20 Reflections on The Premiership Final

There are already a number of serious reviews of Saturday’s Premiership Final – with today’s technology some of them were probably online before the bloody game kicked off!

Saracens v Northampton Saints - Aviva Premiership Final

Almost certainly they will all be better than anything I come up with – not least since I forgot to take my glasses to the match and must have looked a bit like Marty Feldman as I tried to watch the game. Whilst this provided me with a headache (without the benefit of a shedload of beer) it did make me more adept than the normal run of the mill TMO.

Despite the handicap I was able to easily identify Courtenay, Billy and (obviously) Matt – the rest could easily have been the Dagenham Girls School choir in rugby kit for all I could make out.

Fortunately the big screens put me right – the girls must surely have better legs! I was further helped by Emma, another online blogger who came far more prepared than myself. Whilst this in itself would have been no great achievement, Emma had, in fact, tipped up armed with more technology than NASA. In addition to a laptop, latest mobile and tablet she was in possession of a state of the art camera which looked like it would have been good enough for a member of the paparazzi. All of these gadgets were linked both together and with the internet, so that she could blog in real time, tweet, take photos and order a takeaway without missing anything that happened on the pitch! Mighty impressive to watch I can tell you.

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By contrast I was armed with a post it note and a crayon – Emma seemed generously magnanimous at this – even when I had to turn off my mobile as the battery was nearly dead. This rather restricted my tweeting, picture taking and the ability to play Angry Birds when the play was too far away for me to squint at.

All this preamble is simply to indicate that my report will take a slightly different perspective on the Final and how I saw it (or mostly didn’t!)

Aviva Premiership had kindly provided me with a ticket to the media gantry (I know – me ffs!) – this provided an excellent view of proceedings or at least would have done if I hadn’t (as I’ve just explained) left my glasses in the car. The screen however enabled me to follow the game and was almost as comfortable as if I’d been home on the sofa – although the access to pasties was a tad less convenient.

The only drawback on the gantry was the proximity to a bunch of good humoured, very loud and increasingly inebriated Sarries supporters. To say they were myopic about some of Mr Doyle’s decisions would be rather derogatory to a Cyclops – perhaps this was inevitably at its most vitriolic in the 100th minute.

However the combination of this running Fez commentary and the stadium loudspeaker system being on a level designed to communicate with Boris Yeltsin (yes – I know he’s dead, that’s the point I’m trying to make) – made it difficult for me to benefit from Emma’s undoubted expertise.

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Nevertheless – here are my alternative reflections on what went on at Twickenham yesterday.

1)     The teams were introduced individually on the big screen – each player’s photo being greeted with loud cheering from the respective supporter groups. For some reason Matt Stevens picture didn’t appear when he was introduced. I suspect this may have had something to do with the lack of a wide angle lens – I have no idea why they didn’t have a photo for Steve – it’s not like he’s only just joined them.

2)     There can’t be many (or any) past or present England internationals who aren’t greeted with loud cheers – step forward Mr Ashton. His recent verbal nonsense at Nick Evans and continuation of the largely condemned show boating may possibly be the reason for the booing.. I hope he takes the opportunity to put things right in New Zealand – perhaps he should buy Jonny’s autobiography to read on the long flight.

3)     The game itself was a subdued first half followed by a second frenetic 40 minutes – make that 60!

4)     Saints started so cautiously that you were tempted to think that it was they who’d lost a European Final last week. Their kicking game – presumably meant to avoid the ‘Wolf Pack’ defence was wayward and mostly too long. Saracens looked the hungrier and more focussed.

5)     The first points arrived with Owen Farrell’s penalties – these were greeted by noise from the crowd that was more suited to a football match. The Twickenham crowd could do well to watch the respect the Thomond Park crowd show – to kickers from both sides.

6)     Owen Farrell has started to look like a number 10 who can run and distribute well – this is encouraging for the 2nd test where he will have to contend with Read, McCaw and either Cruden or Barrett.

7)     It took Saints 32 minutes to create the first threat and they finished neatly with Foden touching down and Myler adding the extras.

8)     Saints began to show more fluid attacking movements – often punctuated by a sleight of hand that would not have been out of place from Carlos or Quade

9)     Nothing in it at half –time – a pattern to be repeated in the second 40.

10)  Half time was a splendid demonstration of the strong community programme being supported by Aviva – I suspect that their altruism is paying dividends (sic) in terms of brand recognition and approbation – other companies (especially banks) could learn much from them. Well done – Arriba Aviva!

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11)  Also at half-time the BT Smash O-meter made an appearance – am I the only one who thought that Clare Balding’s score of 83 looked a trifle generous?

12)  It was 58 minutes before the TMO could stop watching a repeat of ‘Grannies on the Game’ and had to confirm that George Pisi had indeed scored. He didn’t have a chance to go back to the repeats as he was to be pretty busy for the next 50 odd minutes

13)  Fairly soon controversy surrounded the disallowing of Farrell’s ‘try’ – it was forward but you started to wonder who was reffing the game.

14)  Watching from Auckland Stuart, must have thought it was the ‘Fall of the House of Lancaster’ when Owen immediately departed the pitch clutching his leg. He will have been equally worried to later see Billy limp off.

15)  Marcelo Bosch crossed in the corner following a nice handling and the formality of interrupting the TMO for what looked like a perfectly good try seemed unnecessary. It was disappointing to see a Saints player immediately making the ‘TV’ sign from a vantage point that gave him a view of the play that was about as good as the aforementioned Boris Yeltsin.

16)  For Sarries, Hodgson’s conversion went agonisingly close, brushing the post – the conversion would have won them the game. Charlie will relive that kick for some time – you have to feel for him and all he’s done for England and his clubs

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It seemed fitting that we went to extra time – it was almost impossible to separate the sides.

17)  Halfway through the added time Myler and Hodgson exchanged penalties and Saints just held advantage on tries scored. Deadlock was broken with 8 minutes to go when Charlie put Sarries into the driving seat with another 3 from the tee.

18)  Saracens had both hands and one foot on the trophy as Saints attacked desperately and the clock yawned down to red. I think it was actually time up when Saints claimed the score that finally clinched the trophy

19)  Agonisingly, for both sides and the 81,000+ crowd, the TMO deliberated for some time before cheers went up (initially from the Saints supporters with ref link) – agony for Saracens and the retiring Steve Borthwick – ecstasy for the Saints and their fans.

20)  Whilst somewhat understandable, it was disappointing that the Saracens fans, whilst paying tribute to their redoubtable teams performance, also found time to boo the presentation to J P Doyle – it did little credit to the game or their team

It was a tight game and fitting that the best two sides in England could only be split after 100 minutes of intense competition. The news on injuries seems to be good and many of Saturday’s combatants will sit side by side on an A380 tomorrow, ready to join forces against a formidable All Blacks squad boasting something like 1,125 caps.

Almost inevitably, the Saracens Chief Executive has been vocal in today’s press regarding the TMO system – calling it a shambles.

I agree that it needs direction in terms of how it is operated and who is responsible for asking for a ruling – but the decisions yesterday seemed fair and, whilst it was clumsily used,  you can’t really complain if they get it right.

I do worry that players now  immediately demand the TMO when a try is ‘scored’ – it smacks of footballers raising their hands for a corner or throw – even when they just hoofed it out themselves – that has no place in rugby for me.

I did predict Saints to win 27-20 but I certainly didn’t think it would be so exciting – right to the death!

It’s all over for this season – roll on September – both Saracens and Saints will be tough competition and who would bet money that the same two sides won’t pitch up again next May (Tigers fans obviously – others too I imagine).

Thanks Aviva and also BT Sport!

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