WILLIAM CHRIMES PREVIEWS THE AVIVA PREMIERSHIP FINAL AND BILL ESDAILE GIVES US HIS RACING TIPS FOR THE WEEKEND
TWICKENHAM provides the backdrop to the 2014 Aviva Premiership final where Saracens take on Northampton Saints for the first time tomorrow. The London-based club are bidding for a second title in four years, whereas Saints are aiming for their first ever Premiership crown.
Saints fell at the final hurdle last year when losing 37-17 to perennial champions Leicester Tigers in controversial fashion when captain Dylan Hartley was sent off before the break. En route to that final, Saints ran out impressive 27-13 winners over tomorrow’s opponents.
And after last year’s heartbreak, Northampton gained revenge over the Tigers in the previous round with a one-point victory to set up this mouth-watering clash.
Mark McCall’s men, meanwhile, reached the showpiece in emphatic style following a 31-17 triumph over Harlequins.
Judging by the teams’ meetings in the regular season this is going to be a tight affair. Back in October, Northampton laid down a marker with a 41-20 win over Saracens, which was their heaviest loss all year.
But that didn’t stop them turning the tables in the reverse fixture as Saracens edged a thrilling contest 28-24 at Allianz Park.
Sporting Index’s rugby traders currently have Saracens as favourites on the supremacy spread, which is pitched at 2 - 4 in their favour.
Both sides were in European action last week with Sarries returning from Cardiff with their tails between their legs on the back of a convincing 23-6 result at the hands of Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon in the Heineken Cup final.
Sarries pushed hard during the opening exchanges before the French side’s raw power and sublime kicking carried them through, and that gruelling contest took a lot from the players.
McCall is anxiously awaiting news on the fitness of Owen Farrell and Mako Vunipola. Farrell’s unerring kicking has played a huge part in Saracens’ campaign, and all eyes are on whether he can shake off his ankle problem. Vunipola left Cardiff on crutches to suggest he could be out for an extended period.
Northampton have no such worries and travel to south west London with the Amlin Challenge Cup trophy safely secured. Saints’ 30-16 win over Bath last Friday not only brought home the silverware, but ended a run of four successive final defeats to shake off that unwanted reputation at the perfect time.
Farrell’s opposite number, Stephen Myler, is fully fit and has been incredibly influential for Saints as his 20 points against Bath indicates. Myler has been in fine form during the season, recording an impressive 83 per cent strike rate, and his boot will be key in deciding this contest.
Farrell and Myler have been the top two fly-halves this season and their battle promises to be a fascinating one. England’s No10 has more experience at Twickenham, but he’ll be hurting after being upstaged and outplayed by Wilkinson at the Millennium Stadium last weekend.
Both sides have powerful packs and strong kicking games to support any gains made. However, with Mako Vunipola missing on the loosehead side it means that Saints’ scrum-half Lee Dickson can provide his backs with a better platform to flex their muscles.
In the centres, Saints are packed with power and skill to give them the edge in that department. With the likes of George North and Ben Foden out wide, the East Midlands outfit can rip any side apart when given space, and I am keen to sell Saracens supremacy at 2 with Sporting Index.
North has racked up seven tries from his debut season in England and has had plenty of support from his team-mates. Jamie Elliott, Samu Manoa and James Wilson have each chipped in with six tries apiece to show that Saints carry a threat all across the pitch.
I’d also recommend a small sell of total points at 44 as there’s been an average of 36 points across the past five meetings between these sides.
Sell Saracens supremacy at 4 with Sporting Index
Sell total points at 44 with Sporting Index
William Chrimes, Bill Esdaile