SCRUM’S THE WORD – PREMIERSHIP FINAL SPECIAL

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Another two hours of fun for old and young as Wigwams meet Wolfpacks, one meets two, Exeter play Saracens in the Premiership final.

It’s the only final worth having this year – so let’s get to it.

Scrum’s the Word will guide you through it all.

The Premiership season concludes this weekend with Exeter against Saracens in the final

The Premiership season concludes this weekend with Exeter against Saracens in the final

NEWS FROM ROUND THE GROUNDS

CHASMS, CANYONS AND CLOSING THEM 

So, we’ve been around the country for eight months and seen 134 matches of Premiership rugby and it has ended in predictable fashion with an Exeter v Saracens final.

It was the one we knew would be the last match of the season from around October – so is that bad for the Premiership?

The gap, the chasms, the canyon is vast. Exeter finished 30 points above Northampton, who they beat by 30 points in the semi-final. Saracens finished eight points shy of the Chiefs, but 10 above Gloucester who they thrashed by 25 points in their playoff game.

Northampton in fourth had the worst record of any fourth-placed playoff team (having both won and lost 11 games) and their finishing points tally of 56 meant they were closer to Newcastle at the bottom than Exeter at the top.

The squeezed middle was a muddly mess of teams never likely to make the final. Indeed it was the most crowded mid-table ever, with just five points separating fourth and ninth.

Exeter boss Rob Baxter and Saracens opponent Mark McCall pose with the Premiership trophy

Exeter boss Rob Baxter and Saracens opponent Mark McCall pose with the Premiership trophy

But aside from that it was not a very atypical, or at least extraordinary season. On average the team finishing in the top six takes 55 points – this time 56 was enough – and the top four qualification total was way down on its average of 62.

Exeter and Saracens or both have now been in eight of the last 10 finals, and while it does not match the dominance of Leicester and Wasps who between them made 11 consecutive Twickenham dates, is it becoming a worry that essentially the league is becoming a foregone conclusion?

For a verdict, Scrum’s the Word asked two new-boys, two Kiwis for their perspective… Bristol’s Pat Lam and Northampton’s Chris Boyd.

Lam reckons it is all down to a continuity that almost no other team has in the league.

‘The biggest thing is that those sides have had the same coaching group for 10 years,’ he said.

‘There’s a style of play, a culture, a leadership they all understand. That’s all the things we are trying to build.

‘The issue we have had at Bristol is that over the last 10 years of the Premiership we have played one season. Even teams like Worcester and Newcastle have players with over 100 games of Premiership rugby – we have guys out of the Championship.’ He’s right in the sense that of the other teams only Sale have had true continuity of location, director of rugby and style… although their players have and will change significantly

Exeter and Saracens or both have now been in eight of the top flight's last 10 finals

Exeter and Saracens or both have now been in eight of the top flight’s last 10 finals

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Gloucester, Harlequins, Northampton, Bristol, Worcester and Leicester have not had their coaches for longer than four seasons and Bath are changing theirs again. Then you have who have Wasps who moved cities four years ago and Newcastle are going down.

Exeter and Saracens have had a slowly evolving squad, with the same top man and similar coaching staff, for a decade.

Chris Boyd – who angered Exeter’s Rob Baxter this week by suggesting it would be good for the league if those with more ‘optimism’ find a way of getting closer to the Chiefs and Sarries – puts it down to styles of play.

‘They are not unbeatable but both of those sides you have got to work out how to suppress their physical domination.

‘At the end of the day, their games are around territory and physical domination more than possession, although Exeter hang on to the ball a lot and grind you down.

‘Gloucester beat Exeter in a fairly critical European game, so they’re not unbeatable, but you’ve got to work out how you suppress both of those sides’ physical domination.’ So who will bring the continuity and the optimism? When will the next side other than Exeter or Saracens win the league? And who will it be?

The World Cup means the Premiership will start in October and will have a period of 15 consecutive rounds, with a final in June. That will skew things.. But this time next year, it’s likely to be the same final again, isn’t it?

