A couple of confessions/facts before I start recounting my version of events on Premiership Rugby’s Final. Many of you will know the first – I am a Saracens season ticket holder/fan but also an admirer of Bath Rugby. I’m not sure if I should confess the next fact; my score prediction before the game? Bath Rugby 31 Saracens 28. There you have it – I predicted a close, hard fought game with the silverware to be taken home to the Southwest. Goes to show I shouldn’t make predictions!
Bath have played an exciting brand of running rugby this season and finished worthy runners up to Northampton Saints in the league. They’d stormed into the final with a huge win over Leicester Tigers scoring a huge 47 points to Tigers 10.
Saracens – who by the way – also play shout out loud exciting rugby a lot of the time, scraped into 4th on the final day of the season proper.
I can recall a conversation with Jackson Wray early in the season when we spoke about the disappointing end to the 2013/14 season – he told me Saracens were looking to peak at the right time, having stormed the league and ended up with nothing the previous year.
That trophy cabinet was nearly full by the time the Premiership Final came around, with a list of winners and the accompanying silverware – The Premiership U18’s Academy, The Premiership A League, The Women’s Premiership, The Women’s Cup and the LV Cup! After an heroic win in the semi-final the club were one win away from adding the big one.
I was lucky enough to be on the Bloggers Bench for the afternoon – which meant I got to meet and spend time with some bright, young writers – I must’ve looked like their Mum, I was asked if they were my students! I did take notes during the match but am going to sit in the comfort of my living room to watch again and most probably write a novel by way of a match report.
There was an amazing sound as the teams emerged I was sat at the Bath end and they were in good voice, keen to see their team reinstated in the top flight lift the trophy at the end of the game. Saracens fans had suffered with their team at the end of the 2013/14 season, could this group of men come from 4th and win?
Owen Farrell kicked off, Anthony Watson collected the ball – the 2 were at the centre of some early controversy when Farrell went high in the tackle as Mako Vunipola went low as Watson burst. Farrell’s arm was thrown across Watson’s head, looking at the challenge again I’d judge that 2 things were wrong in how it was dealt with. The tackle was clumsy, rather than intentionally damaging, but it was clearly across Watson’s head, and should have been a yellow card for Farrell. Secondly Watson was clearly dazed, he had a mark on his head to show where he took the blow, he should have been taken from the field at that point to be assessed, rather than later, any further blow could have had serious consequences. I can’t agree with Mike Ford that there was intent on Farrell’s part that meant he should have seen red.
Wayne Barnes isn’t slow to brandish cards I can’t imagine why he didn’t do so this time.
Both Jacques Burger and Sam Burgess showed early intent putting huge tackles in, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, how on earth do these men get up after being hit so hard!!
Saracens scored after 6 minutes after a great run by Mr Versatile Chris Wyles, there was the bizarre sight of Billy Vunipola losing then regathering the ball after a pass from Farrell – not a forward pass by Billy as was shouted out by Bath fans behind me – Owen Farrell with very quickly thinking batted the ball out to Duncan Taylor who passed up to Farrell as he was falling, Farrell threw a great dummy to run in and score. He slotted the ball between the posts with a wonderful kick.
As one of those involved in the early high tackle scored a try so Watson was removed from the game – a good 5 minutes after he’d taken the hit – It was a great shame that he didn’t return, Ollie Devoto took his place. Bath fans had booed when Farrell scored, understandable in a way, but regrettable at a rugby game.
David Strettle showed his salmon like leaping skills when he soared above the huge Matt Banahan in an attempt to collect a cross field kick from Farrell, he was inches away from gathering the ball for another score. The ball was knocked on giving the first scrum and the first free kick resulting.
To use an animal analogy again Jamie George showed his greyhound qualities when a Karl Eastmond pass flew away from Ross Batty – George motored away to the try line, George Ford and Eastmond in pursuit they only caught him as he touched the ball down for Saracens’ 2nd try. Farrell was wide of the posts this time. Bath had tried to play rugby from their own half running into a wall of Saracens rather than clear their lines; poor decision making?
The 2nd scrum saw a penalty awarded to Saracens, the benefits of having Ref Link made it plain that Barnes wasn’t pleased with David Wilson at scrum time, it also made it plain that wow, they shout a lot at scrum time!
