no doubt feel that this and their home advantage should give them the psychological edge.
Sun March 10th - Sale v Saracens (1pm kick off)
Sunday's semi-final takes place at the Salford City Stadium with Sale Sharks taking on Saracens, the hosts having won just eight games all season to the visitors' twenty-one.
However, in Round 2 of the competition, Sale beat the north Londoners 25-23 and will hope that they can pull off a similar result to advance to the final.
Steve Diamond's Sale side will hope to benefit from the inclusion of their LV= Breakthrough Player Award nominee, hooker Tommy Taylor, plus the Premiership's top try scorer of all time, Mark Cueto.
For Saracens, scrum-half Ben Spencer is also nominated for the LV= Breakthrough Player award, and he will hope to continue using his boot to good effect as he was able to do superbly in the pool stages.
Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall said in the build up to the match, “It's a competition that we enjoy playing in. We've blooded a lot of younger players in it and those who don't play as regular first team players, so it's a game that we're looking forward to.”
For full updates on the latest team news and live updates from both matches, follow @LVRugby on Twitter.
Congratulations to our LV= Young Reporter competition winner!
A big congratulations to Sam Durham who is the lucky winner of the LV= Young Reporter competition. The judges were really impressed with Sam's entry, so Sam will be joining us at the LV= Cup Final on Sunday 17 March.
One of Sam's assignments will be to interview our LV= Cup ambassador, and former England captain, Lewis Moody. The interview will be played on the big screen at the final to the crowd at half time, and Sam will also be invited to attend the post-match press conference and write a match report which will be published on rfu.com, lv.com and premiershiprugby.com.
We'd also like to congratulate our two runners up, Tim Rutland and Issy Ronald, who each receive four tickets to the Final.
Thank you to all those who entered, we loved reading your reports!
Friday night kicked off Round 4 with a match in poor conditions at The Arms Park between Cardiff Blues and London Irish. Irish were on the hunt for a big win that would have seen them claim a semi-final spot but the game's only try fell to Rhys Patchell after Homer's error on his own try line. The low scoring match finished just 10-6 to the home side, Irish having to wait until Saturday to see whether Saracens might leapfrog them in Pool 3.
Bath Rugby knew that a good win at local rivals Gloucester would give them a good chance of an LV=Cup semi-final and so it proved. The cherry and whites were able to level with Woodburn's eleventh minute score, with a try from hooker Huia Edmonds, but those would be their only points of the afternoon. Nick Abendanon, Gilbert, Rokoduguni and Donald all touched down in the second half with Vesty adding seven points of his own with the boot for a convincing 5-32 victory to Bath.
At Adams Park, London Wasps hosted Sale Sharks with a semi-final spot at stake for the visitors. Centre Charlie Hayter crossed inside five minutes for Wasps, Stephen Jones adding the extras with a penalty for a 10-0 lead. Sale brought themselves back into the game with a rumbling maul that earned them a penalty try, converted by Cipriani and a further try from Kearnan Myall put the Sharks in the lead for the first time in the game.
Kicks from Jones and Bell took the game to 16-16 before yellow cards took their effect on the game. Charlie Davies was sent to the bin, followed by Will Taylor and the 13-men of Wasps struggled to cope in their absence. Sale took a 33-16 lead through tries by Tuitupou and Tommy Taylor and earned the bonus point that guaranteed them maximum points. A further try from former Wasp Danny Cipriani was enough to see off the late rally from Wasps' Charlie Davies and Sam Jones, the game finishing 30-33 and giving the Sharks the home semi-final they were hoping for.
The 3 o'clock kick off allowed Saracens the chance to take advantage of London Irish's loss on Friday evening and take advantage they did. Worcester Warriors were unable to defend an opening try from Ernst Joubert, converted by Ben Spencer. Worcester hit back through a try from Blair Cowan, but two penalties for Sarries gave them a 7-13 lead at half time. A second Warriors try came from a cross-field kick touched down by Josh Drauniniu but from that moment on, it was all down to the boot of Spencer. Three penalties took Saracens to a 12-22 victory and earned them a coveted semi-final spot.
