There were three big professional rugby contests in England over the weekend, this very much the sharp end of the season leading into the club Finals.
Following the parody of last week, when a Saracens Academy side allowed Bath into the Champions Cup via a 60-point thrashing, and Bristol were pipped at the post, we needed an outburst of serious rugby. No doubt though that Bath is playing with enough guile now to offer a real challenge next year. And to think that Ollie Lawrence was not even in Jones’ squad. Selection is always key in the top echelons of team sport, and he has been a conclusive failure in that regard.
Back to the real business and we saw all the best attributes of English rugby as Sale and Leicester tore into each other in the second semi-final. It was mesmerising, and fine margins dictated. The loss of Pollard pre kick off was arguably the difference as expecting 39-year-old Gopperth to swing the balance against George Ford was too much. A sell-out crowd gives the Sharks what they need in terms of benchmark for the future.
Unfortunately, in the first match, the porous defence of a hugely talented Saints team fell foul of the Saracens relentless new attacking flair marshalled by Farrell. Please never pick him at 12 again, it is SO obvious he has to play at flyhalf in the World Cup. England’s lack of development in the midfield caused by coaching and selectorial incompetence means that Marcus Smith may suffer the consequences. Wonderful strength in depth at 10 yes, elsewhere the cupboard is quite bare although Carpenter the Sale Full back is an outstanding prospect to challenge Freddie Steward.
On the same day as Saracens and Army v Navy just down the road at Twickenham, two of the top clubs in the country did battle for the Championship Cup. Ealing Trailfinders and Jersey played out an absolute stormer of some quality. Yet received little or no attention for such a contest – an issue which need to be addressed to stem the decline of interest in rugby in this country.
Meantime the dark clouds gather for London Irish and Wasps, but the relentless optimist in me says that off field we are due some good news as the on field does us proud. Within the top sides of England there is definitely a competitive National team – has Borthwick got time to bring it together?
Last of all, a final for the age’s approaches in Dublin. Leinster are ruthless in player welfare and their understudies just failed to get to the URC final falling to age-old rivals Munster at the weekend. A good outcome, I think. Their International first team await the giants from La Rochelle for revenge from Marseille 2022. This is box office and a wonderful prelude for France later this year.