1. To TMO or not to TMO?
The finale of a long season seemed to encapsulate several of the issues rugby fans have had with the use of technology this season. On balance, it was used well, but there were a couple of occasions when things got messy. Owen Farrell’s ultimately disallowed try was initially given by referee JP Doyle, despite an apparent forward pass in the build-up. While Farrell was down injured, TMO Graham Hughes intervened and told the ref there had been a forward pass – it was reviewed, and the try was then disallowed. Ultimately it was the right decision as the pass was definitely forward, but changing the decision after a try was already awarded…? That shouldn’t happen, and it rightly angered Saracens fans and players, as well as bemusing neutrals. The final try was hugely touch and go – it felt like a try at the time, but was there enough evidence on the video to give it? Very, very tough to say.
Ultimately, the referee should either have to stick to his decision, or he should refer it to the TMO. Once you set a precedent of TMOs jumping in and saying ‘actually, I think we should review that’ you’re only going to get more stoppages and create more doubt in referees’ minds about their own ability. By and large the men in the middle do an outstanding job; undermining them further isn’t going to help anything.
2. Cream rises to the top
It may have taken a little while to get going, but once it did this year’s final was some spectacle. What it underlined above all is that unrelenting physicality is an absolute must if you are to win things – Saracens have led the way in this regard this season, but you sense they perhaps just ran out of steam. The Saints have timed their run to perfection and peaked to play their best, and most physical, rugby at the right time. On the day, they played more of the rugby and probably just about deserved to win. These two have been the real pace-setters for the majority of the season – both have had minor blips and the likes of Bath, Leicester and Harlequins all threatened the top two at various stages, but in reality it was a fitting end to a season which has been dominated by Saracens and Northampton.
3. A Lawes unto himself
Chances are, every one of the best players in the world could point toward a period in their career when they upped the ante, and put in a series of performances that announced themselves as a truly world-class talent. For Courtney Lawes, that time is now. Saturday’s Premiership final saw him put in probably the performance of his career. There were several eye-catching, frame-shuddering tackles on Saracens’ ball-carriers, but equally, if not more, important was his contribution in the maul, where he cleverly manoeuvred himself into position on more than one occasion to legally disrupt Sarries’ rolling maul and win a turnover. That these mauls were more often than not five metres out from his own line made them all the more impressive. He now flies out to take his place in the England engine room and a duel with one of the best combinations in the world in Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick. If he comes out on top of those two, there can be no more doubting how good he is.
4. Make sure you know all the rules!
Stephen Myler’s refusal to go for a drop goal in the final seconds of the match baffled everyone. Three points would have levelled the scores at 20-20, meaning Saints would have won the title by virtue of having scored more tries in the match (two to Saracens’ one). They chose, however, to keep bashing away with ball in hand in search of a try – even when, at one stage, the breakdown was in the most perfect position imaginable for a right footed kicker to take a drop goal. Lee Dickson has since claimed they wanted to go for the jugular and win the game with a try, but you have to wonder how true that is when it’s a far riskier option – and at one stage, it did seem as if James Wilson was screaming for the ball in the pocket, but he was ignored. In the end they showed great composure and it paid off, but you wonder if more questions would be being asked had they knocked the ball on and lost.
5. Heading to New Zealand on form
There were plenty of Englishmen on show in the final, and almost across the board they performed well. For the Saints, Stephen Myler capped a superb season with a brilliant game, showing tactical awareness as well as creativity with possession. Lawes has already been covered above, Tom Wood was typically industrious and Ben Foden looked back to his fizzing best with some dangerous runs. Luther Burrell showed that he can distribute as well as carry, which is vital if he’s to be paired with Manu Tuilagi for England at some stage. For Saracens, Chris Ashton was encouraging in defence (one poorly timed rush aside), while Billy Vunipola still carried strongly despite injuring an ankle in the first few minutes. Tired they will be, but the English finalists head to New Zealand on the back of strong performances.
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43