Friday, 28 May 2010
Leicester Tigers v Saracens: The Guinness Premiership Final
The 81,600 sell out crowd at Twickenham will see six-time finalists and three time winners, Leicester, play Sarries, who haven't won a trophy since the Tetley Bitter Cup back in 1998.
Brendan Venter, Saracens controversial director of rugby, is banned from team involvement at Twickenham on finals day after failing to get his 14 week ban overturned.
However, Venter's ban, hardly a shock after his needling of opposition, referees and the establishment this season, will no doubt galvanise his team further.
England skipper Steve Borthwick returns at lock for Saracens after a two-month injury absence but number eight Ernst Joubert retains the captaincy.
Should Sarries fans be worried that Borthwick is back? After all, they have seen their team play some expansive rugby with flair during his stint on the sidelines. Probably not.
Elsewhere, Sarries' Kiwi half back pairing, Glen Jackson and Justin Marshall, hope to end their careers on a high before retiring.
Over in the Leicester camp, coach Richard Cockerill will be in the stands after escaping with a slap on the wrists from an RFU hearing. The Tigers supremo took his frustration out on a wall during the semi-final game against Bath. I can only assume that he had left his Olly Barkley voodoo doll at home.
Speaking of Bath, the final will be Lewis Moody's last game for Leicester before joining up with the men in blue, black and white next season.
In other team news, Tigers flanker Craig Newby is available for the game after he was cleared of a dangerous tackle in the semi-final.
But who will win?
This is a real tough one to call. Leicester are the most consistent Guinness Premiership team and are strongest at the scrum and line-out. They put on a master class of how to use the set-piece to smother their opponents, Bath, into submission two weeks ago. They will look to target the throw of players' player of the season, hooker Schalk Brits, and put pressure on him at scrum-time.
Toby Flood will be key for the Tigers both with his kicking and running of the game. His battle with opposite number Glen Jackson will be crucial in deciding which team will lift the trophy when the clock goes red.
As for Saracens, I expect to see yet more from full-back Alex Goode who impressed in the semi-final against Northampton Saints. Flanker Andy Saull is in a rich vein of form, and there is the power of Ernst Joubert and that man Brits.
If Saracens can hold their own at the set piece then they have every chance of lifting the cup.
Don't forget, they beat Leicester 32-23 at Welford Road in the final round of the regular season, crushing the Tigers' bid to be unbeaten at home in the campaign.
However, Leicester we missing key men that day, including the instrumental Toby Flood.
My prediction: On paper I would have to say Leicester Tigers due to their big match experience and league winning pedigree. However, I have the sneaking feeling that Saracens might just do them again. It would be a fitting finale to the season for Brendan Venter's team - and I would have to say that they would deserve it, after adding a lot of colour and spice to this season.
Saracens to win by 9.