The word being used was boring. Saracens and Exeter were both called it. Curious, if you’ve ever really watched them play. Watched them do their stuff without the pull of club loyalty shutting one of your eyes. For boring, you should read annoying. Annoyingly good.
And so the ‘boring’ final came to pass. And it was anything but. An enduring battle befitting the occasion and the season: a campaign that has produced some truly memorable moments. The two most annoying teams butted heads on a June afternoon that would have had the coolest brow beading. There’s heat, and then there’s these two, firing up the Twickenham ovens one more time. Saracens, and the team who are trying to turn into Saracens. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But as the medals were being handed out, the original remained the best. Annoyingly.
It turns out you can’t beat the boys from Barnet. You can have them pinned, a foot on their throat, your lungs heaving at the effort it has taken to fell such a giant; you can score early and well, play a good portion of the game on the front foot, with the ball on your side of each ruck; you can even build up a healthy eleven point lead: but you can’t beat them. Chiefs were better over the course of a season. Better for the majority of this game. But not when it mattered. When Saracens need to summon up something, they do. Liam Williams rose like a phoenix under Farrell’s cross-field kick and everything seemed to suddenly make sense. Young Joe Simmonds could do little but watch the experienced Welshman land with the ball in his hands and the line at his mercy. Inexorably infallible Saracens. This is a truly outstanding outfit. Someone somewhere is making a list of the very best sporting teams of all time. This Saracens squad are on that scroll. Masters of their fate, captains of their soul.
What would sports psychologists have made of it? You know, the sort of brain doctor being brought in by Eddie Jones to tell the likes of Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola and Owen Farrell how to win the big games for England. How to hold on to self-belief when all around are losing theirs; how to win a match you thought was lost; how to turn the momentum in your favour when the opposition has such a firm hold of it. Slade’s try possessed such a grip. Sam Skinner’s offload was featherlight; the England centre slam dunked the ball down; he thought it a telling blow; it wasn’t. Jack Nowell’s ankle buckled around the same time Exeter’s belief wavered, maybe that was it? Owen Farrell was on hand to commiserate with the stricken wing-three-quarter, who could now face a battle to make the World Cup. But Farrell was also there to kick the ball wide, inch perfect, to the levitating Williams. On hand to calmly fizz it down the back line to make the created overlap work and put Sean Maitland in. On hand to usher Jamie George over the line and make the game good. Saracens; always there where you don’t want them.
No, I don’t know how they did it. And I’ve watched it twice. Some other questions remain: is there anyone better in a storm than Wayne Barnes? The way he unravelled various complexities to find the fairest outcome was telling; he played a major part in a remarkable game. Also, how do the likes of Ben Spencer and Alex Goode not travel to the World Cup? When so much of England’s squad will seemingly revolve around Saracens’ spine why not take the bones so used to moving in that body? And, perhaps most interestingly, where are Saracens taking us? They are setting a standard that if others, including Exeter, are to meet, it will create an enviable amount of incredible rugby. And do others achieve such standards by copying the whole page? To become boringly unbeatable, do you have to reach past the point that others go? To be this clever on the pitch, do you have to be equally clever off it; from outside-halves to accountants, does everyone have to be world class?
Saracens are a team, it seems, you just can’t beat. Maybe you have to join them.