The final Saturday match took place at Sandy Park as the Exeter Chiefs took on Northampton, both sides able to eye up a potential semi-final spot. A close range effort saw Ben White score the first try for the Chiefs and two more 5-pointers from Nowell and Votu, with two conversions from Mieres, earned the Chiefs a 22-5 lead at half time to Waller's only score for the Saints. The second half then saw the first of two Dickson tries on the hour mark, with Myler dutifully adding the extras. This was followed by an effort four minutes before the final whistle, but Mieres was able to keep the scoreboard ticking over and Jim Mallinder's men saw their chance of a semi-final match slip away, 28-19 the final score.
The result from Sale's game against Wasps meant that the match between the Scarlets and Leicester Tigers was a dead rubber. A Waldrom try and penalty try for the Tigers and penalties from Owen Williams for the Scarlets had the scores level after half an hour, the Tigers sneaking the lead into the break through a Forsyth try, 15-19. The second half saw two Williams penalties put the home side in the lead and there was no answer from the Tigers as Andy Fenby, Gareth Owen and Nic Reynolds sealed the win 40-19.
London Welsh took on Newport Gwent Dragons with only pride at stake, as previous performances had taken both sides out of the running for a semi-final spot. The home side took a 9-6 lead into the break through three penalties from Ryan Davis to two from Steffan Jones and held that lead up to the hour mark with a try from Ed Williamson. Jones continued to chip away though and once the Dragons went into the lead, they started to play more freely. Amos, Ieuan Jones and Groves all scored tries that went unanswered, not the ideal preparation for London Welsh who will return to the Premiership next time out with a tough away trip to Welford Road. Final score at the Kassam was 14-42 to the Dragons.
The final match of the weekend was to be a decisive one in Bridgend for the form team in English rugby, Harlequins. Competing in the Premiership and Europe may keep them busy enough, but the Londoners kept the dream of the elusive treble alive by securing a home LV=Cup semi-final with four wins out of four in Pool 1 thanks to hard fought away win over the Ospreys. Three first half penalties from Morgan were not enough to combat Hopper's try and Botica's two penalties and conversion, the score 9-13 at the break. A penalty apiece was all that occurred in the second half and round four was wrapped up with a 12-16 win for Quins.
The semi-finals are confirmed as Harlequins v Bath Rugby and Sale Sharks v Saracens.
The LV= Cup is known to play a crucial role in the development of professional rugby players, now it's going to help develop talents off the field too!
The LV= Young Reporter Competition has been designed to recognise the talents of budding young rugby writers in the UK. We're inviting under 16's to submit a 200 word review of any Round 4 game via the entry form hosted by the RFU site by 12pm on Monday 11 February.
The winner, who will be determined by a judging panel of the Head of Sponsorship at LV= , RFU Communications Manager, Premiership Rugby Communications Director and Rugby Media Journalist, will win four VIP tickets to the LV= Cup Final, as well as the opportunity to interview LV= Cup ambassador and former England captain Lewis Moody.
The interview will be played on the big screen to the crowd at half time, and the winner will be invited to attend the post-match press conference and write a match report which will be published on rfu.com, lv.com and premiershiprugby.com.
Two runners up will receive four stand tickets to the LV= Cup Final.
To kick everything off, here are some top tips for writing a match report in 200 words:
Rugby World Cup winner Lewis Moody is convinced that there will be a couple of surprising names in the hat for the LV= Cup semi-finals after this weekend’s final round of Pool matches.
The two sides struggling in the Aviva Premiership, namely Sale Sharks and London Irish, currently sit top of their respective Pools ahead of traditional powerhouses Leicester Tigers and Saracens.
And with the Exiles travelling to a Cardiff Blues side on Friday that are all but out of contention Moody has called on Brian Smith’s side to ride their recent good form into the Welsh capital.
“It’s strange how it works sometimes,” said Moody, who won the LV= Cup with Leicester back in 2007.
“I can guarantee you that Irish would prefer to be winning games in Premiership Rugby and clear of relegation, as would Sale, but a cup like the LV= can get a side going and create momentum.
“And I can see Irish going to Cardiff and getting the job done and making it into the hat for the semi-finals.
“The Blues are a young side and will be missing a lot of players on international duty and Irish are on a good run of results with Marland Yarde in red-hot form so I'm backing them to win by six points.”
Saracens’ much vaunted squad depth has them right on Irish’s heels waiting for them to slip up atop Pool 3 and despite predicting Sarries to get the better of Worcester Warriors this weekend, Moody thinks it might not be enough to see them progress.
