Gallagher Premiership report card: Exeter, Saracens top of the class as Newcastle fail

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Saracens beat Exeter last weekend to clinch their fourth Premiership title in five seasons.

Here, we grade the performances of all 12 teams in the competition.

BATH

2018/19 record: Won 10, Draw 2 Lost 10

Another mixed season for a talented team sprinkled with seasoned internationals. It was a tale of inconsistencies and missed opportunities as Todd Blackadder’s side finished sixth and scraped into the Champions Cup for next season. With the Kiwi set to depart the club, can new coach Stuart Hooper turn around fortunes at the Rec next season?

Grade: C

BRISTOL

2018/19 record: Won 9, Draw 1, Lost 12

A cracking first season back in the Premiership. The Ashton Gate outfit may have finished ninth, and 20 points off relegation, but were only a bonus-point win away from finishing fourth, such was the close gap between the middle teams. If late kicks were converted against Sale and Worcester, they could have qualified for a semi-final.

Grade: B-

EXETER

2018/19 record: Won 17, Lost 5

Exact same record as last season and exact same finish. Runners-up to Saracens. Rob Baxter’s side will be disappointed with their European form, but showed no signs of wilting on the domestic stage, reaching a fourth consecutive final. For a team once considered average, there is so much to admire about their rise to the top of English rugby.

Grade: A-

GLOUCESTER

2018/19 record: Won 13, Draw 1, Lost 8

Johan Ackermann’s men were one of the teams of the season, reaching the league semi-finals and looking like a vibrant force for much of the campaign. It was the club’s best finish for eight seasons before losing to European champions Saracens in a one-sided last four clash. Boasted the league’s finet player in Danny Cipriani.

Grade: B+

HARLEQUINS

2018/19 record: Won 10, Lost 12

A vast improvement upon last season. The one disappointment will be that they looked odds-on to secure a play-off spot for most of the season, but finished poorly with six defeats in their last seven games. In Alex Dombrandt, ‘Quins had one of the stand-out players of the season.

Grade: C+

LEICESTER

2018/19 record: Won 7, Lost 15

A poor season for Geordan Murphy and Co. One of the worst years in the club’s history saw them finish 11th and fortunate not to be relegated. Mike Ford is a significant addition to the coaching ticket, but removing Murphy will not be the answer to their problems if the struggle continues. The board needs to be held accountable for some poor appointments and terrible squad recruitment.

Grade: D

NEWCASTLE

2018/19 record: Won 6, Lost 16

A disastrous campaign for a team that reached the semi-finals the previous season. The Toon outfit suffered relegation after winning just six matches. Will be hoping to push for championship promotion straight away.

Grade: F

NORTHAMPTON

2018/19 record: Won 11, Lost 11

Saints were in a bad place 12 months ago, finishing 10th in the Premiership, without a director of rugby and with a squad who had forgotten what it was like to produce consistent and winning rugby. For them to respond so effectively this season and reach the last four is a credit to the hard work of the players and coaching staff.

Grade: B+

SALE

2018/19 record: Won 11, Draw 2, Lost 9

The Manchester side will be disappointed to have missed out on Champions Cup qualification, finishing eighth in the table. Poor
defeats against Newcastle and Leicester cost them a place in the top-five, but to see highly-rated Tom Curry step up another level is something for the Sharks to be excited about.

Grade: C

SARACENS

2018/19 record: Won 16, Lost 6

The Men in Black are comfortably the best club team in the game, winning a fourth domestic title in five years. With the signing of Elliot Daly from Wasps, it is hard to see the North London side relinquish their European or league crowns any time soon. Boast the best attacking record and second best defensive record. An immovable force.

Grade: A+

WASPS

2018/19 record: Won 10, Lost 12

A major rebuilding project will continue this summer as 12 players depart the Ricoh Arena, including key men Nathan Hughes, Willie le Roux and Daly. Head coach Dai Young has the backing of the board but performances look way off two seasons ago when they reached the league final. The Coventry side drop into the European second-tier competition for the first time since the 2013/14 season.

Grade: C

WORCESTER

2018/19 record: Won 9, Lost 13

The Warriors endured a poor season despite two more wins than their 2017/18 campaign. Their attacking and defensive record was worse also. However, they finished season strongly with three wins in last four games, including a narrow home victory over champion Saracens.

