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6 things we learned from the (long) weekend’s rugby

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1. Chiefs will be kicking themselves

The Exeter Chiefs have had a monumental season. They progressed out of the Champions Cup’s toughest group and made their first ever Premiership Final but you get the feeling that they may have left Twickenham with an nagging feeling of regret on Saturday.

If you give Saracens a lead then they very rarely let it out of their vice-like grip. Give them 17 points with 40 minutes to play and you may as well not come out for the second half.

The Chiefs did come out, though, and how. Two quickfire tries and they were back in it. Momentum had swung, Saracens looked tired, and they needed to catch the kick off, reset and go again.

This was not the case, however, as they let in a relatively soft try – albeit very well worked from Sarries – to put the final nail in their own coffins.

The regret will come from the fact that when they did start playing, they looked like Champions, but like their West Country rivals Bath a season before, allowing Saracens that sort of head start makes life very difficult.

2. Welsh worries

It was meant to be a confidence-boosting game at Twickenham before setting off to the land of the long white cloud for Wales, but what ensued turned out to be nothing short of a disaster.

20 missed tackles and 23 errors/turnovers conceded are just two stats that will leave the Welsh public gasping for air.

We don’t need to dig too deep into the stats to see where the problems lie though. Defensively, their big name players just didn’t turn up. Jamie Roberts missing tackles is one thing but getting sat down by the giant hand of a static Courtney Lawes in the build up to Marlon Yarde’s try was a sight to behold.

In attack it seemed like two or three passes in a row to hand was asking too much. Disjointed would describe it well. The word rusty could be used but if there is one place in the world where that word will be shown absolutely no sympathy then it’s New Zealand.

On the flip side, if there are two coaches in the world that will be hungrier than ever to piece it all back together it’s the scowling duo of Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards. Not quite crisis time, but not far away, either.

3. The Fords need to grow up

Without hashing over the inept kicking display of the George Ford at the weekend it seems that the only thing sadder than his performance was his father Mike’s reaction to it all.

Since being sacked by Bath recently Ford Snr has become a one man promotional band wagon as he always seem to be on one national radio station or the other talking about himself and how his sacking has affected his son’s performance.

To blame Ford’s wayward kicking on his sacking is the perfect example of why George now needs to step out of his protective shadow and concentrate on one thing – his rugby.

In all honesty, the Bath fly-half should take a break from it all but the sooner he loses the tag of ‘Mike Ford’s son’ and becomes simply George Ford then the more chance we have of seeing the exciting attacking talent of two seasons ago.

4. England’s second row stock continues to rise

The rugby fraternity have spent a lot of the season purring – rightly – over the second row partnership of Maro Itoje and George Kruis after their superb performances for Saracens and England this year.

The assumption was that this would be the impenetrable partnership for years to come but on Sunday we witnessed a second row master class from Joe Launchbury whilst Courtney Lawes also showed signs that he is heading back to top form.

Launchbury was one of the clearest Man of the Matches that you could ever wish to see, on the same ground in which he was bemusingly awarded the same honour in the World Cup horror show against Australia. This time, there could be no arguments. 18 out of 18 in the lineout is testament to what Steve Borthwick has achieved as a coach but most of these lineouts went through the Wasps man.

In the loose he linked well but in the tight his best work was done. Spoiling and stealing ball like a snuffling pig hunting truffles, Launchbury put England on the front foot time and again.

Let’s not forget that before the appointment of Dylan Hartley as captain there were many campaigning for the armband to be handed to Launchbury, and on this sort of showing you can see how he would lead players into battle and why they would follow him with vigour.

5. Adeolokun gains sweet revenge

The Nigerian-born Connacht flyer was once again the star of the show in the Pro12 final at Murrayfield on Saturday with a classy finish to match his solo effort the week before against Glasgow in the semi-finals.