“Sarries really are an incredible force these days with an amazing squad and while Sixways is a very tough place to go to normally, Worcester have not got much to play for while Saracens will be going for the bonus point win to put pressure on Irish,” he said.
“I'm predicting them to win by quite a few points, maybe as many as 15, but Irish will beat the Blues handily as I said and that will be the end of Sarries’ chances.”
Meanwhile in Pool 3 fellow Premiership strugglers Sale face a trip to Adams Park to take on Wasps knowing that a win might be enough to put them into the final four.
But Moody knows from personal experience what a tough proposition Wasps are at home and is predicting Wasps to spoil the party for Steve Diamond’s men.
“Sale will struggle at Wasps if I'm honest,” he added. “They are a tough side with talent all over the park and despite missing a few players on international duty will still pose a real threat.
“I think they’ll be too strong for an undoubtedly dogged Sale side and that might leave a space for my old boys Leicester.”
Sale’s rivals for the top spot in Pool 2 are Moody’s former club and defending LV= Cup champions Leicester.
Last year, despite using almost exclusively their younger players in the competition, they made serene progress all the way to the title. And Moody does not see why they cannot do it again this time around, including their trip to Scarlets this weekend.
“Leicester, like Irish, are facing a trip to Wales,” said Moody.
“The Scarlets will not pose much of a problem in my eyes and I can see the Tigers coming away with a comfortable win, by 13 points because they’re so good in these situations.”
In Pool 1 Quins’ challenge on three fronts this season looks set to continue, currently four points clear at the top of their group, a draw in Wales against the Ospreys this weekend would be enough to guarantee their progress.
But Moody sees a lot of the dominant Tigers sides of the 2000s in Conor O’Shea’s men and is predicting them to seal their semi spot in style at the Liberty Stadium.
“Ospreys have been a little inconsistent this season, they pushed my old club Leicester close in the Heineken Cup but the LV= Cup has not gone as well for them,” he said.
“Quins meanwhile are really starting to remind me of the Tigers team of old, no matter who comes into the side everyone understands their roles and they are so consistent.
“I cut my teeth in the LV= Cup as a youngster and it’s the same for some of these Quins youngsters who continue to impress despite almost the whole team being changed.
“The Liberty Stadium is sometimes a tough place to go but I'm still picking Quins by ten points.”
That predicted Quins victory will sound the death knell for Exeter Chiefs’ hopes of progressing with Gloucester Rugby and the Dragons already out of contention in the group.
But Moody is still convinced that the Chiefs will have enough about them to spoil Northampton Saints’ own hopes of progressing when the two sides meet at Sandy Park on Saturday.
“Not many teams have been able to go to Exeter in the past two years and get a win and I can’t see that being any different this time around,” he added.
“Sides like to do well in the LV= as a route to Europe and Saints could still make the semi-finals with a win but to be honest they have disappointed me a bit this year.
“Squad depth is something they have struggled with for a while and the LV= Cup means some players have to have a rest.
“With that in mind I think the Chiefs, who themselves can go through with a win, will have too much for the Saints down south and will win by five points.”
If the Saints do indeed slip up at Exeter that will leave the door open in Pool 2 for another of Moody’s former clubs, Bath Rugby.
And the former England flanker is confident his old boys will be able to take full advantage in their West Country derby with Gloucester.
“Gloucester may be out of the competition but every game between these two sides is huge and this will be a grudge match,” he said.
“But despite that Bath will have enough about them to edge through and make the semi-finals, this competition means more to them while Gloucester have top-four ambitions in the league to focus on, I can see Bath edging a tight one by three points or less.”
That leaves the only dead-rubber of the weekend pitting London Welsh against the Dragons, a clash that Moody thinks will finally give the Welsh regions some bragging rights.
“The Welsh regions have been a bit disappointing this season, I don’t know if it’s a hangover from Wales form on the international stage in the last 12 months,” he added.
“But this weekend I think the Dragons, fresh from a good win last weekend, will have too much for London Welsh and will win by 15 points.”
