Best of the Weekend: Saracens sublime, Munster valiant

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Saracens sublime, Munster valiant

Pre-match focus may have been on the fact only around 27,000 tickets were sold for Saracens’ Heineken Cup semi-final with Clermont at Twickenham, but these gripes were soon forgotten as the Londoners turned in one of the most impressive performances in the tournament’s history. Tries from Chris Ashton (two), Owen Farrell, Chris Wyles and Tim Streather, as well as a penalty try, helped Saracens to an impeccable 46-6 victory over last year’s runners-up. Phenomenal defensive performances from Jacques Burger, Mako Vunipola and Steve Borthwick helped prevent a prolific Clermont back line from crossing the try line for the entire 80 minutes, and also laid the perfect foundations for Saracens to launch their clinical forays into Clermont’s half. The French side were comprehensively outplayed on the day, and although much of that can possibly be attributed to the travails of Top 14 sides away from home, huge credit must be given to Saracens for arguably their most complete performance of the season thus far.

Toulon booked their place in Europe’s showpiece event thanks to a 24-16 victory over a resilient Munster side in Marseille. The Irish province were within striking distance of Toulon throughout the match, but a yellow card for Keith Earls late on allowed Toulon to stretch their lead ever so slightly, and the reigning champions were then able keep Munster at bay for the final 10 minutes and secure safe passage to the final. Jonny Wilkinson, who accounted for 21 of Toulon’s 24 points, was at his usual consistent best, playing with a calmness and composure that was staggering given the importance of the match. Wilkinson will now have the perfect opportunity to sign off in fairytale fashion, but he’ll have to contend with the venerable Steve Borthwick first, who will also be desperate to add one more medal to his trophy cabinet before he too embarks on his post-playing career.

Saints and Bath too powerful in the Amlin

The Northampton Saints got the European weekend off to an entertaining start, beating a full-strength Harlequins side 18-10 at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night. Northampton took the opportunity to give stars such as Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes and Luther Burrell a partial rest, with all three starting on the bench, but even with a number of youngsters and rotation players on the field, Northampton were just too physical for the visiting Quins. Kahn Fotuali’i was one Saint who particularly shone, and although he was playing at nine, you’d have been forgiven for thinking he was the home side’s fly-half, such was the control he exhibited on the game. Youngster Tom Stephenson also impressed in Saints’ midfield, showing a combination of good running lines and a neat step, and will benefit from these first XV appearances when he heads off to the Junior World Championships with England Under 20s this summer.

Northampton will be joined in the Amlin Challenge Cup final by Bath, who overturned a first half deficit to beat London Wasps 24-18 at Adams Park. A Will Helu try, set up superbly by Elliot Daly, sent Wasps into the interval with a 13-10 lead, but Bath’s power and front row depth showed in the second half, and two Rob Webber tries were enough to consign his former team to a frustrating defeat. It was an off-day for Wasps’ half-backs who struggled for consistency, but credit should go to Bath for overpowering a Wasps’ pack that has improved significantly this season. A bulldozing performance from Matt Garvey should not go unnoticed, and along with Webber, put himself squarely into contention for England’s tour to New Zealand this summer.

‘Canes thrill and Force fight on

The Hurricanes maintained momentum in their march to the top of the New Zealand conference, with an exciting 35-21 victory over the Reds in Wellington. The confidence and flair the ‘Canes showed in attack was worthy of high praise, and the home side were rewarded with tries for T. J. Perenara and Ardie Savea, whilst All Blacks’ winger Cory Jane collected a hat-trick in a highly memorable performance. The Reds had moments of dominance, and indeed led the game at the half time interval, but they just couldn’t keep pace with the ‘Canes in the second half, who seemed to find two or three extra gears for the last 40 minutes.

Western Force kept alive their hopes of making the playoffs with a hard-fought 15-9 victory over the Bulls in Perth, whilst the Brumbies helped cement themselves at the top of Australian conference with a potentially season-defining 41-23 win at home to the reigning champions, the Chiefs. The most impressive win of the weekend surely goes to the Highlanders however, who thoroughly outplayed the top of the table Sharks in Durban, and emerged with an outstanding 34-18 victory, inflicting on the Sharks just their second loss of the season.

Malakai Fekitoa is the clear winner of Try of the Week for his sensational solo score against the Sharks. Picking the ball up in his own half, the young centre swerved his way through six would-be tacklers on his way to the try line, before dotting down underneath the posts. The Highlander could well be an ace up the All Blacks’ sleeve this summer when they host England.

Villain of the Week, once again for consistency’s sake, goes to Jamie Elliot, for his reckless collision with Mike Brown. The England fullback was in the air, and like Jared Payne and Liam Williams before him, Elliot displayed a lack of care, albeit with no malicious intent, and caused Brown to crash to the ground in a dangerous manner.

No man shed more blood and sweat for his team than Jacques Burger this weekend, and for that reason he is the Hero of the Week. The flanker made an incredible 27 tackles during Saracens’ defensive masterclass at Twickenham, and narrowly saw off competition from teammates Mako Vunipola and Steve Borthwick.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

19 thoughts on “Best of the Weekend: Saracens sublime, Munster valiant

  1. Think I’m beginning to sound like a broken record….

    But Glasgow?

    Played game in hand in the league, BP win over Edinburgh, and now second in the Pro12 and in the driving seat for a home semi-final.

