Aviva Premiership Play-Offs: Semi-Final Previews

Aviva Premiership Round 22 Preview

In anticipation of this season’s Aviva Premiership semi-finals, Shaun Goosen previews the May 19 clashes between Saracens and London Wasps at Allianz Park and the Exeter Chiefs and Newcastle Falcons clash at Sandy Park.

Saracens v London Wasps
Allianz Park
19 May 13h30

To Win (80 mins) 
Saracens 1/6
Draw 25/1
London Wasps 7/4

Well, it certainly hasn’t been the most memorable of campaigns for Saracens. The reigning two-time Champions Cup winners were knocked out by eventual champions Leinster at the quarterfinal phase, having finished with the lowest amount of points (18) of all eight playoff contenders. The fact that the highest-ranked Leinster ended the pool stage nine-points ahead of the Londoners tells the story of a side that has battled to find its mojo this season.

In addition to that, the knowledge that Exeter topped the domestic standings with 85-points, effectively cementing their status as the greatest club in the land, and one begins to understand the gravity of the situation. Saracens want to be regarded as the greatest club rugby side on the planet, they have made this much clear these past few seasons. With that in mind, it would be a pretty sizable understatement to suggest that Exeter’s latest dominance doesn’t sit well with Sarries.

And yet, it is their fellow London rivals who will beat them in this weekend’s semi-final showdown. Wasps finished six-points adrift of Sarries in third, but have the luxury of calling on a plethora of international superstars, all of whom are in fine fettle. Aside from the ever-present Elliot Daly and the mercurial Willie le Roux, Danny Cipriani has been simply sensational this season.

His form has been such that Johan Ackerman recently persuaded him to sign for Gloucester, but the 30-year-old flyhalf will want to bow out of the black and yellow jersey with another Premiership title to go with his 2008 triumph. He has been rewarded by Eddie Jones with a call-up to England’s squad for the June International window and one wouldn’t bet against that extra bit of motivation serving to add further fuel to Wasps’ cause.

The previous encounters between the two sides this season both went the way of Saracens, but Wasps will feel they owe it to themselves to take this tie.

Verdict: Wasps 17/4
Having finished as runners-up to Exeter in extra time during last year’s final at Twickenham, this after having finished the round robin stages top of the pile, there is no chance that Dai Young’s boys will let another shot at a title go a-begging. At least, not without a fight. Back Wasps to take it by between five and 10-points.

Exeter Chiefs v Newcastle Falcons
Sandy Park
19 May 16h30

To Win (80 mins)
Exeter 1/8
Draw 30/`
Chiefs  52/10 

Meanwhile, defending champions Exeter will be looking to make their third final in succession with a win over surprise package Newcastle in Saturday’s second semi-final. Rob Baxter’s charges rebounded from their 2016 Final loss to Saracens by claiming the title last year and will be confident of making yet another Twickenham appearance next week.

The Chiefs have been fantastic yet again this campaign, with their structured, physical approach steering them to 17-wins and top spot. Another Premiership title triumph may well mark the beginning of an era of unprecedented success for the Devon-based outfit, with their consistency and ability to “win ugly” giving them an awesome platform upon which to build.

In the same breath, it would be erroneous of me not to mention the fact that the club will only truly be regarded as a world-class side once they succeed in Europe. Despite finishing Pool 3 in second-position, their 15 Champions Cup-points was not enough to see them through to this season’s quarterfinal stages. Considering Exeter’s poor history in the tournament, this would have given Baxter and his coaching staff cause for concern.

On the other hand, there is always room for improvement somewhere along the lines and their failings in Europe’s elite rugby competition may serve to spur them on in seasons to come. In any case, the Chiefs will have their eyes firmly focused on outdoing the Falcons this weekend, a side that has taken all and sundry by surprise this year.

Buoyed by a team of “no name brands”, Dean Richards’ Newcastle outfit have punched above their weight throughout the campaign and despite finishing as low as eighth a season ago, they seem to mean real business this time around. Coming up against the Chiefs – a side to whom they have already lost twice in three attempts this season – Newcastle may be slightly underpowered and inexperienced.

Verdict: Exeter 1/8
As much as the neutral will be hoping against hope that an upset transpires this Saturday afternoon, an excellent Exeter will pose far too big a challenge for the Newcastle boys, who should go down by 14-points or more.

Written by Shaun Goosen for @Hollywoodbets.net

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