Five reasons why...the Tigers will win the final
May 23, 2013
Flanker Tom Croft was at his best in Leicester's semi-final victory over Harlequins © Getty Images
On the eve of the Aviva Premiership final between East Midlands rivals Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints, we debate which side will take the glory.
ESPNscrum's Graham Jenkins offers five reasons why Leicester Tigers will be celebrating glory come the full-time whistle.
Success over sentiment
Captain Geordan Murphy may be about to bring the curtain down on 16-years of distinguished service for the Tigers but there is no room for sentiment with a Premiership title up for grabs. "Selection is on merit," insisted director of rugby Richard Cockerill earlier this week when confirming that the veteran fullback would not be in the matchday squad. That relentless quest for success and the prioritising of the club over the individual has served Leicester well in the past and as a result Murphy's best chance of gracing the Twickenham pitch is as a waterboy.
Tom Croft is a machine
It is amazing to think that a year ago Tom Croft's career was in the balance having suffered a potentially life-threatening neck injury in a Premiership clash against Harlequins. The England flanker defied the odds with a speedy recovery and has been in sensational form since returning to the Tigers' ranks last month. His relative freshness and dynamism has helped propel Leicester to yet another title-decider with a simply outstanding performance against Quins in the semi-finals - that included a try-saving tackle and superb individual score - evidence that he is back to his very best.
A hard habit to break
Leicester appear to have Northampton's number. The Tigers enter this latest showdown riding a run of seven straight victories over Saints who have not tasted success in an East Midlands derby since the opening day of the 2010-11 season. That tale of woe includes a 36-8 mauling at the hands of their old rivals in their most recent meeting at Franklin's Gardens in March. Leicester, who have outscored Northampton five tries to one in their league clashes this season, shackled Northampton's much-vaunted pack that day before putting them to the sword and they will be confident of a repeat performance at HQ.
Twickenham is a second home
Leicester are no strangers to Twickenham having reached the Premiership final for an incredible nine straight seasons. They may not have won on each visit - in fact they have only tasted success in three previous title-deciders - but that big match experience will ensure HQ holds no fear for any of their players and they will be able to take the occasion in their stride. In contrast, Northampton have never graced this stage before and are chasing their first ever title against a side that is looking for number 10. They may have contested both the Heineken Cup and Anglo-Welsh Cup finals in recent seasons but tasted defeat on both occasions.
Lions ready to roar
Leicester will provide six players for this summer's British & Irish Lions tour to Australia with hooker Tom Youngs, prop Dan Cole, lock Geoff Parling, flanker Tom Croft, scrum-half Ben Youngs and centre Manu Tuilagi all recognised as among the 'best of the best'. But before they don the world famous red shirt they will play a central role in proceedings at Twickenham. In-form, influential and hungry for success they are sure to raise their game in the hope of securing the Premiership silverware and a place in the Test side that will face the Wallabies next month. Northampton will also be represented on the Lions' tour through hooker Dylan Hartley but they cannot compete with the strength boasted by the rivals.
Leicester's British & Irish Lions contingent © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Top 14, Super Rugby and the Aviva Premiership with fireworks and monsters both featuring
Firdose Moonda looks at the moves towards greater integration within South African rugby ... and what the future holds
It is 100 years this week since the last international match played in Europe before the outbreak of World War One. Rewind remembers the fixture's longest-living survivor
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14