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Club Rugby Supplies Grand Finale For The Ages

There is no such thing as a perfect ending to a sporting season, but club rugby in Europe is making a good effort and all credit to those on and off the field who have been part of it. The best ever one might say, and in the aftermath of pandemics, bankruptcies and legal challenges the contrast is welcomingly stark.

The spanking new Tottenham stadium has seen Premiership Football dramas and the razzmattaz of NFL, but I suspect nothing like the Champions Cup Final. EPCR unveiled an unparalleled day of fun and entertainment with a spectacle to match between the two best club rugby sides in the world. My pre-match thought was that Leinster now lacks midfield snap, their first half momentum based efforts should have yielded at least two tries and that would have won the Final. They have not yet embraced the post-Sexton era. However, credit due for keeping the Toulousains quiet for most of normal time. They harried Dupont mercilessly and disrupted his distribution to N’tmack and others. The prodigious Costes hardly touched the ball and was replaced early. Dupont still won player of the match because he saved two tries and produced two outrageous 50-22’s. The one time Toulouse were let off the leash they scored the decisive try and had enough discipline to close out the game.

When you look back at the Harlequins heroics in France earlier in the tournament we were indeed blessed this year in Europe.

The first South African victory in the competition will have pleased Investec as well as the Sharks who have had a mixed season, but this showed Gloucester in a poor light for their team selections in the lead up as well as made a commentary on their true position domestically.

Meantime, the Premiership madcap playoffs truly delivered. The Bath revival, yes it is happening, has been based on family values and belief according to Johann Van Grann. They stand on the edge of a remarkable achievement, and these references ring true to the secrets to our success of the past. Stuart Barnes and I were recently reminiscing with Jack Rowell the former Head Coach on what drove our glory days. He is not so well, but smiled with real affection for those memories. In seeing his old club digging deep to squeeze past Sale Sharks, he permitted himself a wry smile. In truth, Bath were rather shaded by the Sale performance – ‘never in doubt’, I heard Gareth Chilcott whisper on the early summer breeze and into the final is all that matters.

Saints looked a little imprecise against a Saracens team intent on disrupting the form book and they should not have rested so many players. It could have backfired on them but they just had enough to see it through – the debate continues on player rotation! The end of an era has arrived for the three time European winners and previous Premiership champions. The standard bearer in English rugby now has to rebuild but we salute so many great names who have dominated the landscape, through fair wind and foul.

This sellout final is a treat and a wonderful end of season for the two best sides in England. I just favour Bath, because Russell will turn up and overshadow Finn Smith despite his ability to feed a stellar backline. The only player who can overturn that prediction is Alex Mitchell. Both sides are in uncharted territory so the occasional moment of brilliance may swing it.

Lastly, in France promotion and relegation dominates the scene together with a last week drama of a whole host of teams who can qualify for the playoffs. How that former point contrasts with the state of our game in England.

For now let us celebrate some great club contests which have left us all with a smile on our faces- c’mon the Blue, Black and White!

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