Tigers out to maul champions
May 11, 2012
Sarries boss Mark McCall looks to create history at Welford Road%]
Reigning champions Saracens travel to Leicester on Saturday with both sides looking to book their place in a third successive Aviva Premiership final.
The Tigers started the season in dreadful form with a host of their stars playing in the World Cup. But with the return of players such as Martin Castrogiovanni, Marcos Ayerza and the England contingent, their season resembled the snarling beast we know so well from Welford Road and they powered their way into the top four of the Premiership.
In contrast, Saracens have been at their ruthlessly efficient best throughout the 22-game season with the boots of Owen Farrell and Charlie Hodgson kicking them into the play-offs. The Tigers, however, will have revenge on their mind as the last time the two came head-to-head at Welford Road, Saracens mullered Leicester with a 50-25 win.
The Tigers saved some face with a 20-19 triumph back in February with Geordan Murphy's late drop-goal enough to separate the two sides. But as both sides know so well, when it comes to the semi-final stage of the season, anything can happen and with both the Tigers' Richard Cockerill and Saracens' Mark McCall lifting the Premiership trophy in the past two seasons, the pair will be fully aware of what is expected from their sides on Saturday.
Leicester Tigers - Player to Watch: Toby Flood starts at fly-half despite concerns over his fitness. He will have his eyes set on the England half-back spot and what better way to show his credentials than against Charlie Hodgson.
Leicester Tigers - Team News: Flood is passed fit and starts at half-back alongside Ben Youngs. Geordan Murphy skippers the team from fullback with Horacio Agulla and Alesana Tuilagi getting the nod on the wings. Manu Tuilagi is alongside Anthony Allen in the centres. Marcus Ayerza starts at loose-head with George Chuter and Dan Cole alongside him. George Skivington and Geoff Parling are handed the shirts in the second-row with Steve Mafi, Julian Salvi and Thomas Waldrom forming the back-row.
Saracens - Player to Watch: David Strettle gets the nod on the wing but with various figures in the media labelling him a 'defensive winger', he will want to show that he has the ability to cross the tryline as well.
Saracens - Team News: Alex Goode starts at fullback with Strettle and Chris Wyles alongside him. England duo Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt link up in the centres with Charlie Hodgson and Neil de Kock at half-back. Rhys Gill gets the nod at loosehead with Schalk Brits and Matt Stevens also in the front-row. Steve Borthwick starts alongside Mouritz Botha in the second-row while Jackson Wray, Will Fraser and Ernest Joubert are the back-row.
Key Battle: The battle of the back-row promises to be fascinating. Sarries have been hit hard in that department this season through injury while Harlequins' has been settled.
Trivia: Saracens have won on their last three visits to Welford Road - the best run of success at the venue by an English club side since Harlequins won five games in a row there between 1973-78.
Stats: Leicester Tigers are on a run of 10 successive victories in all competitions and have not lost at Welford Road since Harlequins were the visitors on 8 October.
"It will be tough, and close. They generally are, apart from when we played at the start of the season. They have got a good record here. In fact, I can't remember the last time they lost. We will have to be right on it, especially after they put 40 points on Exeter last weekend." - Tigers boss Richard Cockerill ahead of their match with Saracens
"Leicester have a phenomenal semi final record but we have had some excellent performances in recent weeks with wins against London Irish, Newcastle Falcons and Exeter Chiefs so we are really looking forward to the match" - Sarries boss Mark McCall is in bullish form
Prediction: Leicester will have just too much about them for Saracens with the Tigers doing enough to tee up a final with Harlequins
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter