Rugby Union Expert & Columnist
Stuart Barnes' talking points: PRO14 and Premiership finals plus England hosting the Barbarians
Last Updated: 28/05/18 5:13pm
Stuart Barnes discusses Leinster's PRO14 victory, the Aviva Premiership final at Twickenham Stadium, England's encounter with the Barbarians and more in this week's talking points.
1. Leinster confirmed their status as Europe's team of the season with an eight-point demolition of Scarlets. The valiant Welsh side never stopped trying but the late barrage of points left the scoreboard looking extremely deceptive. There was only ever one side in the game.
Statistics are not to be trusted but the first-half set, doing the rounds in Dublin told the tale. In particular the astonishing tally of four times as many tackles made by the Scarlets. The scoreboard might have been deceptive but, for once, the statistics were not.
Accelerating away just before and after half-time, this game was done and dusted with a full 30 minutes left on the clock. As Ken Owens so magnanimously put it in the post-match interview with Graham Simmons, the champions were beaten, dethroned, if you like, by a champion team.
2. And sitting on the Irish throne was none other than Johnny Sexton. If you read my eulogies in Sunday's Irish press, apologies, but his performance merits Monday as well as Sunday praise. He was imperious.
From the early interchanges with his old mate Rob Kearney, where the perfect high ball was followed up with the near as damn perfect chase, he kicked the former champions into oblivion with an agonisingly accurate variety of high balls and cross kicks. His pass for the James Lowe try was not bad either. Only on the field for 63 minutes, I didn't feel the need to consult Shane Horgan as to the identity of the man of the match. Sexton was masterful.
3. Had he not been MOTM, there was another worthy recipient in Johnny McNicholl. He may have been on the losing side but the hat-trick hero (we always use that little alliteration) was exquisite. He didn't touch the ball for most of the first half. When he did he created the space for the first Scarlets' try which he finished himself from close range.
The manner of the finish for the second score was both spectacular and professional while he again made and rounded off the late consolation score. Here is yet another Kiwi exile destined to play international rugby when his qualification period is completed a year or so for now. Like James Lowe, not good enough for the All Blacks but a treasure just about anywhere else.
Sarries dethrone Chiefs at Twickenham
Read the full match report from Twickenham Stadium as Saracens' won the 2018 Aviva Premiership title
4. Earlier in the afternoon, English attention was firmly focused on Twickenham. The defending champions, Exeter, met the same sort of fate as their Welsh counterparts, being ruthlessly outplayed. In the process Saracens won their third Premiership title in four years. Had they not faced Exeter a week after the Champions Cup final last season, the odds are they would have won all four. On current form a rematch between Saracens and Leinster would make for mouth-watering viewing.
5. As was the case against Wasps, the ball carriers carried the game to their opposition. Maro Itoje and Mako Vunipola were magnificent while Big Billy's bruising performance will be cause of comfort for Eddie Jones and concern for Rassie Erasmus.
6. It was almost the perfect farewell for Schalk Brits. The veteran South Africa bowed out of the English game with yet another medal. I say 'almost' because Wayne Barnes saw fit to furnish a yellow card soon after the 37-year-old arrived on the field from the bench.
Another old stager had a bittersweet afternoon in Dublin. The revered Isa Nacewa, 35, lasted less than 20 minutes before breaking down. He's like one of those satellites circling the earth, bits falling off here and there.
To hear Sexton describe the "relief" at sending the side's "greatest ever player" off with a win was some compliment considering Nacewa has played through the Brian O'Driscoll, Sexton era. I am not sure I would agree but the words were a huge testimony to the man and leader.
7. Back to Twickenham; Exeter controlled possession and the game for the first seven minutes. Thereafter Saracens more direct and forceful play eclipsed the constant phase play of the Chiefs. In terms of style, I was glad Saracens prevailed. The Exeter template is a one track journey to rugby league without the sixth tackle rule.
8. On the other side of the world, the Jaguares kept their winning run going, looking impressive enough against the Sharks. As I wrote last week, the signs are good for Argentina who just happen to be in the same pool as, yes England. And so to the key points from Sunday's game at Twickenham.
9. Point nine and nine tries conceded by England. Sometimes these things have a perfect symmetry. Not so the English defence in which former captain, Chris Robshaw, had an unforgettably awful afternoon, missing five tackles directly linked to Barbarian tries. If you are a teacher's pet you survive such days as 'just one of those things', If you are on the outside, it tends to be the fact constantly brought up against you. All very embarrassing for such a veteran.
10. One teams embarrassment is another's happiness. The Barbarians looked superb for 15 minutes and as bad as any Barbarian team I can recall for a brief five-minute spell when they jogged around as if they didn't care.
Chris Ashton, the hat-trick headline act, was heavily involved in both the good and bad. He can have the headlines. It was written in the stars. Eddie played the Ashton for England post-match Sky questions with the sort of straight bat England could have done with at Lord's.