Three talking points from the Premiership final


There was some serious competition for our sporting attention last weekend. Among others, the Champions League final, the Cricket World Cup and Anthony Joshua on the receiving end of one of the all-time boxing upsets were all vying for our time. With all that going one, could the final of the Gallagher Premiership stand up?

Thankfully it did. We were treated to a thrilling Premiership final for the ages, with Saracens coming back to snatch victory from the Exeter Chiefs in a helter-skelter game that lived up to the hype.

Here are three talking points from the game.

Grand final shows the value of the playoff system
The playoff system in the Premiership comes in for some stick. Labelled by some a gratuitous cash grab that is harsh on the team to have earned their place at the top of the table through consistently good form. Why should one game dictate the league champions when we had 22 preceding it to establish who the best is?

Of course, part of the reason is to mitigate against the mid-season loss of international players, but it is hard to shake the feeling that the table-toper is usually hard done by. Indeed, in the past seven years, the only team to finish the regular season in first place and go on to lift the trophy was Saracens in 2016.

Last year’s final was particularly hard to stomach, with Exeter the runaway leaders before being thumped by Saracens 27-10 in a one-sided affair.

Yet again, Exeter went into the final having topped the table. Yet again, they came short. However, at least this year’s final was a fantastic display of rugby, a fitting end to an excellent season. With both the most points scored (71) and the biggest points deficit (11) to be overcome in the final, both teams threw off the shackles and took each other to the brink, a 37-34 victory to Saracens certainly hard-earned this time around.

If it continues to throw up contests like this, the playoff system is earning its keep.

Are Saracens the ultimate rope-a-dope team?
Unlike in New York, where one heavyweight was unable to get up after being knocked down, this Saracens team just refuse to be beaten.

The loss is a bitter pill for Rob Baxter and the Chiefs team to swallow, but they will be able to look themselves in the mirror and know they really could not have given anything more. Nic White’s injury was a big turning point, however, Exeter still played brilliantly – arguably better than Saracens – but the side in red and black just would not lie down and be beaten.

Near the 60-minute mark, Saracens were 27-16 behind. No team has ever come back from such a large points gap. Yet, somehow they found a way – executing clinical plays to put Liam Williams, Sean Maitland and Jamie George over and take the win; 21 points in 16 minutes, Sam Hill’s last-minute score too little, too late for the Chiefs.

It was a similar situation in the Champions Cup final. On 30 minutes, Saracens were reduced to 14 men with Maro Itoje’s yellow card, before conceding a try to make it 10-0 to Leinster. From the 34th minute to the final whistle, Leinster did not score another point. Saracens seem to thrive with their backs to the wall; just hanging in there, waiting for an opportunity. They have developed a mental resilience in pressure situations that all great winners have.

Get well soon Jack Nowell
For 70 minutes, Jack Nowell lit up the Twickenham pitch. His spikey running had the usually steadfast Saracens defence worried, beating nine defenders as he fought hard for every last yard. He was the best player on the park and had Exeter managed to triumph he would have been my man-of-the match.

Sadly, he limped off before the end of the game with an ankle injury, not only depriving Exeter of their most potent attacking threat but potentially also a huge loss for Eddie Jones and England.

Nowell has been in an exceptional vein of form recently and was a dead cert for the World Cup – and a likely starter. His strength and running lines around the fringe of the breakdown saw him mischievously labelled a ninth forward by Jones, and he will be sorely missed if this injury turns out to be a serious one. Fingers crossed we see him tearing up the pitch in Japan this Autumn.

By Henry Ker

27 thoughts on “Three talking points from the Premiership final

  1. The play off system & final is based on whom better handles pressure of the 1 off. This likely also includes whom has the stronger, or better, reserves. OIOW, the sprint v the marathon. Is it fair? Probably not, but it is what it is & it’s technically the same for all. Except that it’s not actually. More financial power, astute coaching set ups & quality & player numbers will usually win the day.. in whatever competition format is deployed. Benefits the game through a wider audience, profile & a dosh infusion. OTOH, it further drains players in an already long season of multiple comps. It also helps hump up the wage & injury bills which necessitate bigger squads to cover the latter, as per the aforementioned season. If future finals replicate the last, then they may be of value (of £, or excitement, or both?). However, have they? Will they? We’ll have to see.

  2. Rope a dope? Well, that was a one off in specific circumstances. Not recommended for all occasions methinks. Besides, Ex may rightly take exception to bring described as ‘dopes’, especially as there were only a few points in it @ the end. In tight games such as last Saturday’s, it can come down to, not whom wants it more, although belief & confidence likely play a fair part, but rather whom makes the least errors or executes specific plays near, or to perfection. Also the unforeseen can have a bearing, such as an injury to a key player & or decision maker, like that to Nick White. Thus also, the already mentioned Williams try & tackler error in same probably, in the end, proved decisive. Against Leinster, Saracens’ defence was better than the former’s attack.

  3. Yes, hope the tattooed thunderbolt, the impervious to pain (enjoys it according to a doc I once saw!) Jack Nowell, does recover in time for Japan. Alas, didn’t see the first 1/2, but by all accounts he was particularly effective then, giving Saracens the right old run around. Fingers crossed.

    1. For me, he’s England’s best winger in terms of all round contribution and team work. I hope to high heaven he’s fit for Jpn.

  4. Value of the play off system? How many teams have won away from home in the semis? We had one good playoff game (the final) and two pretty one sided games. Said as a Glaws supporter for those that don’t know. I suspect that the only way to make the other games better would be to have them at neutral venues but that would negate the advantage of coming in the top two. Still not convinced of the benefit.