    1. I understand wanting to be mentioned – but this is a summary. “Best of the Weekend”, as they call it!

      It was a European Cup semi-final weekend – so I think it’s perfectly fair to focus on that.

      1. The focus is expected but you would also expect some mention to go to what is a big change at the top of the Pro12 – and a major boost for flagging Scottish rugby morale.

  2. So does anyone else think that Sarries can now go on and do the double? If they play with the resolve, belief and skill as they did at the weekend, I think they are more than capable.

    Also with the Amlin Cup being decided by two other English clubs, it would be great for Sarries to win the Heineken Cup, and show that English Rugby is on the way up again.

    1. Absolutely they can. It would be great to see both European competitions won by English sides.

      Agree with you on Barritt – but I don’t think he has been discarded, but slightly dropped down the pecking order, which I think is correct.

      What about…I hate to say it….. Chris Ashton? He was brilliant. Solid defensively as well. Not only his tries but he was a nuisance all day.

      For me though, he should still be behind Yarde and Wade – they both need testing before the WC.

    1. But Barritt has had his chance at international level and whilst he remains a safe choice, he’s rarely shown this kind of ability at the very top level.

      12T, Tuilagi, Burrell, Eastmond must all be in front of him

      BTW thanks for the highlights link – hadn’t seen any of the game. looks like Ashton is finding some rather good form. How was his defence?

      PS – does this game put to rest the talk about Farrell only being able to kick penalties?

      1. Wow. That was looking like ashton back to his predatory best. And as I remember it at international level his defence wasn’t bad until suddenly it became a real problem.

      2. I think it should put to rest a few things about Farrell’s ability.

        It should also put to rest the talk about Goode’s inability to run fast enough, create space, and beat defenders, as he did all three as well as perform excellently under high balls and kick 13 points off the tee.

        1. I’m afraid my doubts still remain about Goode playing full-back at the highest level and will do until I see him replicate this in an international.

        2. Goode is a good club player who has demonstrated he can’t step up to the pace and physicality of international rugby. He has to be judged on his international performances, same with Barritt.

          Goode still looks to be a better 10 than a 15, but with Hodgson staying for at least another year his opportunities to develop there remain limited.

          Delighted with the way Farrell is coming along though! Mako too. I was wondering if Mako had played a bit too much over the last year and wasn’t getting enough recovery/gym/conditioning time to progress his game, but this was a mighty performance from him. I didn’t see his ass facing the touchline once either.

  3. I think if Saracens can remain injury free all the way through they can win the double. I would rest all starters until the Aviva semi’s, but they may put out a strong side against Leicester on the last day, as that might impact on who they face in the semi.

    If they can replicate anything like the performance on Saturday, the Aviva should be theirs. With regard to the Heineken, Toulon don’t seem to have improved that much from last season, so Saracens have definitely closed the gap. Should be a very good game.

    Re Barritt, he was the right choice when first picked for England, but there are better options available.

    Re Ashton, his defence will be the only reason preventing him from getting more caps. It was good against Clermont, but it will take more than one game to remove the doubts.

    1. Agree he needs to defend consistently well over the next few weeks, but many people were expecting Nalaga and Sivivatu to leaving him clutching at air (or going over him) all afternoon. He does deserve some credit for his work without the ball as well as his tries.

      I agree with Jacob’s comment, we should give Yarde and Wade a proper go (assuming fit) before going back to Ashton. Out of interest has anyone seen much of Yarde since he’s come back?

      If Wade is injured, Ashton probably playing a final, Nowell injured (anyone know when he’s due back?) is it Roko or Watson for the right wing (assuming Bath don’t make the final themselves)?

    2. I wonder if Sarries will do it the other way round and play the best team against Worcester (who have been improving). The reason being that Saints are away at Bath and Leicester are away at Sale this weekend. With the potential for Leicester, Bath or Saints to drop points, Saracens could cement top spot this weekend with a 5 pointer, and then play a lesser team against Tigers and give the starters a rest before the Prem semi final. They are still 9 points ahead of Saints!

    3. Couldn’t have summerised the Barrit/Ashton/England situation better myself.

      The only comments I would add to expand are:

      If Barrit contiues to play as he is then he is not that far off the current England starters. Twelvetrees has grown into the role, but is still not owning the shirt. We have yet to see Burrell at 12. if Barrit shows his playmaking skills consistently then he is in with a real chance of grabbing the shirt back. I think he has the skills, but it is very rare for a player to produce a style and level of play on the international stage that they are not producing for the club (please don’t bring up Nonu or Morgan). With Sarries adapting to a more attacking style Barrit seems to have dusted off his more subtle skills.

      I currently think Ashton may be shading Yarde and May for the England shirt. Yarde has not yet hit his pre injury form. If he was more experienced I would not consider this as significant. But we need to see Ashton hit this form (particularly defensively) consistently. As commented the broken tackles and the passing were IMO the best bits from him.

  4. God I hate Toulon! –

    never thought I would write something like this, but,

    I hope Saracens win! …… It will be cup final rugby – so it won’t be a stuffing but I really would love if it was.

    DDD

  5. The English Toulon v the French Toulon is going to be a big, dirty (in the “epic smashes” not “foul play” sense of the word) final. Should, I hope, be cracking to watch. I’m backing Toulon as I love the way Giteau plays.

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