Saracens re-established as England’s elite
It most certainly hasn’t been the smoothest season for Mark McCall’s relentless North London machine (at least in comparison to the last number of seasons), but England’s dominant club side secured yet another Premiership title that they have looked on track for for the last month and a half. Standing in their way was an Exeter side that topped the regular season table and was looking to defend its crown, perhaps starting to really wrestle some of the fearsome mystique that their opponents possess in their own direction. It was another weekend of one-way Saracens traffic, though, as they never really looked troubled, winning 27-10.
Chiefs had kicked the opening penalty, but that was about all they managed for the next hour. With Alex Goode in inspiring form, Billy Vunipola and Chris Wyles had tries created for them to get their side into a commanding position. Exeter were struggling to put anything together in terms of a response – they just couldn’t get their tried and trusted patient-power game going. Wyles was over again shortly after half time and, whilst Gareth Steenson scored to give the Devonians hope, they were outgunned by a controlled Saracens, who were not going to allow them back into it.
I’m sure Rob Baxter will bring Chiefs back stronger – it’s the nature of the man – however, his side were badly exposed in their lack of adaptability when their game didn’t go to plan. That must be a non-negotiable priority if they want to carry their aura in England onto the European stage. As for Saracens; they are back with a vengeance and clearly not ready to relinquish their indisputable dominance just yet.
Ashton humiliates England
For all the great running rugby that they throw up, these Barbarians fixtures are difficult to get truly interested in from an England perspective. With half the normal team missing due to the Premiership final, it was left to an exile to provide the main talking point. Chris Ashton was a hat-trick hero for the invitational side as they won 63-45. For the hosts, the only real performance of note was Piers Francis, who grabbed a brace, but I’m still not sure he has a future in the shirt. We will learn far more on the tour to South Africa.
What happened elsewhere?
The scoreline of the inaugural Pro14 final would make it seem like a classic. Leinster won 40-32, but the reality is that Scarlets were never close to Europe’s best side. Two tries in the last few minutes gave it a more respectable look, though Leinster, inspired by the talismanic Johnny Sexton, had long since won the game. Can they keep up this brilliant form into next season?
It has been five years since Castres came from the lower eschew of the playoffs to win the Top14. They now have another shot at doing the same thing as they ruined Racing’s season with a 19-14 victory in the semis. They still have a lot to do in the final where they face league topping Montpellier, who beat Lyon 40-14.
The heavyweight Super Rugby battle between Crusaders and Hurricanes was won by the former 24-13, but both are in great positions for playoff qualification. Rebels kept the heat on Waratahs as they won against Sunwolves whilst their main rivals were beaten by Chiefs. Brumbies surprised Bulls, Lions edged Stormers and Jaguares beat Sharks.
Try of the weekend
Obviously, outrageous offloads and running rugby is in the DNA of the Barbarians. Quite frankly, I could have picked any one of their efforts, but it’s got to be Chris Ashton’s second effort. A lovely close range chip and chase.
Hero of the weekend
It could have gone to Castres for their improbable route to the final, Chris Ashton for his Twickenham heroics, or Chris Wyles for an excellent sign off on his Saracens career. It’s going to Alex Goode for his influential performance in the final. Everything seemed to revolve around the England exile. Should he be involved for his country again?
Villain of the weekend
Given there were no obvious choices from the Premiership final or England game, I will look farther afield. When your team is in dire straits, do not get a red card away from home against beatable opposition. It has to go to Brumbies’ Folau Faringa for his headbutt. His team probably deserve a mention for heroes, though, as they managed to secure a rare win.
Thoughts on the final?
Who will be the force in the Premiership next year?
Awards time: Try of the season, game of the season etc?
What are England’s prospects in South Africa?
What did you think of the Pro14 final?
Who will win the French league?
by Joe Large