Aviva Premiership Final: 5 things we learned


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

11 thoughts on “Aviva Premiership Final: 5 things we learned

  1. In terms of creating doubts in the ref’s confidence, surely one voice in your ear is better than hundreds of voices telling you the same thing after the game?

  2. Re point 4 Mallinder confirmed right after the match that only the key decision makers were told that they only needed a draw. That would have been Myler wood and Hartley probably. Gutsy decision. But maybe they wanted to win the final out right and not win on points difference. Either that or Myler is cr@p a drop goals and was hoping for an easy penalty in front of the sticks.

  3. The TMO situation is starting to get on my nerves. In the Euro play-off, over two legs, Wasps were disallowed 4 tries which were marginal and the incidents often happened long before the actual try was scored.

    Whilst many would argue that it is getting the correct decision that matters (and when this was introduced at the beginning of the season I agreed); I believe the TMO is becoming far too involved now, and it showed again on Saturday.

    The last stoppage in play can sometimes mean several minutes of rugby gets played, only to all be chalked off. Doesn’t work for me.

    Whilst it needs to be in place, I think it needs to be reviewed. Potentially having a limit on the number of phases? So you can only review three phases in build up to the try or something along those lines?

  4. I actually think the TMO stepping in for decisions is the way it should be.

    He should have done it earlier though.

    There needs to be a full and proper review of the correct use of TMO. Procedures in place for restarting play if a TMO is called for and nothing is found.

    Take Bath v Saints. Right on the end, flag comes out, Bath miss the DG, TMO reviews and there is no foul play. Play should then restart, giving Bath the chance to continue.

  5. I think the TMO should only be referred to if the ref deems it necessary. There was a point in the game when the TMO could be heard shouting “check, check, check for obstruction” in the ref’s ear whilst the ball was still in play.
    If the TMO’s get more involved they will have to start checking every pass and tackle leading up to a try!!
    I think the TMO is a benefit, but I think there needs to be clear guidelines of when they are used. In my view they should only be brought in to look at something at the referees request. The referee has to take some responsibility and make on the spot decisions. He did that, but then the TMO showed him something he had not asked to view. I didn’t even know he could do that, and I don’t think many people did.

  6. Even stranger I found the TMO and referee intervention at the end could have resulted in Northampton losing. The ball falling short would have resulted in a scrum, and an end to the game despite the ball still being in play. Does this mean the referee can stop the game if he sees any reasonable doubt that the ball has made contact with the line?

    Should play continue and then be reviewed after? It seems strange to me than the game has to be stopped, Northampton could well have played a few more phases and got a clearly visible try.

    1. Chris, that is a very good point. I saw a game very recently where this actually happened (though I don’t recall which game it was), and a try was scored after the ref had blown his whistle to check on the grounding of a try.

      1. A few too many doubts in the rules I think. That one certainly doesn’t feel clear cut enough.

    2. I appreciate your point, but in this case I think we have to give the referee credit because Northampton clearly stopped playing after they had scored their try so the ref was right to stop the play. That is, if I remember the events correctly.

    3. The point in the game I mentioned above was when Sarries were close to scoring through a Jackson Wray effort. The ball was still in play, but when Wray got close to the line, the TMO starting telling Doyle to check for obstruction! Play did carry on for a few more seconds. But again it could’ve carried on for a couple more phases, and maybe resulted in a try, or a turnover, we’ll never know.
      The difference in the two incidents was firstly that Saints were claiming a try, Sarries weren’t, and in the Sarries incident the TMO was clearly instructing Doyle to check obstruction before anyone had even claimed to score.
      The point is it should be up to the ref to control that on the pitch. He has a whistle for a reason. He knows when to use it, and shouldn’t be told when to use it by the TMO!

      1. Don’t you think that – however it is reached – the officiating team between them should do their level best to ensure that the right decisions are made?

        I am neutral as to the result of this match but I am quite sure that I would be more irritated by a try being allowed despite an obvious midfield obstruction, that concerns over which official is saying what to whom.

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