Rugby Union Expert & Columnist
Stuart Barnes' talking points: PRO14 final and Farrell vs Cipriani
Last Updated: 27/05/19 12:31pm
Stuart Barnes on Leinster, Farrell vs Cipriani, Joe Marler and the man Australia need for the 2019 World Cup.
1. That was quite some effort from Leinster. Two weeks after the disappointment of losing the European Champions Cup final in Newcastle, the PRO14 champions managed to successfully defend their title against an in-form Glasgow team.
It may well be that the squally weather conditions did not assist Glasgow and their high-paced game but again, the Irishmen dug deep for the win as well as showing an immense capacity for tactical nous. The win doesn't convince me Irish rugby is in as a rude a health as it was 12 months ago but it is a significant marker - perhaps - ahead of Ireland's pool match with Scotland.
Victory at Celtic Park against a solid core of Scotland internationals might just be a psychological boost ahead of the two nations pool clash in Japan.
2. Nigel Owens was once again in the headlines; this time social media seemed pretty much unanimous in its view that Rob Kearney should have been red, instead of yellow carded, for his aerial collision with opposing full-back, Stuart Hogg in the 65th minute.
Social media, I would suggest, not for the first time, got its collective knickers in a twist and got it wrong. Was it a dangerous collision? Possibly. Did Hogg land on his head, which would have required an immediate red? No, he landed on his shoulder. I think the law is an ass when intent and outcome become so confused but the law's the law. Had Owen red carded him there would have been an angry outcry against him for not refereeing according to the law. You can't win, Nigel!
3. We witnessed another stunning performance from Saracens as they crushed Gloucester on their bouncy pitch. The quality of Ben Spencer's game was something to behold.
Despite Eddie Jones' aversion to form players the Saracens scrum-half must be getting close to that squad for Japan. It was the accuracy of that kick-chase game which undid Gloucester after their own early score. In fact the response was straight from the kick-off. An accurate Farrell kick, a ball won in the air by Liam Williams, one left-footed kick later and the other winger, Sean Maitland was scoring. Game, effectively over.
4. Owen Farrell vs Danny Cipriani was never going to be a contest. The two sides were too unequally matched. Had the player of the season been in Saracens colours doubtless he would have thrived. Had the England skipper been battered on the back foot, he wouldn't have coasted so comfortably through the proceedings. The Gloucester man is unlikely to be selected for the World Cup but please do not claim this game proved anything whatsoever re the merits of two fine fly-halves.
5. Rules are there to be broken. England should have smashed them to get Steffon Armitage back for the 2015 World Cup. Michael Cheika must surely do whatever is needed to ensure Will Skelton is playing for what is an underpowered Australian pack in Japan.
Contracts, rules? There's always a way round them...for Australia his inclusion could be as big a bonus as Israel Folau will be a loss. Skelton has lost weight since arriving in Barnet. He has sharpened up, is carrying powerfully, pushing with real impact in the scrum (a major Australian question mark) and off loading with that delightful touch he has always possessed. Mark McCall may not be thanked by the likes of Warren Gatland and Eddie Jones who at some stage could come up against the Big Man.
6. Deja Vu...Exeter against Saracens. The dominant side in Europe, the two dominant sides in England. It is the same story as last season when Saracens bounced back from their European disappointments to beat them in the final. Exeter have the league points to back up their case to be seen as England's No 1 team. However, Saracens' European form and Exeter's problems to step up to the next level, make me think Saracens are by far the likeliest winners at Twickenham next Saturday.
7. The day after the final, England face the Barbarians. Last season a team featuring a fair number of players who would play Test rugby in South Africa later that summer were hammered as the Barbarians produced a superb effort. The headlines were grabbed by Chris Ashton who scored a 25-minute hat-trick. He forced his way back into contention and the squad off the back of this effort.
8. I am not expecting a hat-trick from Joe Marler who makes his Barbarians debut but some colourful behaviour and a wind-up routine for the England tight-head can be confidently predicted.
Is it too much to hope Kyle Sinckler, his mate on the Harlequins tight head, is selected against him? That little tangle - verbal and physical - would be quite some sub-plot. You'll see England's first game since the Six Nations, in a way the start of the road to Japan, exclusively on Sky Sports.
9. On Saturday, I was fortunate enough to call Montpellier's match with Clermont Auvergne. Three teams had already qualified for the barrage, four remained in contention. The moneyed men had by far the toughest task but through a combination of grit, determination and some typically sloppy Clermont play, they got their fourth straight win in the Auvergne - also the first away win here this season.
La Rochelle scored 80 plus with 12 tries to finish fifth and Racing made no mistakes against Agen. It was left to former Kings now King Breakers, Toulon, to win away to reigning champions, Castres - without Castres managing a bonus point - to send Montpellier thrillingly through and the champs out. Next weekend Montpellier face Lyon away and Racing are at home to La Rochelle. Again, only on Sky.
It's official! We'll be taking on Europe's elite next season in the @ChampionsCup! Come watch some of the most exciting teams face off against #YourSharks at the AJ Bell next season from just £29.50 a month with our Season Memberships. 🦈⏰— Sale Sharks🦈 (@SaleSharksRugby) May 25, 2019
10. Oh, yes...La Rochelle's automatic qualification sent Sale into the European Champions Cup courtesy of...heck, you don't need to know the many explanations, other than the fact Sale are one of seven English qualifiers. Well done to Steve Diamond's club and, one final comment, Fiji can play sevens!