Pool 1 vs Pool 4
Ospreys v Harlequins – Quins by 10 points
Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints – Chiefs by 5
Gloucester Rugby v Bath Rugby – Bath by 3
London Welsh v Dragons – Dragons by 15
Pool 2 vs Pool 3
Cardiff Blues v London Irish – Irish by 6
London Wasps v Sale Sharks – Wasps by 17
Scarlets v Leicester Tigers – Tigers by 13
Worcester Warriors v Saracens – Sarries by 15
Semi-finalists: Harlequins, Leicester Tigers, London Irish, Bath Rugby
Friday 1st February
Round 4 commences with an evening kickoff on Friday at the Cardiff Arms Park, with the visitors London Irish knowing that a bonus-point victory guarantees them progress to the latter stages of the competition. The Cardiff Blues have just one win to their name in this year’s competition and although progress looks beyond them, they will be desperate to sign off with a home win.
Saturday 2nd February
On Saturday afternoon Bath travel to Kingsholm to take on Gloucester. Bath impressed last weekend in victory over Exeter and could yet catch Northampton at the top of Pool 4. Gloucester, by contrast, slumped to a 26-7 defeat at Northampton, effectively ruling them out of contention for a semi-final.
Elsewhere Sale Sharks, who recorded a commanding win over the Scarlets last time out travel to London Wasps. The Sharks have struggled both domestically and in Europe this season but a big win will see them into a semi-final. They will no doubt encounter some stiff opposition, however, from a Wasps side seeking to put last week’s thumping at the hands of Leicester well and truly behind them.
Also on Saturday afternoon Worcester Warriors will play Saracens at Sixways. Saracens made a winning start at their new home, Allianz Park, in Round 3 and remain in contention in Pool 3. Worcester, meanwhile, require a bizarre string of results to go their way in order to qualify, but nonetheless will seek to defend their strong home record - Richard Hill suggesting that they will be fielding a full strength side at Sixways.
In Saturday’s final fixture, Exeter Chiefs host Northampton Saints. The East Midlands side outmuscled the Chiefs at Sandy Park earlier this month in the Premiership, so the home side will be eagerly awaiting the Saints’ return. Northampton remain in control of Pool 4 but could yet be beaten to a semi-final by Bath.
Sunday 3rd January
On Sunday afternoon Leicester travel to Wales to play the Llanelli Scarlets. Leicester will have keenly watched Sale the previous day, knowing that if the Sharks fail to record a bonus point victory, Leicester themselves could yet escape Pool 2. The Scarlets remain rooted to the bottom of Pool 3 but would no doubt enjoy bowing out of the competition with a defiant victory.
Winless London Welsh welcome Newport Gwent Dragons to the Kassam stadium on Sunday afternoon. Both sides are at the bottom of their respective pools and cannot qualify for the semi-finals. With pride at stake, though, both will be dangerous and the Exiles in particular will want to put on an impressive display in front of their faithful fans.
The final game of the weekend sees Harlequins travel to the Ospreys. The London club are the only undefeated side remaining in the competition; a win will see them claim a home semi-final with a perfect record, a draw also enough to go through. The Ospreys have notched just one win in 2013 but will hope that a victory over the Pool 1 leaders can see them return to form as they look ahead to the business end of their domestic season.
Round 3 got underway on Saturday afternoon in the early kick off, as Bath hosted the Exeter Chiefs. LV= Breakthrough Player Nominee Tom Heathcote slotted the first points of the afternoon before his opposite number Henry Slade took the Chiefs ahead. Heathcote was able to level things up before on loan scrum-half Peter Stringer was brought onto the field.
In the second half, Stringer pounced from close range for the game's first try and he was on hand again to scoot around the blind side for another. It continued the run of Bath wins over the Chiefs, stretching back to 1978. The game finished 16-6 at the Rec, with Bath looking ahead to another West Country derby next weekend, when they travel to Gloucester.
At the Stoop, Harlequins and London Welsh went into battle but it was an error strewn match. Alex Davies scored a penalty for Welsh before Quins prop Mark Lambert used his strength to touch down in the corner for the try; Ben Botica added the extras and a penalty to extend the home side's lead. Davies was able to reduce the arrears but Botica kept Quins safely in front with the boot. A final insult to Welsh came from a messy lineout that Dave Ward was able to benefit from and that was the game wrapped up, 23-6 - a result that gives Harlequins three from three, a draw next weekend will be enough to put them through to the semi-finals.
