Bath 16 Saracens 28: Jamie George displays full range of talents for strong-arm Sarries

Bath found the big statements are delivered in prose, not poetry in the Premiership final

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The Independent Online

If Jamie George is the spirit of generosity made flesh, there is enough of the stuff attached to his old-fashioned front-row forward’s frame to ensure a plentiful supply of largesse. The Saracens hooker would be the proud owner of a “man of the match” gong to go with his Premiership winner’s medal but for the selflessness he showed in presenting Chris Wyles with a try he could just as easily have scored himself, and when pressed on the big talking point of the rugby weekend, he could not have been more magnanimous.

It was George who found himself squeezed – by Dylan Hartley, the Northampton captain and England’s number one No 2, among others – when the red-rose World Cup training group was named last month; it was George who found himself on the receiving end of Hartley’s forehead during a bitterly contested Premiership semi-final at Franklin’s Gardens a few days later; and it was George who was promoted to the national squad when a disciplinary panel decided his assailant was beyond the pale. In other words, he was in the thick of the situation.

“You have to feel for Dylan,” he said after playing a highly significant role in his club’s 28-16 win over Bath in the Premiership final – a victory significantly more comprehensive than the scoreboard let on. “It’s a difficult predicament he’s got himself into and I’m sure he’ll be regretting it. I have no hard feelings towards him: what happened was done in the heat of the moment. But I’m the one with the opportunity now, so it’s up to me to get my head down and show what I can do.”

George can do lots of things: he can scrummage his substantial weight (not far short of 17 stone), he can hit his  line-out jumpers (which makes him an endangered species), and his tackle count spends most of its time off the scale. He also has the hands of  a centre – better hands, indeed, than some of the midfielders in World Cup contention – and enough straight-line speed to give him an even-money shot at maximising the chances he seeks out for himself.

 

This last virtue was evident when, midway through a first quarter in which Saracens rendered the three remaining quarters irrelevant by opening up a 15-point lead, he seized on a loose pass in the Bath midfield and thundered to the line, the best part of  40 metres distant. The fact that his opposite number, Ross Batty, created the opportunity for him by attempting to take a bullet of a pass from Kyle Eastmond that was patently aimed at Matt Banahan, summed up the happy place in which George suddenly finds himself almost as neatly as  it did the West Country club’s wretched day out in  the capital.

Here was Johannesburg 1995 revisited. Twenty years ago, the All Blacks blazed their way into the World Cup final with a brand of attacking rugby that gave the sport an enriching sense of renewal, only to find themselves bullied and battered into submission by a bunch of highly motivated, brilliantly organised Springboks. At the weekend, Bath were the ones who discovered that when it comes to the crunch, the big statements are delivered in prose rather than poetry.

They were out of the running so early, it is possible to argue that they were never in it in the first place. Eastmond, George Ford and Jonathan Joseph – the midfield holy trinity – found themselves under a degree of pressure best described as diabolical: certainly, they saw far more of George, the Vunipola brothers, Jacques Burger, Maro Itoje and the outstanding George Kruis than they saw of open space or quality possession. To add insult to injury, the dangerous Bath full-back Anthony Watson spent his afternoon seeing stars.

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George Ford alongside Bath head coach and his father Mike Ford

 

This was because Owen Farrell, no one’s idea of a pacifist, clattered him with a heavy tackle of profoundly dubious legality after 90 seconds. Watson continued after lengthy treatment but was so far away with the fairies, he was nowhere to be seen when Farrell wandered through a broken defensive line to score the opening try on five minutes. A short while later, Watson left the field for good.

Mike Ford, the Bath coach, was not best pleased. “It was an illegal challenge, square on the nose,” he said, decisively. “We lose one of our best players, the other guy stays on, scores a try and gets man of the match. It should have been looked at by the officials. It was a red-card offence.”

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Owen Farrell applauds the Saracens fans after winning the Premiership final

 

But Watson would have had to perform like Serge Blanco, JPR Williams and Hercules combined to derail Saracens as they strong-armed their way towards a second title in five seasons. When George, stampeding joyously across the wide open prairies, flicked a scoring pass to Wyles – “We went to the same school,” he said, by way of explanation – and Farrell added a simple penalty following a dominant scrum, the Londoners were home and hosed, heading into the break 25-3 up and victors in all but name.

So it was that West Country rugby came up short, as it has done every year since the forming of the Premiership almost two decades ago. Of the four geographical divisions in English union, the other three have had their spells of domestic supremacy – yes, even the impoverished north, through Newcastle in 1998 and Sale in 2006. Bath were marginal favourites to make the long-awaited adjustment, but they found there  is more to becoming champions at Twickenham than playing champion rugby  everywhere else.

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