Heineken Cup 2014: Three talking points as Toulon beat Saracens
Heineken Cup 2014: Three talking points as Toulon are 23-6 winners against Saracens at Millennium Stadium
Wilkinson outguns Farrell again
Sir Clive Woodward today claimed that Owen Farrell could become the best 10 in world rugby after an impressive season for Saracens and England, but the 22-year-old still has some way to go after another lacklustre performance against Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon. With Wilkinson still around, Farrell is not even the best English 10 in world rugby but the youngster’s stock will certainly take a meteoric rise once the old master is gone although, even in retirement, the 2003 Rugby World Cup winner will remain England’s best. Such is the admiration for him, he was given a vociferous standing ovation as he was replaced in the final few minutes—almost certainly a cunning plan from the canny French club. The 67,587 crowd made up of partisan Toulon fans and an assortment of fans from around the UK and Ireland rose as one to show their appreciation: a symphony of noise usually reserved for the most famous of Welsh sons such as Shane Williams. Farrell attempted a drop-goal in the first half. He missed. Wilkinson attempted one off his weaker right foot late in the first half. Nailed it. Even kicking off the tee under the roof at the Millennium Stadium failed to help Farrell whereas Wilkinson was his usual relaxed perfectionist self.
Armitage steals his way towards England recall
Words associated with number 8 Steffon Armitage include scavenger, warrior, beast and wrecking ball. All very justified, and there are many more that could be deployed when talking about him. Even more so after another man of the match performance for the European champions. The Englishman beasted his way to five turnovers and collected his third man of the match trophy in the tournament this season increasing the pressure on England coach Stuart Lancaster to dump his policy of not selecting players stationed overseas. Incumbent England number 8 Billy Vunipola may have made more carries and metres, but Armitage’s display was destructively effective, not least in stealing the ball from Saracens at the breakdown. Irrespective of which of the two powerful back row forwards came out on top of their personal battle today, having both in an England squad whether against New Zealand or any other nation can only be a good thing and, after so long out in the international wilderness, Lancaster would be better served introducing Armitage gradually rather than any late call-up close to the Rugby World Cup.
Sarries give two fingers up to European heartache
Few clubs would be able to shake off a defeat in a major final 10 minutes after the end of a collectively underwhelming performance, but that is exactly what happened after Saracens had collected their runners-up medals and witnessed the jubilation from Toulon as they retained their crown. For Mark McCall’s side there is good reason. In seven days’ time they will have already played the Aviva Premiership final against Northampton Saints, who have an extra day to prepare after winning the Amlin Challenge Cup final on Friday night. Such is the mental toughness that has been ingrained in the club during McCall’s tenure, they subscribe to the notion that they can’t change the past but they can affect the future. And there are few doubts among the Saracens stars that walked through the mixed zone post-match that they can bounce back at Twickenham next week. On the day, by their admission, they were beaten by a better team, described as “exceptional” by McCall. There were efforts to talk down the Jonny factor, but there was no escaping it. It was always going to be his party and he delivered where so many from the English side did not. Billy Vunipola was made to look ordinary, the tournament’s top try-scorer was quiet, and the usually tough tackling Saracens back row was outfought by their Toulon counterparts. The scoreline suggests it match was ultimately one-sided. Once Toulon got rolling, it was.