At the age of 25, Niyi Adeolokun has risen to prominence quite late compared to others but this season he has burst onto the professional scene after many a year in the wilderness.

He somewhat fell into rugby at school after trying other Gaelic sports but he still managed to gain a place in the Leinster Academy.

At U19 level though Leinster dropped him, but what sweet revenge he can now take as he scored one of the most memorable tries that a Pro12 final has scene in many a year against the men that saw his talents as surplus to requirements.

6. Folau hits Izzy new heights

Israel Folau’s talents have never been doubted but his best position certainly has. Full Back, wing or centre?

Most would suggest full back would be his choice due to his imperious ability in the air but at the weekend he had by far and away his best game in the number 13 shirt for the Waratahs.

With two tries, including a length of the field, interception, Folau was involved in everything good about the Sydney-siders at the weekend, and considering he was playing against a potentially large contingent of the All Blacks starting back line it just makes his performance even more impressive.

Michael Hooper also grabbed a brace whilst Bernard Foley also converted all six tries. A warning shot to England if they ever needed one.

By Andy Daniel
Follow Andy on Twitter – @scrum5ive

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

17 replies on “6 things we learned from the (long) weekend’s rugby”

I certainly agree that you can´t afford to give that much start to Sarries, but I thought the hesitancy of Exeter in the first half was compounded by Wayne Barnes completely ignoring the basic laws of the game. The second try came from a very clear forward pass while the first was marginal. He completely ignored the back foot law at ruck and maul so that the Exeter inside backs had no time at all, and in addition to ignoring the crooked feeds at the scrum, as all refs appear to do nowadays, he seems to think that it is ok to throw the ball straight down your own line of players at the lineout. It also seems to be perfectly acceptable to send up a couple of scouts in front of the ball carrier to obstruct potential tacklers. I am all for letting the game flow, but if he is seriously considered to be one of the best refs around then someone has completely rewritten the laws of the game and only told him about it. Speaking as a neutral I thought he was dreadful.

Pleased a neutral noticed that. As a Chiefs fan I’ve been loathe to mention the ref as it smacks of sour grapes! However, still think overall the right team won. Both on the day and over the whole season. Well done Sarries!

I think the pass for the second try was marginal, but it didn’t stop the tacklers getting to Wyles, they just didn’t hold on to him! As for the first try I’m not sure which pass could have been forward. The try cam from a grubber through the defence and Taylor was the only person to react.
Leicester had a try allowed in the semi-final which was blatantly forward, was checked by ref and TMO and still given.

As for the lineouts and crooked feeds I think that could be said for most teams throughout the whole season.

Exeter are a far improved side and will be there or thereabouts next season. Sarries have been there, lost and won a couple of times, and the experience of losing this year will probably help Exeter more than winning first time.

I think this in part all fits quite well with the big thing around at the moment as to why it is hard to “like Sarries” as the neutral or as someone who supports a different team.

Part of what they do very well is quite similar to what made some of the best Irish sides of recent years very effective as well and that is in knowing exactly how far to push the boundaries when it comes to the defensive side of things and either not get penalised and/or not get carded for it. I found myself at times whilst watching the game, getting annoyed with Barnes for “missing” transgressions by Sarries, but from an objective point of view, I have to say fair play to them, if you can make it work to your advantage and it remains on the right side of leaglity in the Refs eyes then why wouldnt you take that advantage.

However, as these elements that they do very well (and I don’t mean to take anything away from them by this) are on the negative side of the balance sheet from a “what makes enjoyable to watch rugby perspective”, I can see why that this is less appealing to some supporters than what could be considered other aspects of rugby that to the neutral which would be on the positive side of things (and to be also fair to Sarries this season there has been a lot more of their play that has been noticeable and good on this side)?

I agree about the questionable pass for the second try being marginal, but would be far stronger about the Leicester try in the semi-final. The latter was in a losing cause and was against the Sarries, so no one made a fuss, but it absolutely beggared (sp?) belief!!! It was several metres forward and was allowed even after TMO review. It really made you wonder if JP Doyle was trying to let them back in the game for some reason.