Grade: D

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Saracens complete double after beating Exeter in thrilling Premiership final

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Saracens completed a memorable European and domestic double after retaining the Premiership title by beating Exeter 37-34 at Twickenham.

The teams shared 10 tries during unquestionably the greatest Premiership final in its 16-year history.

Exeter led after just 28 seconds when scrum-half Nic White claimed the quickest Premiership final touchdown, but Saracens ultimately prevailed.

The Chiefs led by 11 points after an hour, yet Saracens produced a stellar comeback.

Wings Liam Williams and Sean Maitland touched down, following earlier tries from hooker Jamie George and scrum-half Ben Spencer, before George added a second and Farrell kicked 12 points.

White, flanker Dave Ewers, lock Jonny Hill, centre Henry Slade and substitute Sam Hill crossed for Exeter, and Joe Simmonds added three conversions and a penalty, but the Chiefs once again experienced Twickenham heartbreak.

It was the third time in four seasons for the 2017 champions to lose a final – all against Saracens – as Farrell and company followed up European title success three weeks ago with another trophy.

And it meant a second double in four years, emulating Leicester as only the second English club to achieve such a feat.

Both teams were unchanged following their play-off victories last weekend, with Saracens captain Brad Barritt overcoming a hamstring injury that forced him off against Gloucester to start.

And the final began in remarkable fashion, with 12 points being scored inside the opening five minutes.

Exeter kicked off, but Saracens and England lock George Kruis fumbled possession, giving the Chiefs the chance to attack on front-foot ball and White crossed from close range for a try that Simmonds converted.

But Saracens responded, launching an initial attack that ended when Slade deliberately knocked on a pass from full-back Alex Goode to Maitland, and was sin-binned by referee Wayne Barnes as a result.

Slade had barely left the pitch before Saracens drove a lineout from the resulting penalty, and George crashed over.

Farrell missed the conversion, but he landed a 35-metre penalty shortly afterwards and Saracens led 8-7 following a breathless start.

Saracens then extended their lead following a Billy Vunipola scrum charge that spread Exeter’s defence, and Spencer touched down to open up a 13-7 advantage.

Farrell again could not add the extras, and Exeter replied following another frantic passage of play that started with them laying siege to Saracens’ line.

Saracens were reduced to frantic defending, and flanker Maro Itoje, who was sin-binned during the Champions Cup final victory over Leinster, again saw yellow, and Exeter did not require a second invitation to pounce.

A man down, Saracens could not hold out under sustained pressure, and Ewers claimed Exeter’s second try before Smmonds’ conversion gave them a one-point advantage.

And the Chiefs moved further ahead nine minutes before the break when Slade and his England colleague Jack Nowell linked superbly in midfield, before Hill touched down.

Simmonds’ conversion glanced off the post, then Farrell booted a 40-metre penalty that cut the deficit to three points, but Simmonds responded and Exeter trooped off 22-16 ahead at the break.

Barritt, though, did not return for the second period, being replaced by Nick Tompkins, before Spencer went off for a head injury assessment as Saracens suffered a disruptive opening.

Saracens dominated much of the third quarter, but Exeter continued to hassle and chase them, making life distinctly uncomfortable for their opponents.

And such in-the-face-pressure was rewarded through a fourth try, with Slade the beneficiary following brilliant work by replacement lock Sam Skinner.

But Saracens responded again and Williams struck after a Farrell kick, with the fly-half’s conversion making it 27-23.

Maitland then crossed 12 minutes from time, with Farrell converting, and although the fly-half missed a later penalty chance, George’s second touchdown sealed the deal and Saracens were home, despite Hill’s late effort that Simmonds converted.

Provided by Press Association Sport 

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PRO14 report card: Leinster and Glasgow top of the class as Southern Kings fail

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Leinster saw off Glasgow on Saturday to clinch back-to-back PRO14 titles.

Here, we grade the performances of all 14 teams in the competition this season.

BENETTON

2018/19 record: Won 11, Lost 8, Drew 2

A stunning season for the Italian side with 11 victories, the same as last season, after winning just three, three and five in the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 campaigns respectively. Kieran Crowley’s team will have earned respect from their rivals due to their improvements in skillset, game plan and ability to play a more attractive brand of rugby.

Grade: B

CARDIFF BLUES
2018/19 record: Won 10, Lost 11

A fairly balanced season for the Blues, finishing fifth in their conference – one place worse than last season. Their 10 wins is similar to their three previous campaigns with triumphs over Munster (37-13) and back-to-back comprehensive wins over the Scarlets among their key results.