MAYDAY! MAYDAY!

When it comes to the month of May – when traditionally the medals are handed out* – Saracens and Exeter stand clearly above the rest. Since losing to Exeter in a regular-season game back in 2015 Saracens have only lost three times in the month of May in four years, once more to Exeter in the 2018 semi-final, and to Wasps and Worcester with rotated teams.

They might not have had any latter-end Champions Cup matches to play, but perhaps more impressively Exeter have only lost to Saracens in the month of May in the last four years. Once was with a rotated team this month and the other two were in Premiership finals. Their last defeat in May was way back in 2014 when they lost 30-29 to Harlequins!

*(We realise that the final this year is on June 1, but the point stands right?) 

SARACENS W 44-19 v Gloucester May 25, 2019 Premiership semi-final L 31-29 v Worcester May 18, 2019 Premiership W 20-10 v Leinster May 11, 2019 Champions Cup Final W 38-7 v Exeter May 4, 2019 Premiership W 27-10 v Exeter May 26, 2018 Premiership Final W 57-33 v Wasps May 19, 2018 Premiership semi-final W 62-12 v Gloucester May 5, 2018 Premiership L 18-16 v Exeter May 20, 2017 Premiership semi-final W 28-17 v Clermont May 13, 2017 Champions Cup Final L 35-15 v Wasps May 6, 2017 Premiership W 28-20 v Exeter May 28, 2016 Premiership Final W 44-17 v Leicester May 21, 2016 Premiership semi-final W 21-9 v Racing 92 May 14, 2016 Champions Cup Final W 43-19 v Worcester May 7, 2016 Premiership W 23-14 v Newcastle May 1, 2016 Premiership W 28-16 v Bath May 30, 2015 Premiership Final W 29-24 v Northampton May 23, 2015 Premiership semi-final W 68-17 v London Welsh May 16, 2015 Premiership L 24-20 v Exeter May 10, 2015 Premiership Record in May since 2015: P 19 W 15 L 4 Ave. for: 34 Ave. against: 18 Titles won: Premiership 2015, 2016, 2018; Champions Cup 2016, 2017, 2019.

EXETER W 42-12 v Northampton May, 25 2019 Premiership semi-final W 40-21 v Northampton May 18 2019 Premiership L 38-7 v Saracens May 4, 2019 Premiership L 27-10 v Saracens May 26, 2018 Premiership Final W 36-5 v Newcastle May 19, 2018 Premiership semi-final W 41-17 v Harlequins May 5, 2018 Premiership W 23-20 v Wasps May 27, 2017 Premiership Final W 18-16 v Saracens May 20, 2017 Premiership semi-final W 34-20 v Gloucester May 6, 2017 Premiership L 28-20 v Saracens May 28, 2016 Premiership Final W 34-23 v Wasps May 21, 2016 Premiership semi-final W 62-24 v Harlequins May 7, 2016 Premiership W 24-3 v Wasps May 1, 2016 Premiership W 44-16 v Sale May 16, 2015 Premiership W 24-20 v Saracens May 10, 2015 Premiership Record in May since 2015: P 15 W 12 L 3 Ave. for: 31 Ave. against: 19 Titles won: Premiership 2017.

PAT THE TIME-LORD

It’s not all fun and games at the Barbarians. Ok, so lots of it is fun and games… but coach Pat Lam has added an air of professionalism as well as a fair amount of craic to the legendary drinking, sorry, invitational side.

Lam has started a ‘Barbarians Got Talent’ game for the squad this week, with a mix of games and challenges bringing mini teams points. The lads and lasses who will face England on Sunday had a big night out on Tuesday evening – first it was their President’s Dinner at their Park Lane hotel, then a big session with the men’s and women’s teams combined with some out until 5 o’clock in the morning.

Pat Lam has added an air of professionalism as well as a fair amount of craic to the Barbarians

Pat Lam has added an air of professionalism as well as a fair amount of craic to the Barbarians

But all are reminded of their time-keeping. Lam is not lazy when it comes to that, even with the BaaBaas.

