Gloucester out to halt Sarries' march
May 13, 2011
Saracens' Schalk Brits, Brad Barritt and Alex Goode preview the semi-finals
Saracens are in search of a second Premiership Final appearance in as many seasons, with Gloucester standing in their way at Vicarage Road on Sunday.
The sides met less than a month ago on the same ground, where Sarries ran out comfortable winners thanks to one of the tries of the season by hooker Schalk Brits.
Gloucester secured the spoils at Kingsholm back at the start of the season, pulling through 19-13, and ended the season with a 100% home record. They will need to find the same form on the road if they are to make the big one at Twickenham, although they go into this one with a massive 60-point win over Sale under their belts.
Sarries came within centimetres of finishing top of the pile at the end of the regular season only to be denied by Leicester's comeback against London Irish, with 11 straight victories currently in the bag. Gloucester suffered at the hands of the fixture list on their way to third, but will be toasting a first semi-final appearance since 2007-08.
In its most simple sense it's the league's great pragmatists versus the free-spirits - who will be smiling come the final whistle?
Saracens - Player to Watch: Fly-half Owen Farrell has barely put a foot wrong this season, but his admirable cool will be tested this weekend. Knockout rugby is unforgiving.
Saracens - Team News: Skipper Steve Borthwick, scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth and flanker Kelly Brown all win recalls to the starting line-up, with Andy Saull and Neil de Kock dropping to the bench. Hugh Vyvyan provides second-row cover after recovering from injury.
Gloucester - Player to Watch: Charlie Sharples has been in electric form of late and the winger will hope to see plenty of the ball.
Gloucester - Team News: There are three changes from the side that routed Sale, with Jim Hamilton back in the second-row, Tim Molenaar returning in midfield and Freddie Burns called in at fullback.
Key Battle: Saracens are an extremely patient side and love to build pressure through phase play before winning a penalty. Gloucester must hold their nerve and avoid giving away territory and points with penalties.
Trivia: In the only previous meeting between the sides in a semi-final, Gloucester raced to a 50-9 victory at Kingsholm in 2007.
Stats: Gloucester have lost only one of their last seven semi-finals in all competitions.
"Gloucester are a very good side but the result of the game at Vicarage Road last month is irrelevant. We know that we will be facing a very different opponent, but it's a challenge we are looking forward to and we can't wait to get out on the pitch." - Sarries director of rugby Mark McCall.
"Maybe we focused too much on them the last time we played them but we're in control of the way we play. We respect them fully and understand what they do in attack and defence but, ultimately, we need to focus on ourselves." - Gloucester scrum-half Rory Lawson
Prediction: Sarries are on a big winning run and while Gloucester boast good form themselves, the hosts look to have the edge.
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