Six things we learned from finals weekend
Before the Lions bonanza consumes us all, Lee Calvert takes one last look at the domestic season in the Northern Hemisphere.
1. Traditional northern hemisphere rugby won’t win you trophies anymore
For years, the likes of Munster and Leicester won titles playing with a massive pack and a simple game plan. It was like a toddler winning a game of Monopoly by eating the money – no one liked it, but you couldn’t deny it was effective. If the finals last year suggested this era was over with the enterprising Connacht and the all-court masters Saracens victorious, then this season’s offering confirmed it. Both Exeter and Wasps played a game through the hands, kicking less than twenty times in play, and Scarlets completely marmalised the hitherto solid Munster defensive line with fast hands and pace.
2. Always take the points!
Five minutes to go and three points down, a kickable penalty awarded just to the right of the posts. You kick the penalty, level the scores, receive the kick-off and go again, right? Not if you’re Exter you don’t. If you’re Exeter you go for a scrum and, as inevitable as a Dan Lydiate handling error, get no points. The long road of rugby history is littered with the carcasses of teams that didn’t take the points. When will they learn? Exeter can count themselves very lucky they were given another marginal penalty to finally do the sensible thing.
3. Gareth Steenson is the most undervalued player in Europe
If they made a rugby version of the film Moneyball, Exeter out-half Steenson would be the player that Brad Pitt would be signing first. Unfussy and incredibly effective, the Irishman has acted as an unflappable guide for the entire Exeter journey, from promotion seven years ago to now finally a championship. The fact he has no Ireland caps during this period is a mystery of Sherlockian proportions.
4. Exeter Chiefs really need to change their branding
The Exeter story is what rugby is all about. A provincial club made great that still has strong ties to its local community with fans that are loud and friendly and dedicated and their excellent squad has a refreshing humility despite their achievements. However, their insistence on continuing to use Native American iconography in their branding and apparel is borderline disgraceful and takes away from everything that is brilliant about them. Twickenham was awash with people in war bonnets on Saturday and each time they score their “tomahawk chop” song boomed out of the stadium speakers. Let’s not forget that this game was broadcast live on NBC in the US and also on Canadian TV. If rugby wishes to be the global game it professes have ambitions towards, they need to address this very quickly. Call yourselves the Chiefs by all means, but maybe look to your own tribal history in Devon for your icons, rather than perpetuating the Disneyfication of an entire race of people from a foreign land.
5. If Wasps had a kicking game, they would have won
Exeter had nearly 70% territory and possession in the Aviva Premiership final and the game was screaming for Danny Cipriani to put his team in a better field position but it never happened. The Wasps attack, when it has platform and position, is deadly – as they showed with their two tries. But no attack can go through hands from their own half consistently and Cipriani as their 10 should have identified this and dealt with it. Added to his general lack of kicking, when he did kick it was either the wrong one or poorly executed.
The young Scarlets 10 was calm, classy and inspirational in his side’s forensic dismantling of Munster. He did everything and showed a varied and intuitive kicking and passing game that Wales desperately need.
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