At Franklins Gardens, Northampton Saints hoped to stay in control of Pool 4 as they faced Gloucester. England full back Ben Foden was one of the more experienced faces in the Saints side as Ryan Lamb gave Saints a 6-0 lead from the boot. Ryan Mills brought Gloucester back into it, converting his own try but those would be the West Country side's only points of the day. Scores from Luther Burrell, replacement Stephen Myler and MOTM Alex Waller concluded a solid afternoon for the Saints, leaving them top of Pool 4.
In Salford, Sale Sharks hoped to keep their LV= Cup campaign alive considering their poor league form and managed to do so against a very young Scarlets side despite an early score by Andrew Fenby under the posts and a score from scrum-half Davies. Danny Cipriani was able to reduce the deficit with three penalties before Richie Vernon's try from the rolling maul brought Sale level. Before half time, Charlie Amesbury was able to score in the corner and Sale took a lead into the break.
The first points of the second half went to the Scarlets fly-half Williams, but Sale broke through again with Vernon, earning a penalty that Cipriani slotted before adding his own try soon afterwards. A final score from replacement Charlie Ingall sealed the Sharks' win which put them top of Pool 2, final score 36-17.
At Welford Road, reigning LV= Cup champions Leicester Tigers hoped to keep their Pool 2 ambitions alive, hosting form side London Wasps. Tigers prop Mulipola came up from the bottom of a powerful surge over the line for the game's first try. As Tom Croft disappointingly left the field after 11 minutes back on his return from injury, his replacement Michael Noone found himself at the end of a Tigers move to touch down for try number two. The third try then came in the second half through full back Mathew Tait and the fourth try bonus was scored by Nicky Goneva, who added a brace late on. All Wasps could offer in the meantime was a Southwell try and a Bell penalty, the match finishing 34-8.
The final match on Saturday evening saw Newport Gwent Dragons take on the Ospreys at Rodney Parade. First blood went to the Dragons and Jones kicked two penalties for a 6-0 lead. The Ospreys replied with penalty of their own after a yellow card on the Dragons line, Matthew Morgan taking three points. The sides exchanged further penalties, the Ospreys eventually tying the scores at 9-9 before an early second half penalty allowed the Dragons to reassert their lead. Then, just before the hour mark, Jonathan Thomas crashed over from a 5m lineout to put the Ospreys back in front. Discipline cost them though and two more penalties from the expert boot of Jones saw the Dragons over the line for their first win in the competition, 18-14.
Sunday saw two matches take place. London Irish went behind to an early Worcester Warriors penalty kicked by Danny Gray, but once Tom Homer had put Irish in the lead, the Warriors would never really get back in the game. Three first half tries for Irish, including a brace for prop Halani Aulika, gave a half time score of 22-3. The Warriors did fight back in the second half with three tries of their own, but Irish were able to constantly keep themselves comfortably in front - number 8 Alex Gray and a hat-trick superbly taken by Irish winger Marland Yarde gave the Exiles the bonus point win and put them safely in charge of Pool 3 on 11 points. Worcester are all but out of the competition following the loss, 46-24.
History was made in North London as Saracens hosted their first ever match at their new ground, Allianz Park, the visitors Cardiff Blues. Nils Mordt put the home side in front with two penalties to Cardiff's one from Ceri Sweeney before the visitors took the lead through number 8 Robin Copeland with the game's first try. Keen to right the scoreboard at the start of the second half, Mordt was able to put Sarries back in front by a single point with his third kick. A fourth penalty put Saracens four points clear before Davies narrowed the gap but a James Short try right at the end of the match gave the north Londoners the victory - getting their home record at their new stadium off to a perfect start. The final score of 19-11 puts Saracens one point behind London Irish in Pool 3 going into the final round next weekend.
In 2007 Lewis Moody and his Leicester Tigers teammates came within a whisker of claiming an unprecedented treble.
And ahead of the third round of the LV= Cup the former England skipper has urged reigning Aviva Premiership champions Harlequins to not take their foot off the gas in their bid to make history.
Currently top of the league and with a home Heineken Cup quarter-final against Munster already in the bag, Conor O’Shea’s men will go into their LV=Cup game with London Welsh hoping to keep their march going.
And while O’Shea is likely to ring the changes against the Exiles, Moody sees no reason why the Stoop outfit cannot continue their recent red-hot form.
