Who’s hot and who’s not: Theo McFarland stars, Leinster’s remarkable depth and Beauden Barrett’s exploits

Date published: May 23 2022 - Colin Newboult

It’s time for our Monday wrap of who has their name in lights and who is making the headlines for all the wrong reasons after the weekend.

THEY’RE ON FIRE!

Theo McFarland continues meteoric rise: A year ago, few had heard of the Samoan forward but he is now starting to become a household name in the English Premiership following a series of stunning performances for Saracens. The former basketball player can feature at either lock or back-row and he has all the skills to be a world-class forward. The 26-year-old obviously – given his background – has incredible athleticism and is comfortable with ball in hand, but he is also very physical and has a superb rugby brain. McFarland was particularly outstanding against Northampton Saints on Saturday, scoring two tries – with his second a stunning individual effort.

Leinster’s incredible depth: They just keep producing unbelievably talented players and their second string were well worth their win over a comparatively experienced Munster side. There were some older heads present but it was mainly a 23 comprised of fringe members of the squad mixed with a smattering of academy talent. Scrum-half Cormac Foley was particularly impressive while Jamie Osbourne is very much a player to watch. However, arguably the biggest credit has to go to the Leinster coaches and organisation. Although it was a makeshift team, the players all knew their jobs and there was real cohesion and organisation. Impressive.

Beauden Barrett the hero in the big Super Rugby clash: The All Blacks fly-half is not renowned for drop-goals – and in fact down the years, New Zealand playmakers have been criticised for their unwillingness to execute the skill – but Barrett used it to help the Blues to a 21-19 victory over the Brumbies. The Australians defended superbly throughout and were 19-18 ahead as the clocked ticked into the red, but the Aucklanders mounted one last attack and put pressure on the hosts. It did lead to a penalty advantage but Barrett took it upon himself to aim for the uprights, giving his side a 12th win of the campaign to secure top spot in the Super Rugby Pacific table. A dramatic way to end a wonderful match.

Outstanding Benetton: That was some performance from the Italian side as they hammered Cardiff 69-21 at the Stadio di Monigo on Friday evening. Benetton were rampant as they backed up their recent impressive win over Zebre Parma with a 10-try showing that for the second successive week saw full-back Rhyno Smith grab a 29-point haul. While Cardiff were abysmal, take nothing away from Benetton who will wish the season wasn’t ending right now as watching them perform at this level makes you wonder how they finished in 13th position in the United Rugby Championship standings. Let’s hope they build on this going into next season and replicate this form on a consistent basis.

Henry Arundell and England call-ups: With the end of the Premiership looming, that can only mean one thing: the July internationals! This year Eddie Jones‘ crew, with old faces and new, will welcome the Barbarians to Twickenham before jumping on a plane to Australia for a three-game series. Among the new is Arundell, the London Irish full-back who has been the talk of the town ever since his outrageous late try versus Toulon. Among the growing Arundell fan club is former England stalwart Mike Brown, who reckons the 19-year-old has a chance to be one of the best in the world. Back-row Alfie Barbeary and Premiership final star wing Louis Lynagh are another couple of uncapped players to keep an eye out for in camp and in the coming weeks. The remainder of the rookie intake are Jack van Poortvliet, Will Joseph (brother of Jonathan), George McGuigan, Tom Pearson, Orlando Bailey, Fraser Dingwall and Tommy Freeman.

Worcester claim the Premiership Rugby Cup: Full credit to Steve Diamond’s men who won their first top-tier trophy with an extra-time victory over London Irish in midweek. The match finished 25-25 following the end of the 100 minutes but they claimed the win having outscored the Exiles three tries to one. Irish, playing at home in front of a passionate crowd, were the favourites, but the Warriors battled throughout and never gave up. In extra-time, they defended superbly and deservedly came away with a historic triumph.

COLD AS ICE!

Gloucester’s second half collapse: The play-offs were within touching distance but now it looks unlikely after they gave away a dominant lead to lose 28-24 against Harlequins. The Cherry and Whites were excellent in the opening period, going 24-7 ahead, but they failed to reproduce that in the second period. Granted, the Londoners were much better but ultimately the West Country outfit made too many errors. They didn’t handle the pressure of the situation at all well and will have to hope for a minor miracle in two weeks’ time to make the top-four. Northampton Saints, who are two points ahead of Gloucester in the table, take on strugglers Newcastle Falcons at Franklin’s Gardens while George Skivington’s men have the daunting task of facing Saracens.

A frustrating season for Munster continues: The Limerick outfit had the fortune of seeing Leinster name a much-weakened side but they could not take advantage and put in a poor display to succumb to their rivals at the Aviva Stadium. We rightly praised the brilliant Dubliners but equally you have to question Munster, who have not made progress during Johann van Graan’s tenure. As a result of the defeat, they missed out on a home quarter-final and have to face Ulster in the URC last-eight. It’s probably better than having to go to South Africa with the travel factor, but the Ulstermen will certainly fancy their chances in the knockout stages.

Abysmal Cardiff: There’s no hiding place for Cardiff after that shocking showing against Benetton. Director of rugby Dai Young said afterwards to S4C they had nothing in the tank both physically and mentally and it is difficult to argue with that, with Cardiff’s defensive shape all over the place as the game wore on. They fell off tackles and looked like they wanted to be anywhere but on the rugby field and boy did Benetton make them pay. There will be plenty of soul searching after that effort.

Dragons’ Rodney Parade woes: Their issues have been noted in this section on several occasions but they ‘deserve’ another mention following their 21-11 defeat to the Lions. The result meant they went through the whole season without winning a match at home in either the United Rugby Championship or Challenge Cup. The Dragons did claim two victories on the road in 2021/22, impressively at Connacht and the Scarlets, but it was ultimately depressing viewing for their loyal supporters.

Paddy Jackson gets the yips: To the chagrin of no one other than London Irish supporters, Jackson quite frankly bottled it in the Exiles’ Premiership Rugby Cup final against Worcester, with the former Ireland international missing four penalties in a row to help Worcester to the title. It has been a consistent theme throughout the campaign for the 30-year-old, with the Exiles fly-half often failing to nail important kicks in the latter stages.

England Sevens’ two-minute try: There was huge controversy in the Sevens on Saturday where England broke away, went up to the try-line and looked set to score. However, with time elapsing and both them and Argentina both going through at that point, they waited for almost two minutes to touch it down. The Pumas were quite happy to wait for them to do it, knowing full well they had qualified as it stood, but questions were raised over whether it was in the spirit of the game. Many argued no laws were broken but Nigel Owens stated otherwise and that perhaps the referee handled it poorly. You would assume that there will either be a law change or some clarity provided to the officials in future instances.

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