    1. Home advantage worked out pretty well for Andy Perez Jnr too. However, neutral venues like Wembley, HQ for the semis onwards might level games out more? Hopefully, also in front of paced houses.

  5. Remove the play-offs and the season is shortened by a couple of weeks, the rightful winner of a league system is crowned champions and players get extra R&R time in the summer. What’s not to benefit by their removal. Knock-out competitions should be limited to Cups.

    Of course I understand the financial concerns but in pure spectator terms sometimes less can be more. If we didn’t have the play-off system in the league, would the glamour of winning the premiership final be replaced by restoring the old Pilkington Cup – or whatever it is called these days?

    Fingers and toes crossed that Jack Nowell is fit for RWC and that EJ has seen his worth as a 15. A truly special player.

      1. I think the Pilkington Cup still exists in some guise, unless I am mistaken – there is a second tier Premiership club knock out competition and isn’t there also the Anglo-Welsh cup?

  6. I agree SJ. It’s a farce that the team finishing top of the lge are not made champions. The financial aspect only benefits sponsors and there is enough money in the English game to cover any loss on one game.

  7. Technically I am a fan of the playoff system, but it has grown less competitive over the past 3-4 seasons with Exeter and Sarries opening a gap wider and wider. I am a Quins fan (armchair nowadays) and I was not at all gutted they didn’t sneak fourth spot as I knew they would pretty much be taken apart down in Exeter. So lets all just hope that that gap can narrow!

  8. Unless they are going to make the seasons even longer and not play any premiership games during the internationals then the current system has to remain.

    Successful teams with a lot of internationals should not suffer and miss out on a premiership because the backbone of the team is world class and is gone for over 2 months over the course of the season.

    Interestingly during international football games no premier league games are played. That’s one thing football does get right.

    If no internationals took place throughout the season – who would be champions at the end of it? Saracens – 100%. They are the best club team in Europe and possibly the world right now. It won’t last but for now they are the rightful champions.

    The system in place is currently the fairest the RFU can come up with.

    1. The soccer system seems a decent alt to the current one Adog. Conversely though, I don’t see why teams, just because they have financial clout to buy up oodles of internationals, should be favoured by having this soccer system. No one puts a gun to their heads. Instead, in the interests of fairness, clubs should be limited to say, no more than 5 per club. 1/3 of a team seems plenty. This would encourage home grown talent rather than suppress it & would have less affect on play off team teams during internationals.

  9. Personally i’d ditch the play offs, believing that if you top the League you are the Champions. That view is now a bit old hat and the play offs are here to stay. I can live with that and concede that the final was a terrific match. That it was contested between Saracens and Exeter was obvious from about October onwards. Thats not their fault: the rest of the Premiership have to catch up.
    Saracens are simply the best side in the NH. They proved it conclusively over the last month, winning both the Champions Cup and Premiership final in convincing style. They have set a standard others must try and reach.
    Nowell is a vital player for Exeter. He was missed when he came off and his inclusion in the England WC squad is a given – assuming he is fit. Lets hope he is.

  10. When does Eddie announce his RWC training squad. Usually it happens almost straight after the final game of the season

    1. There are a couple of preliminary training camps, with squads to be announced on 20th June for the first and 28th for the 2nd, but apparently these will exclude Sarries and Exeter players.

      Then Thursday 04 July is the announcement of England’s Rugby World Cup training squad.

          1. Yes, I think in more recent times they have had @ least 1. Called Imoje I think. Or is that Itioe? Whatever, same colour.

          2. Not according to Don, Hutch. Apparently they are flooded with “foreign mercenaries”. This view is of course completely at variance with the facts, which are that they have no more overseas players than most clubs and have been extremely successful in bringing through home-grown talent for several seasons.
            But why spoil a good prejudice with inconvenient facts?

            1. Hmmm. Re-read my posts in their entirety Andy. Yr use of ‘predidice’ is ironic. Do you ever re-read yr own stuff? E.g., ‘Basket ball’ rugby, which has only won the last 3 WC’s. Nxt thing you’ll be telling me (like a few residing between Hadrian’s, Land’s End.. & Spain) that Ritchie cheats! Oops! You have. Specific evidence? 3 yellows in 14 yrs. V Itoje? Lost count. Pot, kettle, black, sad. Have a good gone.

            2. Also try reading Dazza’s comments on this subject Andy. You reframe what I’ve stated. Surely this disingenuous of you? You deny or ignore facts like Sarries’ currently being able to & have fielded a nr team of internationals which, as you well know are not all academy produced & which you term as being judiciously bought. @ the same time, you ignore the fact that they are £1m in debt. This must have been influenced, specifically c. over the last decade as it’s on record, by their hovering up platoons of off shore internationals. You also ignore the fact that they’ve been investigated 3 times, incl currently, for financial misconduct. Yet you label me prejudiced! Therefore, are you not yrself simply blinkered & or lacking in morality? You avoid dealing with these specific, valid points I’ve raised by instead proffering generalised, sacastuc & personalised criticism. I’m coming from a position of the wider issue of fair play & a moral stand point. This is in response to yr dubious contention of mere bias v Sarries. You appear to adhere to a narrow view of a rugby end product, which although successful in recent times, justifies being based on dubious practices. Do you advocate sweeping these under the carpet or ignoring them? That may be yr line Andy, but it’s not mine. It’s almost interestingly comical that you compare me with Donald Trump. As you brought his name up, I wondered if you are in fact a secret admirer? Blinkered intolerance & all that? Truly ironic.

            3. Not over the last decade Andy. Therefore, concur with yr ‘good prejudice.. inconvenient facts’ comment. Spot on!

              C’mon TRB! Scrapping the bottom of the barrel here now. Wot about the U20 WC!? Iz Kilroy there?


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