Tigers and Saints eye Premiership glory
May 24, 2013
Who will get their hands on the Aviva Premiership silverware? © Getty Images
Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints will go head-to-head for the Aviva Premiership crown at Twickenham on Saturday.
The Tigers will be on familiar territory having appeared in the last eight finals but have only won three of those clashes. But they will still enter this game as favourites to claim a record 10th title having lost just one Premiership match since February - a run that culminated with a power-packed display to despatch defending champions Harlequins in the semi-finals.
In contrast, their East Midlands rivals Northampton will be gracing the final for the first time and be hoping to clinch the English crown for the first time in their history. The odds appear stacked against them having lost their last seven games against the Tigers including a 36-8 mauling on home soil a couple of months ago and last season's Anglo-Welsh Cup final. The history books also show no side ranked lower than second at the end of the regular has ever won the Premiership final - Saints finished fourth.
But Northampton showed in the semi-finals that they can deliver big match performances when required with a fired-up Saints side accounting for Saracens. That game showcased the talent at Northampton's disposal with the brute force of No.8 Samu Manoa and lock Courtney Lawes at the heart of a formbook-shredding defensive masterclass but Leicester are not short of game-changers themselves with six Tigers set for British & Irish Lions duty.
Emotion may also play its part in proceedings with the game set to be the last for many. Leicester coach Matt O'Connor will take charge of Leinster next season while club captain Geordan Murphy is also set to retire but there is no room for sentiment with the veteran set to be left on the sidelines for the game. Northampton will also bid farewell to prop Soane Tonga'uiha and Brian Mujati following this game with both hoping to end on a high note.
Leicester Tigers - Player to Watch: Flanker Tom Croft delivered a superb showing in his side's semi-final victory over Quins including a try-saving tackle and an outstanding try - can he repeat his heroics and cap a remarkable comeback from career-threatening neck injury?
Leicester Tigers - Team News: Toby Flood will lead a Leicester side showing one from the matchday squad that saw off the challenge of Harlequins in the semi-finals with Ed Slater coming onto the replacements' bench in place of Thomas Waldrom. The in-form Mathew Tait lines up at fullback with Niall Morris and Vereniki Goneva named on the wings. Manu Tuilagi and Anthony Allen form the midfield partnership with Toby Flood at fly-half and Ben Youngs at scrum-half. Logovi'i Mulipola starts at loose-head with hooker Tom Youngs and tight-head Dan Cole completing the front row. Graham Kitchener and Geoff Parling pack down in the second row with Tom Croft, Julian Salvi and Jordan Crane in the back row. Departing prop Martin Castrogiovanni and fly-half George Ford are among the replacements.
Northampton Saints - Player to Watch: Fly-half Stephen Myler silenced his doubters with an eye-catching all-round display to steer Saints past Saracens in the final four. Leicester are set to test his new-found confidence but can the playmaker stand up to the challenge?
Northampton Saints - Team News: The Northampton squad shows two changes to that which lined up against Saracens with Phil Dowson promoted to the starting line-up at blindside in the place of the injured Calum Clark. Ben Nutley comes onto the bench as a result with George Pisi also named among the replacements with Tom May making way. Ben Foden starts at fullback with Ken Pisi and Jamie Elliot named on the wings. Luther Burrell and James Wilson start at centre with Stephen Myler and Lee Dickson continuing at fly-half and scrum-half respectively. Soane Tonga'uiha and Brian Mujati pack down either side of hooker Dylan Hartley with Courtney Lawes and Christian Day at lock. Tom Wood and Samu Manoa complete the back row alongside Dowson.
Key Battle: Northampton took apart Saracens' No.1 ranked lineout in the semi-finals and will now have their eyes on the Tigers' set-piece. An epic and potentially match-deciding showdown awaits with Leicester's Geoff Parling and Northampton's Christian Day set to be central figures.
Trivia: This is only the second Premiership final not to feature the number one seeds, Saracens having been eliminated last week by the Saints in the semi-finals just like Gloucester were in 2007-08.
Stats: This is Northampton's sixth visit to Twickenham where their only two victories were over Munster in the 2000 Heineken Cup final and against Exeter in the EDF Energy Trophy final in 2008.
Betting: Leicester are favourites to clinch the title with Bet365 but if you fancy Northampton to stun their rivals with the opening try they are offering a price of 7/1. Or if you fancy Saints to lead at the break and the Tigers to stage a second half comeback Bet365 will pay 6/1.
"We've just got to focus on the game. We'll worry about the sentiment about guys leaving afterwards, good or bad."
"We've got it all to do, but on our day we can win the game."
Prediction: Expect a brutal battle across the field and Leicester to eventually wear down their fierce rivals and claim the Premiership spoils.
Will Leicester's Toby Flood or Northampton's Dylan Hartley lift the Premiership trophy? © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
As Ray McLoughlin prepares to celebrate his 75th birthday, Huw Richards pays tribute to the man and the selectors who had the wisdom to bring him into the Ireland fold
John Taylor argues the world's best XVs players must be given a chance to play in the Olympics to increase the appeal of the game
The All Blacks' form is not a peaking issue, but Hansen must threaten to wield his axe, to demand improvement, Craig Dowd writes
"It has been the World Cup that smashed down the gender barriers of the sport." Tom Hamilton looks back at a remarkable tournament