|Saracens and Leicester will battle it out for a place in the 2015/2016 Aviva Premiership final.|
Saracens v Leicester Tigers | Saturday 21 May | Allianz Park | 13:30
The European rugby season has reached its business end. We were treated to a cracker of a European Rugby Champions Cup final last week which saw Saracens beat Racing Metro 21-9. The men from England’s capital will be looking to add to that impressive victory, and the euphoria surrounding their North London base when they square off against Leicester this Saturday.
Can Saracens edge closer to a European and English double or will the Tigers spoil the party?
To Win (80 Mins)
Saracens 3/10 | Draw 21/10 | Leicester 28/10
Hindsight is a beautiful thing, is it not?. When the European season first got underway I had said to a mate of mine that it may not be the worst idea to back Saries to claim the double - win both the Aviva Premiership and the European Champions Cup. They’re were priced up at about 25/1 (It could have actually been more) and I was really tempted to lay a decent stake on them achieving this. Stupidly, though, I listened to my friends forewarning about how the European Champions Cup, and its predecessor the Heineken Cup, had been dominated by the mega-rich French clubs in recent times.
Now with Saracens having already claimed European honours, I’m left to contemplate the ‘what ifs’ and could have beens. Nevertheless, Saracens have provided us with some fantastic entertainment value this season and rightly deserve their European crown as well as their domestic semi-final berth.
While there’s never an easy game when it comes to the semi-final stage of a rugby tournament, everyone involved in the Saracens set up must have been ecstatic to have drawn Leicester in the semi-finals rather than Wasps or Exeter. While The Tigers did beat Saries 21-13 in back in March, it must be remembered that the ‘Wolf Pack’ were missing their English stalwarts who were on six Nations duty. When Saracens had their full squad available back in early January they cantered to a 26-6 victory over the Tigers.
In terms of how Saries approach this one, I reckon we’ll see the same tactics that they used against Racing last week; they’ll look to dominate the set piece and breakdown, get their burly ball carriers involved with short passing from the deck and delicate inside balls off the flyhalves shoulder, and then spread the ball when it’s on. They have the personnel to implement these tactics as the Vunipoala brothers are two of the most devastating carriers in Europe, while pivot Owen Farrell’s decision-making and ability to get his ball carriers into the game are well noted.
It will be interesting to see if Mark McCall makes any changes to his run-on fifteen. The Saracens mentor produced a bit of a shock selection call last week by fielding Schalk Britz at hooker instead of Jamie George. The decision reaped dividends however, as Britz put in a typically energetic performance that helped his side see off Racing.
Another surprise last week was the absence of Argentine international Marcelo Bosch from the starting XV. The hard running outside centre was left on the bench with Duncan Taylor getting the start. While I can see Britz retaining his starting berth, I think we may see Bosch return to the starting backline as his defensive capabilities could prove vital against Leicester’s talismanic centre Manu Tuilagi.
It has been a rather bizarre season for the men from Leicester. Not only have their underachieving football counterparts managed to claim a Premier League title and oust the rugby boys out of their best sporting side in the city accolade but they’ve also struggled to show up in certain games.
Having gotten their domestic campaign off to a bit of a flyer – they won their opening three games quite comfortably – many Leicester fans were expecting the Tigers to mount a real surge for the title. A mid-season blip put heed to those lofty expectations. Luckily for the Tigers though, the Northampton Saints, who were their biggest rivals for the final semi-final berth, slipped up royally and finished five points behind Leicester.
The Tigers face a massive challenge this weekend as Saries are in red hot form. While rugby is a team sport, the Tigers will need their individuals to shine if they are to win this one. Manu Tuilagi will be crucial to their prospects. The burly centre’s abrasive style may well suck in some of the Saracens outside backs and leave room for the likes of Peter Betham and Vereniki Goneva to exploit.
In terms of team news, Aaron Mauger had the luxury of resting the majority of their stalwarts so has a relatively fit squad to choose from.
Verdict: Saracens 3/10
Saracens have been immaculate this season and I really can’t see them finishing the season off without an Aviva Premiership trophy. Back the hosts to get the business done at 3/10.