“No matter what the competition and no matter how many changes they seem to make Quins just keep winning games,” he said.
“It’s really quite amazing actually; Conor has done a fantastic job there continuing the fine work that Dean Richards started.
“But from personal experience in 2007 I know just how hard winning a treble can be, it just gets so tiring near the end of the season but this clash with London Welsh this weekend is just another game they need to get through.
“If anyone can do it though it is this Quins side, their consistency is just fantastic and to have the opportunity to win multiple competitions is an achievement in itself.”
They may have won two from two so far but Quins do not currently top Pool 1 with Exeter Chiefs sitting above them courtesy of having scored more points than Quins so far.
But this weekend the Chiefs travel to the Rec to take on a Bath side for whom the LV=Cup is becoming more and more of a priority in Moody’s eyes.
“I think Bath will be viewing the LV= Cup more and more as a chance to guarantee a place in Europe next year,” he added.
“Of course the top four and the league is every one’s main aim but as a season progresses priorities can shift.
“In years gone by sides like Wasps and Bath were competitive across all the competitions but nowadays they will be targeting this competition and getting into the Heineken Cup this way.”
In Pool 2 meanwhile London Wasps face a Leicester Tigers side who will be battle-weary after edging out Toulouse last weekend at a snow-covered Welford Road.
And Moody is tipping Dai Young’s troops to upset the Tigers this weekend when hostilities resume domestically.
The other game in Pool 2 sees Sale Sharks take on the Scarlets a clash that for many might seem like an unwanted distraction for the relegation-threatened Aviva Premiership side.
But not according to Moody, who insists that sides like Sale and London Irish, who face Worcester Warriors this weekend, could benefit from bringing some momentum back into the league.
“The LV= Cup presents a great chance for sides to get on a roll and Sale and London Irish are struggling in the league at the moment,” he added.
“But if they can get a couple of wins that should start to bring back some confidence. That can only be a good thing in terms of their league campaign as well.”
In another Anglo-Welsh encounter Saracens host the Cardiff Blues in the club’s first game at their new home of Allianz Park, which has an artificial turf pitch.
And while Sarries will undoubtedly shuffle their pack ahead of the clash, Moody insists that does not mean they will be weaker a result.
“You only have to look at Sarries’ two latest signings to see what amazing strength in depth they have,” he added.
“They rotate their squad and replace class with class, it’s pretty impressive to be honest.”
Elsewhere Pool 4 table toppers Northampton Saints host Gloucester Rugby while Ospreys take on Dragons in an all-Welsh encounter.
Saturday 26th January
Round 3 will get underway on Saturday when Bath host the Exeter Chiefs. The Chiefs are one of only two undefeated sides in the tournament this season and go into Saturday’s fixture on top of Pool 1 with a healthy points difference. An Exeter win would therefore put a home semi-final within their grasp, but Bath are still in contention in Pool 4 and could yet qualify for the knockout stages themselves.
Later that afternoon, London Welsh travel to the Twickenham Stoop where they face the other undefeated side of this year’s LV= Cup in Harlequins. Quins trail Exeter in Pool 1 on points difference only, so still have everything to play for. London Welsh are winless and rooted to the bottom of Pool 4 but can enter the game with confidence having run their opponents close three weeks ago in their Premiership clash.
Elsewhere, Northampton Saints will play host to Gloucester at Franklins Gardens. The Cherry and Whites will still be smarting from their home defeat to the Saints back in September; a reversal of fortunes would delight Nigel Davies and his men. A Northampton victory, however, puts them in control of Pool 4.
The first Welsh interest of Round 3 sees the Llanelli Scarlets visit the Salford City Stadium to take on Sale Sharks. The Sharks notched a memorable victory over Saracens in Round 2 – a performance they will hope to emulate on Saturday. Both they and the Scarlets, though, could yet emerge from tight pools.
In-form Wasps face a tough proposition on Saturday afternoon as they travel to Welford Road. Leicester Tigers are currently at the bottom of their group, but such is the tight nature of Pool 2 that a win could theoretically see them leapfrog to the top. Wasps, though, just one place behind the Tigers in the domestic league, have shown in recent weeks that they are a force to be reckoned with.