Scrum’s the Word has been told by good sources that last year Malakai Fekitoa and Loni Uhila were late for a team meeting last year in the week they played England (and thrashed them 63-45)… both were set to start, but Lam dropped them from the XV.

That story has served as a warning to Barbarian boozers this week – even the most bleary-eyed among them!

FASHIONABLE PICKS

Not much to get excited about in this England XV for the Barbarians, really, aside from if you are in it or want to watch Alex Dombrandt, Marcus Smith, Ben Curry and the two Bristolians Callum Sheedy and Piers O’Conor.

But there is an interesting stat among the low-key fixture. Jim Mallinder is in charge and has extended the number of individuals picked by England since 2016 (the Eddie Jones era) to an eye-watering 126.

It’s more as if the onions have come out when you find out that 60 (SIXTY) of that lot have never won a cap. The most variation has come at back-row (28 players) and in the back-three (25) with only five fly-halves and seven hookers picked.

With 126 ‘England’ players knocking around (although three have retired from Tests, and two have moved nations) it means that in each round of the Premiership about 60% of all players who qualify for England have now been picked at least once.

And when you look at the club distribution it is interesting. Five have been selected when at two clubs (Chris Ashton, Jonny May, George Ford, Nathan Earle, Joe Cokanasiga) and – shock – the most (16) from Saracens.

But Bath and Harlequins – two of the most middling clubs since 2016 – have the next most with 15 picks each.

ENGLAND SQUAD PICKS SINCE 2016, BY CLUB 

Saracens 16, Harlequins 15, Bath 15, Exeter 13, Northampton 12, Wasps 12, Sale 11, Leicester 10, Gloucester 9, Worcester 7, Newcastle 5, London Irish 4, Bristol 2.

STATCAVE

4TH Consecutive Premiership final for Exeter Chiefs. They have only won one of those, however, against Wasps in 2017 – and their record at Twickenham is played eight, won one, lost seven.

2014 The last time Saracens lost at Twickenham. That was 24-20 in extra-time to Northampton in the Premiership final, but since they have won seven times at HQ – four London Double Headers and three Premiership Finals.

2 Wins in seven for Saracens against Exeter – but they have beaten Exeter every time the teams have met in a final. Sarries won the Anglo-Welsh final at Franklin’s Gardens in 2015 and two Premiership Finals in 2016 and 2018.

86% Goal-kicking success-rate for Exeter fly-half Joe Simmonds – he has made 36 out of 42 kicks this season, accruing 81 points, at a far better rate than opposite number Owen Farrell. The England captain has made 54 of 72 kicks at a rate of 75%, but has taken 131 points.

7 Points back, and you always lose the final. No team has been seven points behind or more and come back to win a Premiership final. The biggest turnaround was when Saracens were 6-0 up against Northampton in the 32nd minute of the 2014 final and lost 24-20 in extra time.

Exeter fly-half Joe Simmonds has scored 36 out of 42 kicks this season, accruing 81 points

Exeter fly-half Joe Simmonds has scored 36 out of 42 kicks this season, accruing 81 points

9TH Premiership final for referee Wayne Barnes. He has taken charge of the 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2018 showpiece and will again this weekend, extending his record.

5 Premiership titles for Richard Wigglesworth. The Saracens scrum-half could become the first player to win six titles. He has won four with Saracens and one with Sale, way back in 2006.

1 Player has scored a try in three separate finals – Saracens’ Chris Wyles in 2015, 2016 and 2018. He is retired, so Exeter’s Jack Nowell could join him. The Chief scored in 2016 and 2017.

4 Teams have won multiple league titles. Exeter could become the fifth to join Leicester (10 times), Bath (6), Wasps (6), Saracens (4).

MATCH GUIDE

EXETER CHIEFS v SARACENS – Twickenham Saturday, 3pm LIVE BT Sport 1 from 2pm 

Prediction: Saracens. 



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