Grade: C

CHEETAHS
2018/19 record: Won 8, Lost 12, Drew 1

The Bloemfontein side were a breath of fresh air in their maiden campaign, reaching the quarter-finals, but struggled this year, with just eight victories. Notable scalps over Cardiff and Benetton will add positivity in the off-season. Need to continue to build momentum and tighten their defence in the off-season – they conceded 12 more tries than 2017-18.

Grade: D+

CONNACHT
2018/19 record: Won 12, Lost 9

A blistering season for the Irish side after a subpar 2017-18 season where they won just seven times. Reached the knock-out stages of the league and qualified for next season’s Champions Cup in the process. Under new boss Andy Friend, they look a revitalised outfit and continue to play an attractive and exciting brand a rugby.

Grade: B

DRAGONS
2018/19 record: Won 5, Draw 1, Lost 15

An improvement upon their previous campaign but they still only managed to finish second from bottom in their conference above Southern Kings. With only 22 per cent win record in their last 100 fixtures, new director of rugby Dean Ryan will have his work cut out for him. The Englishman needs to inspire a team who have only won one away match since March 2015.

Grade: D

EDINBURGH
2018/19 record: Won 10, Lost 11

Won five less games than the previous season and only managed to finish fifth in their conference. Victories over Leinster and Connacht will surely have added some bite and drive into a burgeoning side who also reached the quarter-finals in the Champions Cup. Need to step up again next season. Boast the league’s best player in No8 Bill Mata.

Grade: B-

GLASGOW WARRIORS
2018/19 record: Won 16, Lost 5

The Scottish club continue to go from strength to strength and played some scintillating rugby across the season. With a 76-per cent win ratio this campaign, the Ryan Wilson-led outfit showed dominance and ruthlessness to finish top of their conference before crashing to a 18-15 defeat against Leinster in the final.

Grade: A

LEINSTER
2018/19 record: Won 15, Draw 1, Lost 5

The league champions showed plenty of quality and are now on the brink of sealing a fourth domestic title in even years. To underline their squad depth in this competition, Leo Cullen used 57 players during the 21 regular season matches. Scored 12 more tries than any other team.

Grade: A+

MUNSTER
2018/19 record: Won 16, Lost 5

A tight semi-final defeat to Leinster cannot be underestimated and for large parts of the season, Johann van Graan’s side played an attractive and efficient brand of rugby. A mix of youth and experience served them well, with star man Tadhg Beirne stepping up superbly over the course of the campaign. Boast the best defensive record in the league.

Grade: B+

OSPREYS
2018/19 record: Won 12, Lost 9

A vast improvement. They were the only Welsh team to qualify for the Champions Cup next season and finished highest out of the Welsh regions in the PRO14. With Alun Wyn-Jones and George North in superb form, confidence looks high again at Liberty Stadium.

Grade: B-

SCARLETS
2018/19 record: Won 10, Lost 11

Poor season for a team who were dominant for the two previous campaigns. They failed to qualify for the Champions Cup for the first time since 2003 and lost five more games than the 2017-18 season. Many fans blamed the early announcement of Wayne Pivac as Wales boss as the turning point of their disastrous season.

Grade: C-

SOUTHERN KINGS
2018/19 record: Won 2, Draw 1 Lost 18

Hard to draw many positives for the Port Elizabeth-based side in their second season. Wins over Glasgow and Edinburgh will represent a glimmer of postivity, but overall, they were a team lacking any creativity and consistency with ball in hand. Defensively, the gaps grew as the season progressed and they shipped a woeful 735 points.

Grade: F

ULSTER
2018/19 record: Won 13, Draw 2, Lost 6

Reached the semi-finals of the PRO14 and quarter-finals of the Champions Cup, a significant achievement with a make-shift squad. En route to booking their place in the last four of the league, they finished second in their conference behind Leinster. In Marcel Coetzee, they boast one of the most powerful and inspirational players in the British Isles.

Grade: B+

ZEBRE
2018/19 record: Won 3, Lost 18

After a strong 2017-18 campaign where they won a franchise record seven matches, the Italian side look like they have slipped back to their old ways, yielding just three victories this term. They also scored 15 less tries and conceded eight more than the previous campaign.

Grade: F

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