The Amazon Prime two-parter is out now with the focus on last season's semi-finalists
Sadly the 2022-23 Premiership Rugby season will only ever be remembered for one thing. The loss of three top-flight clubs in the shape of Worcester, Wasps and London Irish in the space of eight months was a crippling blow that many competitions may never have recovered from. However, after watching the new Premiership Rugby documentary, Mud, Sweat and Tears, out now on Amazon Prime, there is reason to be optimistic ahead of the start of the new season this weekend.
While it’s not totally glossed over, understandably, this two-part series wants to shine a light on the on-field exploits and characters behind the scenes of last year’s semi-finalists rather than engage with the three elephants no longer in the room.
And it is successful in doing so. An enjoyable, well put-together film gives you a nice insight into the inner workings of Northampton Saints, Saracens, Sale Sharks and to a far lesser extent Leicester Tigers.
In particular, you get a real feel for Saints. Lewis Ludlam’s rallying cries are so fierce that they leave you ready to jump off the sofa and lace up the boots to stand beside the England flanker.
His director of rugby Phil Dowson, is another figure who comes out of the shadows. The former back-row seems to have seamlessly moved upstairs after a very good playing career and at just 42 has plenty of time to build something special at Saints after taking over from Chris Boyd.
But the real star of the show and perhaps England’s future answer at No 10 is Smith. No, not Marcus but Fin. The 21-year-old fly-half explains how the demise of Worcester Warriors brought him to Franklin’s Gardens.
He maturely admits he had it way easier than team-mates with mortgages and families. What he is too modest to mention is that his precocious talent always meant he would be snapped up instantly, while others were forced to battle for contracts in a saturated market.
Nonetheless, there’s something very likeable about Smith who is seen joking with everyone from the kitman to his senior academy housemates. He’s even tasked with the impossible job of trying to break down how rugby union works to those uninitiated to the game, but takes to that well in the informative section of the Premiership Rugby documentary. Props to him.
Premiership Rugby documentary – Saracens
Of course, Saints never recover from giving Saracens a substantial first-half advantage in the semi-final at the StoneX. We see Smith and Ludlam struggle to come to terms with the result after the game, the emotion is raw and the perspective is eye-opening, especially through the view of Ludlam’s dad Arron who lives and breathes every second. It’s great insight into the challenges of being a Premiership parent.
For Sarries, Ben Earl’s development from schoolboy-phenomenon to Premiership winner is charted with a series of interviews. Elliot Daly brings some charisma to proceedings as he battles back from hamstring surgery to feature off the bench in the final.
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But it’s most pleasing to see a non-international in Jackson Wray feature so heavily. The one-club man is a dying breed and although Sale DoR Sanderson is at pains to point out that fairytales don’t come true after his side lose a closely-fought final, perhaps he’s wrong when it comes to Wray, who retired at the pinnacle of the English game in a blaze of glory.
Leicester are the least-covered side, presumably because Richard Wigglesworth was known to be on his way to England so content would not help to sell this season. But that’s fine as we’ve had plenty of Leicester focus since Freddie Burns slotted that drop-goal and Steve Borthwick took his whole coaching team to the international arena, something that does get a sly mention from CEO Andrea Pinchen.
If you hadn’t already realised that “northern rugby matters” then the message is hammered home when the cameras go behind the scenes at Sale Sharks. Sanderson’s revelation that he is 96% northern is a weird flex but you get the point.
Undoubtedly, the best story is the rise of Gus Warr from mascot and academy prospect to Premiership final starter.
Hearing him recall being at the final as a fan and joking to his mates that they’d be watching him next year, only for it to come true is a feel-good and slightly surreal conversation to be privy to.
Premiership Rugby documentary – Gus Warr
We get to see the youngster’s well-rounded personality in all its different guises as he explains that he will be “sh***ing himself” for his first game at Twickenham while we also see him confidently take over the mic at an end-of-season bash.
Perhaps Warr and Smith are the future half-back duo that England need. That would be nice.
It’s tough to keep your emotions in check hearing about Sanderson’s family struggles leading up to the final but it’s a good dose of real-world reality from outside the rugby bubble. And he has the final word, saying: “It’s only just begun. We’ll be here again so they better get used to it.”
Just like Sale who came so close but fell just short of lifting the trophy, this documentary leaves you wanting more. More than a fleeting glimpse of Saracens mastermind Mark McCall, a man of few words at the best of times. More characters we otherwise don’t get to see. Coach drivers, chefs, the lot. More teams, too – which might be more realistic now we are down to ten…
Not for one minute should we forget the dire straits the game is in. But this documentary is something to be optimistic about. The good news is if this goes down well, which it should, it’s believed there is potential for a longer series covering the new 2023-24 season. Get the cameras rolling.
Mud, Sweat and Tears: Premiership Rugby is released worldwide on Prime Video on Thursday, October 12