This week Matt and Jamie talk through some of the other nations...
Saracens v Bath – Aviva Prem Final preview
There seems to be one consistency with the Aviva Premiership and that is simply that Saracens is always there. While they can’t yet be put in the same league as Toulon who has a stranglehold on European and French rugby, Saturday will be their fourth finals appearance in six years and they are inching ever closer to being considered among the Toulons and the Canterbury Crusaders of the rugby world.
And why shouldn’t they be?
Boasting a team made up primarily of first England team players and a coaching setup that many International teams would be proud of, it’s no surprise that the London-based franchise has laid down the foundations for what could be a Canterbury Crusader-esque era of titles and finals appearances. The 2014-2015 season in particular has been very Crusader-esque as if they do go on to win today at Twickenham, Saracens will be the first team to win the Premiership without finishing inside the top two. However they have a very solid Bath team standing in their way.
Bath has seen the dividends of a very solid all-round game with a top-two finish in the Aviva Premiership. Driven by a solid forward platform, Bath has had both experience and fire-power in their backline to effect a very expansive and aggressive attacking game. They made the very handy acquisition of former South Sydney Rabbitoh enforcer Sam Burgess last year and, whilst looking slightly like a fish out of water throughout the season, his sheer physicality and his athleticism has been hugely beneficial to the team from the West Country.
The ghostly images swooping over the crystal ball slightly favour Bath. Their form is there after destroying Leicester last week and they’ve been one of the Premiership’s week-in week-out teams of the year, performing consistently well each round though susceptible to the odd fade out.
The one issue will be whether Bath can unravel Saracens’ shrewd defensive system and Sarries’ ability to strangle teams – this isn’t anything teams don’t know about them. Saracens’ defence is superb and they pressurise teams like few others in English Rugby. They also have the attacking capabilities to capitalise on their opportunities as seen in their rout of London Welsh a few weeks ago (though London Welsh finished last and could barely take a trick in the 2014/2015 season).
While they have often been labelled ‘dour and negative’ by the media, you only need to be reminded of the famous football saying from Sir Alex Ferguson – “attack wins you games, defence wins you titles” and defence is what has brought Saracens to Twickenham on the final day of the rugby season so there’s no indication to suggest that they’ll play any differently.
Ultimately, what will determine the result at Twickenham on Saturday is how the teams manage the occasion.
Saracens to date have played a more defensive minded game with Bath playing a more expansive and attacking game (with a back-line like theirs, you can see why). However it’s often harder to play this attacking type of game in a final and in what will be a cauldron-like environment where teams tend to go out and ‘not lose the game’ instead of going out to win it.
This will be Bath’s first Premiership final since 2004 and with Saracens aforementioned record, experience will be telling and unfortunately for the Bath family, will be indicative of the result. Saracens’ defence will be too good and with a plethora of finals appearances in their armoury, they’ll strangle Bath into making mistakes.
With 17 players of the England Summer Training Squad on show, it should be a cracker.
Tip – Saracens by 5
Bath: Watson; Rokoduguni, Joseph, Eastmond, Banahan; Ford, Stringer; James, Batty, Wilson, Hooper (capt), Attwood, Burgess, Louw, Houston.
Substitutions: Webber, Auterac, Thomas, Day, Garvey, Fearns, Cook, Devoto.
Saracens: Goode; Strettle, Taylor, Barritt, Wyles; Farrell, Wigglesworth; M. Vunipola, George, Du Plessis, Kruis, Hargreaves (capt), Itoje, Burger, B. Vunipola.
Substitutions: Brits, Barrington, Figallo, Hamilton, Wray, de Kock, Hodgson, Ashton
Referee and Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes, JP Doyle & Greg Garner. TMO: Graham Hughes.