Saturday evening offers a Welsh derby when the Newport Gwent Dragons play the Ospreys at Rodney Parade. The hosts are winless as yet in the tournament and qualification looks beyond them, but would no doubt delight in derailing their visiting Welsh rivals’ campaign.
Sunday 27th January
The first of Sunday’s two fixtures will see the Cardiff Blues travel to Allianz Park to play Saracens' first ever home match at their new ground. Cardiff were dispatched by Toulon a fortnight ago, while their domestic campaign remains an indifferent one. An away win here, however, could reinvigorate their season. The north London club, meanwhile, sits atop Pool 3 and a commanding win over the Blues could put a home semi-final within their grasp and kick-off a home record they would like to uphold.
Also on Sunday afternoon, Worcester Warriors take on London Irish at the Madejski Stadium in Reading. The Exiles are not enjoying much success this season, but having secured a few impressive away wins this month can look forward to this fixture with optimism. Worcester enter as Pool 2 group leaders but lead Sale and the Cardiff Blues only on points difference.
Round Two will commence this Friday when Harlequins host Bath at the Twickenham Stoop. Harlequins’ dramatic late victory last weekend will have thrilled the London side but Bath visit with considerable momentum themselves, having recorded a commanding win over the Dragons in Round One with a brace of tries from new boy Semesa Rokoduguni and Tom Heathcote ranking as the cup's top scorer so far.
Also on Friday, Saracens travel to Salford City Stadium to take on Sale Sharks. Saracens look hot favourites, having made light of their missing international contingent to outmuscle title-holders Leicester last weekend. However, an increasingly frustrated Sale side will no doubt present a tough challenge for the visitors, especially after losing a close, high-scoring affair against London Irish in their opening fixture. Danny Cipriani may look to move from 3rd to 1st in the top scorer stats by the end of Round Two.
Saturday 17th November
The action re-commences on Saturday afternoon as Exeter Chiefs play the Ospreys at Sandy Park. Consecutive big wins for the Chiefs over the last fortnight will give them confidence ahead of the Ospreys’ visit. Full-back Tom Nowell will no doubt cause threats, though the Welsh side know that victory here puts them in a very strong position in Pool Four.
Two losing sides from Round One were Gloucester and London Welsh, who will lock horns at Kingsholm on Saturday. The Cherry and Whites picked up a losing bonus point away at the Ospreys last weekend, which could prove crucial in their campaign to escape Pool One. Welsh were ultimately put to the sword by Exeter last time out and are looking to get off the bottom of their pool.
The Parc-Y-Scarlets is set for an all-Welsh affair as the Scarlets host the Cardiff Blues on Saturday evening. The visitors battled to a home win against a tough Wasps outfit in Round One, while the Llanelli side failed to pick up even a losing bonus point against Worcester and remain at the bottom of Pool Three.
Sunday 18th November
The first game of Sunday sees London Irish travel to Welford Road. The home of the Leicester Tigers is a difficult place to win at any stage of the season, but the Exiles will eye a famous win with Leicester depleted by international call-ups. Leicester will be fired up too, however, as they attempt to erase the memory of last week’s heavy defeat to Saracens.
Elsewhere London Wasps will play Worcester at Adams Park, with the home side eyeing a win that will put them back in contention in Pool Three. The Worcester boys will look to build upon last week’s impressive showing against the Scarlets.
The final game of the weekend will take place in Newport as a travelling Northampton side will look to overturn the Dragons. Ryan Lamb will hope to have another good day with the boot and right the wrongs of last Round One’s defeat, but with other injuries in the squad and international duties, the home side will surely fancy their chances of a maiden win in this year’s tournament.
Round 1 of the LV=Cup began at the Arms Park where Cardiff Blues were able to notch up a home win against visitors London Wasps. Tommy Bell's boot and a try from Elliot Daly wearing the 15 shirt giving them the lead at half time against a single Dan Fish try for Cardiff.
Wasps maintained their lead despite a try from Tom James before Ceri Sweeney eventually crossed over to give the home side the advantage. A run from Christian Wade hoped to grab a last gasp win but it was too little too late and Cardiff won by 22-17.
