Aviva Premiership Semi-Finals: Exeter v Saracens Preview

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The Exeter Chiefs and Saracens lock horns in the first of Saturday’s two Aviva Premiership semi-finals. 

Saracens will be in buyoant mood when they make the trip to Exeter having retained their European Champions Cup crown after a clinical performance saw off their past French juggernauts, Clermont. They will now look to take one step closer to successive doubles but face a tricky hurdle in the form of a strong Exeter Chiefs outfit. The hosts for Saturday’s semi have been on a terrific run of form which has seen them win their last eight domestic games.

These two sides actually met in last year’s Aviva Premiership final which saw Saracens run out 28-20 victors. Will the Wolf Pack break Exeter hearts for the second successive year or will Exeter exact revenge over their opponents?


Exeter Chiefs v Saracens | Saturday 20 May | Sandy Park | 15:30

To Win (80 Mins)
Exeter 17/10 | Draw 18/1 | Saracens 5/10

Exeter 
Like I alluded to in the introduction, the Chiefs ended the round robin phase of the Aviva Premiership like a house on fire. They have actually been in immaculate touch since late last year with their last defeat coming way back in October.

The 2016/17 season hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the Chiefs, with the men from the south-west of England losing three of their opening five fixtures. Granted, they did get some of their tougher fixtures out the way in the opening three rounds – they met both Wasps and Saracens in the first two weeks - but it is still rather remarkable that they managed to finish in second place, with only points difference denying them top spot.

Key to Exeter’s solid showing this term has been the remarkable form of winger James Short. The England international has already scored 11 tries and will pose a major threat to Saracens’ back division this Saturday.

While the likes of Short and his fellow backs will play pivotal roles here, the Exeter tight five are going to need to put in a big performance if the Chiefs are to advance to the grand final. If Exeter can shut down Saracens at set piece time, then they may be able to put pivot Owen Farrell under pressure. And while Farrell has shown he’s a man for the big occasion – he underlined this last week with an extremely composed display against Clermont – the fly-half has generally had the luxury of playing behind a forward pack that is on the front foot.

While it sounds simple enough – shut Saracens down at the set piece and you effectively kill off the quick ball to Farrell – it’s going to take a hell of a shift from the Exeter fatties if it is to succeed.



Saracens
As I said last week, Saracens are by far and away the strongest squad in Europe. The Wolf Pack were at their clinical best during last week’s Champions Cup final as they out muscled, out thought and outlasted their French opponents. While Clermont’s attack-minded style of play did test the Saracens defensive line, the Wolf Pack held firm for the majority of the match despite their opponent’s launching multiple waves of attack.

The North Londoners will face a completely different beast this week, however, as Exeter’s style of play is less ‘razzle dazzle’ and more ‘in your face’. It will be interesting to see how Saracens go against a team who play a very similar brand of rugby to their own after facing a polar opposite style a week prior.

I may be starting to sound like a broken record but I can’t help but emphasise how important Owen Farrell will be to Saracens cause again. The man is an absolute metronome with the boot, landing kicks at goal from all parts. While his goal kicking exploits will be vital to the ‘Sarries cause, it’s his ability to dictate play that will be so crucial this weekend. If he’s afforded time and space by the Exeter loosies and his opposite number, then he’s likely to fire Saracens into their second consecutive Aviva Premiership final.

The Stats That Mater
These two sides met in last year’s final which saw Saracens run out 28-20 victors. The two round robin phase meetings between the sides saw Saracens win at Sandy Park by 13-34, while the reverse tie ended in a 13-13 draw. The two sides have met on 13 occasions since the turn of the decade with Saracens winning seven of the ties.

Whilst he is unlikely to start this weekend, Saracens utility back Alex Lozowski is the third highest points scorer in this year’s Premiership, while Exeter’s number eight Thomas Waldrom tops the most carries chart with 312.

Verdict: Saracens 5/10
It will be tight, it will be tense and we’re likely to see a punch-up or two but my money is on the visitors winning this arm wrestle.

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets.net!

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