Glad it wasn’t just me Stuart! I really couldn’t believe when it was given. The words spoken by Doyle made me chuckle “I can’t see too much wrong with that, can you!?” In the end as you say it made no difference to the result, so who cares.

George Ford remains a high quality outside half, who is short of confidence. His long term prospects would be best served by having a break and remaining at Bath. Eddie Jones clearly sees Ford as a work in progress and more importantly rates his talent. The decisions Ford makes over the next few months are likely to shape his international career.

I hope that at some point in Australia Eddie Jones takes him to one side and says that and more, hopefully he would listen to someone of Eddie’s standing and take note that it might be time to move out from under Dad’s shadow!

I think the Ford issue is partly down to not having Farrell on the pitch and the added pressure of taking the kicks. Maybe having Daly on instead of Joseph and have him taking the kicks would have helped Ford?
Some of those kicks were relatively easy but his place kicking has always been the weakest part of his game. His ability with ball in hand is never in question, but maybe having someone else taking the kicks is a better option in higher profile games. We all know those extra point can make a big difference in bigger games.
Will Eddie play Ford/Farrell against the Aussies on tour, or will he mix it up. Burrell certainly had a good game but can’t help thinking Farrell would have kicked those points and put the game well beyond reach.

The thing is until this season I would say that goal-kicking wasn’t an overt weakness in Ford’s game though – I would always prefer Farrell to be standing over the penalty that needed to be sunk to save my life but for the last couple of seasons their percentages have been quite similar, until this year at any rate. The major difference between the two players is how much confidence affects their games – Farrell is the spiky sort of character who will fight his way through a rough patch and doesn’t lose confidence easily, but Ford is someone who needs it to perform: the difference between a confident Ford and one lacking self-belief, as he has done this year, is huge. Can see why Eddie is backing his man in public in that regard, although I suspect what Ford really needs is a summer off.

Re the England Wales game,and Wales’s non-performance in particular, you may accuse me of clutching at straws (Welsh fans have always had to do that from time to time!), but I think the guys just switched off and showed their scorn for the fixture. One example; for Courtney Lawes to outshine A-WJ would be unthinkable in a normal, full-on game.
I don’t exculpate them – to fail to be 100% committed for an England/Wales match is in a sense unforgivable. But then, if they manage a win in NZ, they’ll be forgiven ok! Doens’t look likely, I know; but stranger things have happened.

I see your point Taliesin. Some of the guys in the England squad were probably more hungry because they were playing for a starting spot on tour, which was not the case for the majority of the Welsh team on the day.

I think you are clutching at several bales of straw here Taliesin. The last thing to happen less likely than Wales winning in NZ was probably Moses parting the Red Sea. I don´t think they switched off. They are just playing the same game they were a couple of years ago and other coaches have them worked out. I would have to say though, that I don´t think caps should have been awarded for what was essentially a tour warm up for both sides.

Why not? Is a game against a practically full strength Wales not a test? I’d much rather have a warm up against our closest rivals than something half arsed like a Queensland XV.

I don’t think that a game played on the day after a good number of England’s best players were playing elsewhere counts for much. It was nothing more than a money making exercise by the two unions and did not merit caps. At least seven of the England team won’t play in the first test against Australia.

True Andy – capless would have been better. I don’t expect Wales to win in NZ, but I certainly hope they wiin one test – that would be fantastic. England have in a strange way more pressure. The Wallabies are a funny lot; they play good rugby, and are going to be much harder to beat than many fans think. England need to be watchful, and recall that they were within a couple of metres of losing that grand slam match with Wales. But for an incorrect touchline decision by the officials, it would have been an unlikely last minute win for Wales. And Oz are experts at nicking them in the dying moments. beware! Should be a great series of games.

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