East Midlands pride at stake in final
March 16, 2012
All eyes will be on young gun George Ford after his impressive semi-final showing © Getty Images
The Leicester Tigers and the Northampton Saints go head-to-head on Sunday in the Anglo-Welsh Cup final.
The two sides are well familiarised with each other after battling for East Midlands supremacy for decades. The recent encounters between the pair have been full of passion and incident with England flyer Chris Ashton at the forefront on both occasions. Ashton will be on international duty at the weekend but while the game will be void of a host of stars on both sides, one expects the passion will still reach fever pitch in the age old rivalry.
Leicester have fared well in this competition in the past with their most recent triumph coming in 2007. And despite their slow start to this year's campaign - where they lost 31-3 to the Scarlets - they have put together four straight wins and knocked out Bath last Friday at the Recreation Ground despite fielding a largely second-string side.
But in their way lie the Saints. Jim Mallinder's side triumphed in the competition back in 2010 - at Sixways - when they overcame Gloucester 30-24. But in terms of Premiership form, they have been forced to cower in their East Midland rivals' shadow and will be looking to obtain supremacy come Saturday. Similar to the Tigers, the Saints suffered a heavy defeat in the group stage of the competition but bounced back with a commanding win over the Scarlets last Sunday.
Leicester Tigers - Player to Watch: All eyes will be on youngster George Ford after he helped guide his side to glory in the semi-final over Bath. After turning 19 on Friday, Ford still has years ahead of him in the game but he will look to pick up some silverware against their rivals come Sunday.
Leicester Tigers - Team News: Geordan Murphy captains the side at fullback with Horacio Agulla and Scott Hamilton on the wings. Matt Smith and Billy Twelvetrees start in the centres with Ford and James Grindal at half-back. Thomas Waldrom anchors the side at No.8 with Craig Newby and Steve Mafi flanking him. Graham Kitchener and George Skivington get the nod in the second-row while Logoviii Mulipola, Rob Hawkins and Boris Stankovich form the front-row. England fly-half Toby Flood will have to make do with a spot on the bench.
Northampton Saints - Player to Watch: Tom Wood starts in the back-row for the Saints and will be going all out to remind the England selectors that there is one other openside in the reckoning other than Chris Robshaw. Wood has endured an injury-ravaged season but will hope to cement his return to the first-team with some silverware.
Northampton Saints - Team News: Paul Diggin retains the fullback spot with Vasily Artemyev and Scott Armstrong on the wing. George Pisi and James Downey get the nod in the centres with Stephen Myler preferred to Ryan Lamb at fly-half where he partners Martin Roberts. Soane Tonga'uiha starts at loose-head with Andy Long and Paul Doran-Jones completing the front-row. James Craig and Christian Day form the second-row while Calum Clark, Wood and Roger Wilson start in the back-row.
Key Battle: Tonga'uiha will face up against Mulipola in the front-row in what promises to be a titanic battle. Mulipola has shone for the Tigers while Dan Cole has been on England duty and Tonga'uiha will look to show the Samoan a thing or two when they come head-to-head at the coal face.
Trivia: Leicester have only two players in their squad from the side which took the 2007 Anglo-Welsh title - skipper Geordan Murphy and replacement Julian White.
Stats: Sunday's meeting is the first time the two sides have come face-to-face in a final.
"The pressure to beat your local rivals is big. Those bragging rights are important. This will be the first time we have met in a final but our record against them in semi-finals is pretty good. Let's hope that continues" - Tigers coach Richard Cockerill is looking for his side to keep their run of form going against their rivals.
"Nobody wants to get to a final and lose - it makes for a depressing trip home. You want to get there and win, and that's what we've been focusing on all week" - Jim Mallinder is hopeful that his side can enjoy their coach trip back to Northampton.
Prediction: Leicester will retain the East Midlands' bragging rights with a narrow win over Northampton
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