Pool 4 got off to a thrilling start at the Liberty Stadium on Friday night as Gloucester travelled to play the Ospreys. Coach Nigel Davies faced an evening of mixed emotions at the prospect of his son Sam turning out for the opposition, while it remained a family affair for Gloucester with Billy Burns, the brother of Freddie, taking the number ten shirt. Early penalty exchanges between Osprey's Matthew Morgan and Burns kept things tight before Gloucester rumbled over for the first score from prop Thomas. It was the Ospreys who took the lead into the break however, Morgan dropping two goals to take a personal tally of fifteen points in at half time.
As the rain teemed down, Gloucester lost their skipper Peter Buxton to the bin as Morgan continued to chip away, a try added by Tom Grabham in the corner taking the Ospreys further away. But the cherry and whites were not going to roll over as Murphy scored from another close range forwards effort followed by referee Rose awarding a penalty try to the visitors, putting them in the lead. The Ospreys were determined to have the final word at home though, Morgan Allen driving strongly to crash over the line, sealing the win by 33-27.
At Goldington Road on Friday night, Leicester began the defence of their title missing twenty, first team players, as Saracens welcomed them to their eleventh "home" venue of the season. Jamie George set his side off to a solid start with the first try of the match, before Duncan Taylor was gifted an intercept score soon after. Joe Maddock finished things off before half-time, Sarries leading 27-0. Leicester woke up with two tries from Cain and Noone in the second half but Andy Saull took the bonus point try that sealed the win for Saracens, despite a final score from the Tigers, the match finishing 38-21.
On Saturday at Franklin's Gardens, Northampton Saints faced Harlequins who got off to a good start with a great try from winger Sam Smith. Errors began to cost the home side as a missed lineout and a floating intercept pass brought two more tries from the visitors, Ryan Lamb was not having his greatest day with ball in hand, with Quins leading at half time. The midlanders got off to a better start in the second half with Luther Burrell dragging several defenders over the line to score before he turned provider to Tom May for a second - the tries adding to Lamb's efforts with the boot, including a further penalty and drop goal, to give Saints a six point lead. But it was all in vain, as a threadbare defence allowed Ben Botica in for a try under the posts, Quins nicking the weekend's first away win 30-31.
In Bath, the Newport Gwent Dragons got off to a bright start through Ross Wardle but they never capitalised on it. New boy Rokoduguni made an impact through the middle from a delightful pass courtesy of the returning Tom Heathcote, whose kicking helped Bath to a 22-10 lead at half time. The second half saw Matt Banahan power over the line as the Dragons were down to fourteen men, Rokoduguni adding a second to alert the coaches to his finishing ability. The final act came from the Dragons but it was a consolation score, the scoreboard reading Bath 36 Dragons 15 come the final whistle.
At Sixways, the LV=Cup final venue in March, it was the Scarlets who got off to a quicker start than hosts Worcester Warriors. Andrew Fenby scored on sixteen minutes to put the Welsh visitors in front, leading as they did at half time 13-6. The second half saw Worcester strike back having brought on Andy Goode who was instrumental in Ben Howard's try, before the forwards started to add too much pressure up front for the Scarlets to handle. Taulava and Abbott wrapped things up for the home side, before a score each for both sides left the home fans celebrating a 34-18 win.
At the Madejski Stadium in Reading, London Irish welcomed Sale Sharks as the two struggling Premiership clubs hoped for better results in the cup. In a topsy-turvy encounter, the Sharks took an early lead through a breakaway score by Dwayne Peel, with Danny Cipriani adding a penalty. Irish fought back through a Matt Garvey try before Cipriani scored one of his own, taking a 10-18 scoreline into half time. A Cipriani penalty extended the lead which prompted the Irish fightback. George Skivington finished off a break from Topsy Ojo, with Garvey also grabbing a second. The bonus point score came from a Shane Geraghty interception two minutes from time, before a consolation try from Sale's Charlie Amesbury concluded the match, 32-28 the final score.
The final match of the weekend saw Premiership newcomers London Welsh take on former RFU Championship opponents Exeter Chiefs. A tight start saw early penalties from Ross and Slade before Will Carrick-Smith got the first try for the Chiefs. Ross kept the Welsh noses in front with the boot at half-time, 9-8 the score. Slade slotted a penalty at the start of the second half, giving them a lead they would never surrend. A brace of tries each from Jack Nowell and Nic Sestaret plus one from Mark Foster ensuring the Chiefs of the bonus point and a thumping away victory to emphasize the strength in their academy. Final score Welsh 15 Chiefs 42.