The next scrum came after a piece of great work by Matt Banahan, he used his immense strength to hold up Chris Wyles in the maul, the put in was therefore for Bath. The scrum went the way of Saracens as they were awarded a penalty, duly converted by Farrell. Saracens had a 15 point lead after 21 minutes – it was good to see Farrell make the Joining Jack sign as he ran away from his kick.
Semesa Rokoduguni collected a cross field kick from George Ford putting Bath on the front foot, they lost possession again however when captain Stuart Hooper ran ahead of the pass in midfield.
Rokoduguni was involved in the next moment of controversy when Alex Goode turned into him as he kicked the ball on as he ran down the line. The penalty was given, the reasoning of Barnes on again keeping his cards in his pocket was that there was cover where the ball landed, therefore a try scoring opportunity wasn’t denied. Again, Saracens were lucky not to see yellow, it would have been no surprise to see Goode on the sidelines for 10 minutes. The penalty gave Bath their 1st points as George Ford kicked successfully.
There were big hits being put in all over the field, one such went wrong for Alistair Hargreaves when he got himself in the wrong position to tackle Leroy Houston, he bounced off him and crashed to the floor, lying prone for a good spell, he left the field and wasn’t to return. Play continued without him and Saracens won the ball back through a Duncan Taylor interception.
David Strettle showed his Manchester City footballing skills when he used his boot to flick the ball into his hands after a low pass by Taylor, he was tackled but Saracens moved the ball out and across the line, Mako Vunipola had dropped the ball, but backwards, Jamie George had the try line in front of him but passed out this time to Chris Wyles who scored his 15th try of the season. Farrell added the 2 points to take the score to Bath 3 Saracens 22.
Farrell added another 3 points just before half time when David Wilson grabbed Maro Itoje moments before he took the ball, it was well spotted by Barnes. His hand went to his pocket and for a moment it seemed yellow would be shown to Wilson, that would have been a harsh card although the early tackle could have been deemed a professional foul. Apparently Austin Healey thought it was ok to tackle a man without the ball as the pass had already been made, I’m pleased to say he was put right on that one!
The teams went in at half time with a very big hill for Bath to climb – Bath 3 Saracens 25 – to a degree the 1st half could have been described as men against boys, Saracens came out with intent and capitalised on Bath errors in addition.
With over 1400 words written already I’m going to try not to linger too much over the 2nd half, in order not to bore you to tears!
A clumsy, high tackle by Owen Farrell on Jonathan Joseph gave George Ford his 1st points opportunity on 44 minutes closing the gap. And as Saracens had been in charge during the 1st half so Bath took the ascendancy in the 2nd. It’s amazing how you can watch a game of rugby and almost see different teams emerge after half time, that ‘a game of 2 halves’ saying so often comes true!
Bath made early changes to their front row on 47 minutes – we questioned it on the ‘bloggers bench’ as Nick Auterac and Rob Webber replaced Ross Batty and Paul James as a scrum was about to be set in the Bath half. But the changes worked as Bath shoved the scrum forward to win a penalty.
Bath were most certainly on the front foot and the 19 point gap didn’t look beyond their reach, they have a truly explosive attacking force. Jonathan Joseph showed why an England starting spot should be his when he backed himself to run through 3 Saracens backs to score a great try! He has a knack of finding gaps others would miss. Ford added the extras – the gap was reduced to 12 points.
In common with many my eyes were on Sam Burgess during the game, as a huge rugby league fan his progress in union is of great interest to me. In only his 21st start in a union game and 6th at flanker it was plain to see that his game is growing, he tackles like a demon and carries the ball well, making 52 metres for his 13 carries. He does still however get himself in the wrong position at times, everyone needs to remember this man is still learning how to play this other code.
George Ford scored a superb penalty with 60 minutes on the clock closing the gap to a very achievable 9. Chris Ashton came on as a temporary replacement for Brad Barritt – again it was disappointing to hear boo’s ring out. Similarly the noise made when Farrell kicked a penalty to open the gap back to 12 was a shame.
While I’m talking disappointment it was beyond annoying to see a group trying to get a Mexican Wave going with 10 minutes left on the clock of what was an enthralling Premiership Final!
In spite of their best efforts in the 2nd half Bath couldn’t come back and the game finished with Saracens the victors – the final score was Bath Rugby 16 Saracens 28 – the lead opened in the 1st half was just too big to close. Saracens big game experience will have undoubtably have helped – Bath Rugby will undoubtably be back to claim the big prize their brand of rugby deserves.
Saracens were worthy winners, wiping out the hurt of losing 2 big finals last season.