TWICKENHAM – Saracens managed to become the first team to ever win the Aviva Premiership despite finishing below second place in the regular season after triumphing 28-16 over Bath in the 2015 final. Led by man of the match Owen Farrell, Sarries raced out to a 22 point lead at the half. Though Bath managed to make the game competitive, they could not totally break Saracens’ disciplined defense, which exerted a stranglehold on the pace of play.
The afternoon started out controversially, when Farrell took out his England teammate Anthony Watson with a very high (and illegal) hit in the third minute. Bath coach Mike Ford complained after the game that Farrell should have received a red card. That would have been a harsh punishment, but referee Wayne Barnes certainly missed a trick when he did not issue a yellow. Farrell became the bane of Bath’s existence throughout the afternoon, and a mere two minutes later, he darted through Bath’s defense to score a try. Nerveless as always, Farrell slotted the conversion and Saracens were off to the races. Bath have developed a well-deserved reputation for flashy play, but they were undone by some basic errors in the next twenty minutes. Repeated infringements and ball-handling errors led directly to points. Jamie George could hardly believe his luck in the thirteenth minute when he scooped up a loose ball and cantered 35 yards for a try, capping a spectacular season for the young hooker.
Bath were 12-0 down after 13 minutes, but they managed to get back in the game with a penalty from George Ford in the 26th minute. Saracens quickly and brutally replied. Bath’s defense was stretched to it’s breaking point during the next few minutes, and Saracens’ exploited a three man overlap to put the ball through Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, and ultimately Chris Wyles’ hands as the American scored a try. Farrell’s conversion put Saracens ahead by 19, and a penalty before the break made it a 25-3 advantage heading into the half.
Bath put forth a better performance in the second half, but they were never as threatening with ball in hand as they had been against Leicester in the semi-final. Jonathan Joseph made a spectacular cut that put him over the whitewash in the 51st minute, and it looked as though Bath might have a way back into the game. Ford nailed the conversion, but Saracens proceeded to slowly strangle the game. As numerous commentators observed, it was not pretty, but it was effective. Farrell brought the advantage back to 12 with a 62nd minute penalty. No more points were scored, and Saracens celebrated their first title since 2011.
The dominant performance by Saracens in the final should not overshadow the astonishing rise of this Bath team over the course of the season. Seen as fringe contenders in August, Bath’s attack continued to develop. Though Sam Burgess has had some difficulty adjusting to union, he made noticeable strides in the last month and demonstrated his ball-carrying threat effectively in the final. England could use an all-Bath 10-12-13 axis in the World Cup, though Kyle Eastmond has some work to do on the defensive side of the ball. Mike Ford showed his coaching bona fides, coming up with attacking plans that usually broke down opposition defenses by effectively exploiting mismatches while George kept the scoreboard ticking over. It is impossible to look at this Bath side and not see a team that is destined to repeatedly challenge for the title in years to come.
Saracens are deserved champions after a tumultuous campaign. Though Owen Farrell missed most of the year through injury, Charlie Hodgson demonstrated his continued value to the club. Chris Wyles had probably his best season since joining the team, and unsung heroes such as David Strettle and Brad Barritt were brutally effective when needed. This was a championship built upon defense, and Mark McCall drills his troops better than anyone in the game at the moment. Saracens managed to do all the little things right in this particular match, and it won them the title.
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