Although it was a total thrill that Saracens won the Premiership Final in 2015, something about it didn’t sit quite right with me. While I do understand that the play off scenario was agreed by all in the Premiership it felt strange, as pleasing as it was, to see the team who’d finished 4th lifting the trophy.
So, to have Saracens and Exeter Chiefs who finished 1st and 2nd respectively felt right. Saracens finished to by a clear 6 points and had gone through the season having lost only 4 times after 32 games across both the Premiership and Europe. With 1 game drawn that was a mighty 27 wins.
Chiefs had won 15 of their 22 Premiership games, gaining 6 losing bonus points out of the 7 games lost, to add to their 8 try scoring bonus points. That factor was the one that saw them beat Wasps to 2nd place by 2 points, giving them a valuable semi-final.
I decided to let the train take the strain, letting my car have a rest. It was too warm to wear my Saracens shirt for the journey but I had my trusty flag, that prompted a Quins fan to share his feelings that ‘no-one likes Saracens’.
While I totally appreciate the fact that most neutrals would be supporting Chiefs, I would’ve been if they weren’t facing Saracens, I fail to understand the animosity shown towards their competitors for the day. I feel certain that the no-one likes thing, doesn’t stretch to the England players amongst the squad, in particular the likes of Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje. Regrettable emotions in sport of any variety.
Having arrived at the West Car Park I joined the long welcome line for the Saracens players, having a chat with Nigel Wray as we waited in the sun, it was clear he had butterflies aplenty as he waited for a team that could be the first to ‘do the double’ since Wasps in 2004. The players walked through the long line of fans, with varying reactions, Mako Vunipola looked like he’d rather be anywhere else, Schalk Brits had his biggest, ever present smile, and high fived as he went.
Exeter Chiefs were next to arrive, but drove close to the gates in their coach, their fans were given a chance to see their idols before they disappeared into the ground.
I then joined some lovely friends, who traditionally park up and have a picnic pre-game and post-game come to that, a civilised way to spend time before the match. Rather than ask for media access I’d decided to experience the final as a fan, so made my way to my seat amongst my fellow Saracens fans behind the posts in the South Stand.
I was anticipating a hard fought, close game and in the end that is the way it went. However the first half was dominated by Saracens, everything Chiefs threw at them was countered by the ‘Wolfpack’. As the saying goes, Forwards decide which team wins, Backs by how much, Duncan Taylor, who’s had a great season for Saracens scored the first try of the final and utility Back Chris Wyles the second. Both were shout out loud exciting 5 pointers, well for the Saracens fans in the crowd at the least.
Owen Farrell converted both tries and had kicked 3 penalties, giving Saracens 23 points at half time. Chiefs had only 2 penalties kicked by Gareth Steenson to show for their troubles. A scoreline of Saracens 23 Chiefs 6 after the first 40 was to say the least a surprise.
But, this was the Premiership Final and Exeter Chiefs weren’t going to lose it with a whimper. They showed the courage and determination they’ve shown all season to bring themselves back into the game.
Although they were missing Thomas Waldrom, top try scorer in the weekly rounds for the 2nd year in a row, they scored one of their trademark tries driving over the line from a lineout. Replacement Hooker Jack Yeandle emerging with the ball to claim the try. Steenson, as accurate a kicker as Farrell added the extras with a great kick.
It would be another 20 minutes of attritional rugby before we saw another score, and that went the way of the Chiefs too, with Jack Nowell showing his impressive strength to power over the line with Billy Vunipola attached. The conversion closed the gap to 3 with 8 minutes remaining.
These were nerve wracking times for both teams, but it was to be Man of The Match Alex Goode who sealed the win for Saracens, he combined with Chris Ashton and Marcelo Bosch to score a great try. Charlie Hodgson had replaced Owen Farrell, playing his last Premiership game before retirement, he missed the conversion but the win was assured and Saracens were Double Champions.
To say it was emotional would be a total understatement, I’ll confess to shedding a few tears, in a good way of course. This is a team that genuinely want to win for each other, they like each other, that’s plain to see from the way they play their rugby as well as the way they behave away from the game. It was a privilege to watch this group of men lift their 2nd trophy in the space of a few weeks.
Exeter Chiefs were worthy opponents after an immense season, they’re most probably every Premiership Rugby fans’ second club. I’m certain they’ll be back in the final again and will have learnt from this their first attempt.
My afternoon finished as it started with another dip into a lovely picnic, sharing the emotions of another wonderful win. The season has finished, yet many of the players will be getting on a plane and donning an England shirt, I for one think in the year following the World Cup a rest would have been far more valuable. Rugby is at risk of shortening careers with the number of games been played by those at the pinnacle.