Quins and Tigers chase domestic glory
May 25, 2012
Quins boss Conor O'Shea predicts an attacking final%]
The Aviva Premiership's best two sides Harlequins and Leicester Tigers will go head-to-head for England's biggest domestic prize at Twickenham on Saturday.
While it is Leicester's eighth consecutive Premiership final, for Harlequins it is their first appearance in the winner-takes-all match at English rugby's HQ. Harlequins have shone throughout the season and have led the Premiership table since the early rounds. Leicester, in contrast, struggled in the early part of the campaign - with Richard Cockerill's job reportedly under threat at one stage - only to rally and put together an impressive run of results to that carried them to second place in the final standings.
A win in the final would top off a quite remarkable season for Quins boss Conor O'Shea and his side. England skipper and Aviva Premiership Player of the Year, Chris Robshaw has been at the forefront of everything they have done well this year with Nick Evans - the RPA Players' Player of the Year - pulling the strings masterfully at fly-half. With youthful exuberance at Harlequins' core, they look set to be a force in the league for years to come.
Leicester boast the same spine to the team which took the 2009-10 title and like their title rivals, have a wealth of English talent at their disposal. It will also be the final time for the Tigers supporters to see two of their heroes in Leicester colours. Wingers Horacio Agulla and Alesana Tuilagi will both bid farewell to the club after the final and will hope to sign off on a victorious note.
These two teams also served up arguably the game of the season last month with the Tigers downing Quins in classic 43-33 victory at The Stoop.
With the Heineken Cup final producing an undoubted classic at Twickenham last weekend, all signs are pointing towards a similarly fantastic match in front of the ESPN cameras this Saturday.
Harlequins - Player to Watch: Maurie Fa'asavlau has had a quite brilliant season for Quins and with Leicester lacking an injured Tom Croft from their back-row, Quins might target that as an area of weakness - so expect the blindside to see plenty of ball.
Harlequins - Team News: Quins have made two changes to the side which beat the Saints in the semis with Ugo Monye and Danny Care returning to the starting line-up. Mike Brown gets the fullback reins with Monye and Tom Williams getting the nod on the wings. George Lowe and Jordan Turner Hall start in the centres with Nick Evans and Care at half-back. The front row sees Joe Marler, Joe Gray and James Johnston all start with George Robson and Ollie Kohn in the second-row. The back-row has a familiar look with Chris Robshaw skippering the side at openside, Mo Fa'asavalu at blindside and Nick Easter at No.8.
Leicester Tigers - Player to Watch: In his last outing for the Tigers, Alesana Tuilagi will want to depart with a winner's medal in his pocket. He has been a heroic figure for the Tigers on the wing with a combination of pace and power so expect Tuilagi to do everything he can to leave a sizeable dent in the Quins defence come Saturday.
Leicester Tigers - Team News: George Ford gets the nod at fly-half with England international Toby Flood named on the bench as he continues his recovery from an ankle injury. Geordan Murphy captains the side at fullback with Alesana Tuilagi and Horacio Agulla on the wings. Manu Tuilagi and Anthony Allen form the centre partnership with scrum-half Ben Youngs set to partner Ford. Marcos Ayerza, George Chuter and Dan Cole are the front-row with Geoff Parling and George Skivington in the second-row. Steve Mafi, Julian Salvi and Thomas Waldrom get the nod in the back-row.
Key Battle: Nick Evans is up against George Ford in a battle akin to master and apprentice. Evans has been the Premiership's best fly-half over the past couple of seasons while Ford has the potential to tie down the Tigers' half-back spot with a solid performance in the final - it promises to be a battle of experience against youthful exuberance.
Trivia: The two famous old clubs have been playing each other since 1895, with Leicester winning 107 previous encounters to 71 by Harlequins and 9 games drawn.
Stats: Leicester have won just three of the last eight finals they have contested in all competitions and have won only twice in their last seven visits to Twickenham.
Quote Unquote: "You look at what Leinster and Leicester have achieved over the years and that is what you want to emulate. These are exciting times for the club and that is all I am thinking about." - Harlequins boss Conor O'Shea
"We had a bad start to the season and we want to capitalise on what we have done in the last few weeks to get this far. When the players came back from the World Cup we weren't happy with where we were in the table. We had to dig deep to come back and do it the Tigers way. Richard Cockerill and Matt O'Connor set the standards and everyone is on the same playing field." - Leicester Tigers' Thomas Waldrom.
Prediction: It will be fiercely fought but expect the Tigers to be celebrating another title come the final whistle.
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