Ollie Phillips: Why Saracens and not Premiership leaders Wasps can afford to lose this weekend's heavyweight tussle

 
Ollie Phillips
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Munster Rugby v Saracens - European Rugby Champions Cup
Farrell's Saracens could win a second successive European and domestic double (Source: Getty)

Saturday's heavyweight Premiership showdown at the Ricoh Arena is an important precursor to what might happen in the play-offs for Wasps, but not for Sararcens.

The winners will guarantee themselves a home semi-final, while the losers may have to wait on second-placed Exeter’s result against Gloucester to see if they will host in those play-offs.

Leaders Wasps simply need a win to get some confidence back in their team and in their style of play. They may have only lost once in six Premiership matches but they don’t look sharp and are not playing with the same swagger as in the early to mid part of the season.

Sarries don’t need the win. They are playing so well and know exactly how to turn up the heat for the big occasion. They have been there and done it several times now. They know how to time a run, when to turn it on and when to coast.

Wasps, conversely, don’t and look the victims of seasonal fatigue. It’s all about timing and Dai Young’s side simply aren’t as street-smart as Sarries when it comes to title challenges and the biggest of games.

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall is making a clever decision with opting to rest some key players and it makes clear that the Allianz Park club have bigger fish to fry with the play-offs coming and next weekend’s European Champions Cup final against Clermont Auvergne at Murrayfield.

McCall is more or less saying ‘this is a nothing game for us, we’ve already qualified and we’re confident enough that we can win anywhere, home or away’. I think that’s right. While a home semi would make things a hell of a lot easier, Saracens can succeed wherever.

The biggest tussle of the weekend, however, is between Northampton and Harlequins. What a humdinger of an encounter with regards to automatic qualification for next season’s Champions Cup.

Quins will take huge confidence from last Friday’s crucial victory over Wasps, but that was at The Stoop. Going to Franklin’s Gardens and turning over Saints would be a huge feather in their cap.

On a practical level, I feel Northampton should take the honours, but from a romantic perspective Quins do have the ability to produce a one-off performance. It’s a tough call. I certainly wouldn’t like to put any money on the outcome but I can see Quins springing a surprise.

Quins will want to send retiring duo Nick Evans and scrum-half Karl Dickson off with a bang. It’s one of those occasions where you feel it could be written in the stars that the south-west London club prevail.

The nominations for the Rugby Players’ Association player of the year were announced this week with British and Irish Lions duo Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly, Christian Wade, Jimmy Gopperth and Louis Picamoles all shortlisted.

I believe it will be a straight shootout between Farrell and Daly. Farrell has just been outstanding for Saracens and England. Everything about his game is practically perfect: solid in defence, his distribution behind the scrum is brilliant and his place-kicking out of this world.

Daly had been a strong club performer and on the fringes of the England set-up for a while. He’s stepped it up a notch and is now a regular and influential player for Eddie Jones. Ultimately, though, I believe Farrell should and will win.

Ollie Phillips is a former England Sevens captain and now a director at PwC, focusing on organisational, cultural and technological change.@OlliePhillips11

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