Leicester and Saracens set for title re-match
May 27, 2011
ESPNscrum Podcast: Aviva Premiership Season Review%]
Leicester Tigers are within touching distance of a record eighth Premiership title, with Saracens standing in their way in this weekend's Twickenham showpiece.
In a rerun of last year's classic final, won 33-27 by Leicester, the two finest sides in England will again go toe-to-toe, with Sarries desperate to underline their credentials as a major force with their first domestic title.
Aside from last year's season finale they have had the better of their wildly successful rivals, completing a first ever league double over the Tigers this season and also back-to-back victories at their fortress, Welford Road.
Last year there was controversy in the build-up as Sarries boss Brendan Venter was slapped with a ban after an altercation with fans at Welford Road, a fate escaped by Tigers coaching duo Richard Cockerill and Matt O'Connor this term after a combustible semi-final meeting with Northampton. One man who will be confined to the stands is Tigers centre Manu Tuilagi, who is suspended after that punch on Chris Ashton.
Leicester - Player to Watch: Winger Alesana Tuilagi was the Premiership's top try scorer this season and his ability to cross the whitewash is set to be crucial to the Tigers' chances of another title success.
Leicester - Team News: Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill includes 16 survivors of last season's final in the squad, including back-rower Craig Newby who leads the side. There is only one change of personnel in the starting XV from the semi-final victory over Northampton, with Horacio Agulla named on the wing, allowing Matt Smith to move to centre in the absence of the suspended Manu Tuilagi. As a result recently-crowned RPA Players' Player of the Year starts on the bench alongside England prop Dan Cole.
Saracens - Player to Watch: Loose-head prop Matt Stevens is on the brink of Premiership glory just a few months after returning from a drugs-related ban and a strong showing against Tigers tight-head Martin Castrogiovanni will also boost his World Cup hopes.
Saracens - Team News: In the only change from the semi-final victory over Gloucester, Neil de Kock starts the match at scrum-half with Richard Wigglesworth, having apparently called a coin-toss correctly, with the latter starting on the bench. Hugh Vyvyan is among the replacements and if he takes to the field it will be Premiership appearance number 238 for the second row - setting a new Premiership record.
Key Battle: The mouth-watering match-up between Leicester fly-half Toby Flood and Saracens playmaker Owen Farrell is set to go a long way to deciding this contest. Flood is the current owner of the England No.10 shirt but an increasingly assured Farrell appears destined to rival him for that jersey sooner rather than later.
Trivia: Leicester have won the only two meetings between the sides in finals, last year's Premiership Final and the 2003 Zurich Wildcard Final, which finished 27-20 after extra time.
Stats: Saracens are on their best-ever run of form, with 11 wins on the spin, and a victory in the final would leave only Leicester with a better streak. The Tigers took the spoils in 17 straight games back in 1999-2000.
"Much as people criticise them, they were nominated for the try of the year award and that was a 90-metre attack, so they can play both ways. - Leicester boss Richard Cockerill is wary of a Saracens side that some say lacks flair.
"We go into the game in a good place with some good results behind us and an understanding among the team as to what their roles are and what they need to do in order to win rugby matches." - Saracens boss Mark McCall insists it is business as usual for his side.
Prediction: Saracens may have the momentum, and three victories in their last four meetings with the Tigers, but Leicester's big-match experience could prove the deciding factor. A desperately close match awaits, with the boot of Flood set to give the defending champions a record 10th English league title - but only just.
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