#360Rugby: Saracens forwards rightly receive plaudits

Martyn Thomas 19:34 26/05/2015
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  • David Strettle (l) and Chris Ashton of Saracens are in top form.

    The end of season may well be in sight but there was no danger of teams winding down with trophies on the horizon. Here are five talking points from the action, and what they might mean to the matches next week.

    Stats don’t always tell the whole story

    If you had missed Saturday’s Aviva Premiership semi-finals, and were relying solely on statistics for an idea of how the games played out, you would be forgiven for thinking the better sides lost.

    Neither Bath nor Saracens dominated possession or ran the most metres with the ball, yet both will deservedly take their place at Twickenham on the weekend.

    Bath, in particular, put on a thrilling display as they ran in seven tries against Leicester at The Rec, even though they enjoyed just 35 per cent possession while ceding 71 per cent of territory to the Tigers over the 80 minutes.

    The reason Mike Ford’s men are in the final is because they played with an incisiveness that their visitors were unable to match.

    Indeed the Tigers had no answer to the home side’s ‘diamond’ formation, that gives Bath space out wide while opening up gaps for the likes of Matt Banahan and Sam Burgess through the centre.

    Another way to interpret the weekend’s stats is that Bath are arguably the most clinical side in the Premiership. The problem for the west country outfit, though, is they will run into a much more cohesive attacking unit at Twickenham.

    Saracens forwards rightly receive plaudits, but Bath will need to keep their wingers quiet

    Jacques Burger featured heavily in the press over the weekend thanks to a bruising display that saw him make 13 tackles, some frankly bone-shuddering.

    But while Burger and his fellow forwards have been in fine form this season, Bath will know Saturday’s final will be more than an arm wrestle.

    Indeed, it is possible to suggest that the momentum that has propelled the club into a second successive Premiership final has been provided from out wide and not up front.

    The form of Chris Ashton and David Strettle has, of course, been acknowledged by England with call-ups to the World Cup training squad, and Strettle celebrated that with a trademark try at Franklin’s Gardens.

    Saracens have developed an excellent kicking game that takes full advantage of the pace they possess out wide. It is not always Ashton or Strettle that get to the ball first, but they are invariably on the shoulder of whoever does to finish the move.

    It is a tactic that could have Bath sweating as the way in which they attack could leave them open to kicks played in behind them.

    Moreover, with Ashton and Strettle both reportedly on Clermont’s radar, the ruthless duo will be determined to make a statement at Twickenham.

    May must get a chance on the right wing

    England are well-stocked out wide. Recently there have been recalls for Ashton and Strettle, but there was no place for Christian Wade, for example, and not even a mention of Bath’s in-form Banahan.

    Jonny May was one of the six wingers named by Stuart Lancaster, and he followed that announcement up by producing a stunning try to put Gloucester one step away from the European Champions Cup.

    His intervention was the latest of several that have helped his club side finish the season strongly, and should act as a catalyst for England to try him out in his favoured position.

    May has flourished on the right wing for his club, but has been stymied slightly at international level – an outstanding try against New Zealand aside – as he has been stuck on the left.

    Lancaster has a number of options for the No14 shirt with Jack Nowell, Marland Yarde, Ashton and Anthony Watson all used there.

    Yet, for the power that all of those players provide, May arguably has the pace and agility to worry defences in ways that those players cannot.

    Surely he has enough to be given a shot in the position in which he has excelled for Gloucester.

    Keatley must find kicking boots if O’Connell is to get his big send-off

    In the end it was a sensible piece of refereeing from Nigel Owens that ensured Munster travel north to the Kingspan Stadium on Saturday, looking to send Paul O’Connell on his way with a Pro12 winner’s medal.

    However, it could and should have been so much more simple for the hosts at Thomond Park.

    Fly-half Ian Keatley played a vital role in their opening two tries, making the initial break for the first while providing the definitive pass for the second.

    Unfortunately it was not an afternoon to remember from the kicking tee for the Irish international, and ultimately that almost cost his side, and his captain, dear.

    Keatley missed all three of his conversions on Saturday, meaning the game was in the balance right up until the final whistle. Had he made them, Munster would have been home and dry well before Josh Matavesi’s late try was disallowed.

    The last time Munster won a domestic semi-final, also against the Ospreys, they went on to lift the Pro12 title. They will need Keatley to find his range if they are to do so again.

    Final round capitulation costs Stade but sets up thrilling last eight clash with Racing

    Stade Francais went into the final round of the Top 14 regular season with hopes of securing a bye to the semi-finals. They ended it facing a quarter-final against Racing Metro having been resoundingly beaten 27-0 by a Brive side who survived relegation by a single point.

    It is difficult to know exactly what went wrong for the Parisians, especially as most of their big hitters were on display.

    Yet as they prepare for a derby this weekend, it is sure to weigh heavy on the minds of Sergio Parisse and Gonzalo Quesada as they attempt to raise the squad ahead of what will be a huge game.

    Indeed, with Racing putting 50 points on Castres on Saturday it would be easy to suggest that the momentum now lies with the team from the other side of the city.

    Racing also possess a squad boasting several players who will be intent on proving a point – not least Teddy Thomas, who has been left out of France’s World Cup squad.

    Add to that the departing Jonny Sexton and Jamie Roberts, and Stade may well come to regret their final-day capitulation.

    Bonus Point

    Jonny May produced a stunning try to down Connacht late in extra-time at Kingsholm. Here’s how he did it.

    Le superbe essai de Johnny May contre le Connacht by Le-Rugbynistere