Harlequins v Northampton Saints, Aviva Premiership semi-final
Harlequins eye maiden final
May 12, 2012
Chris Robshaw previews the semi-final%]
The league's top side Harlequins entertain the Northampton Saints on Saturday in the Aviva Premiership semi-final.
Harlequins finished the season at the league's summit but now face the task of signing off the campaign with silverware to recognise their status as the Aviva Premiership's most consistent side this term. Conor O'Shea's team have been at the top of the Premiership since September 17 and their 24-10 win over Sale on Saturday meant they finished the league stage of the campaign at the top of the log.
But with just four teams who have finished top of the league since the introduction of the play-off system going on to win the Premiership proper, Harlequins will need to be at their very best if they are to overcome the Saints at the Stoop on Saturday.
Northampton booked their place in the final four thanks to a convincing 42-14 win over Worcester on Saturday but on paper, the odds are against them after they finished fourth overall in the standings. But in the two match-ups between the pair this season, it is one win apiece with Harlequins prevailing 26-13 over the Saints in the early part of the campaign and Northampton re-addressing this with a 24-3 triumph back in January.
Harlequins - Player to Watch: Mike Brown has been one of the most consistent players all season for Quins and will look to prove to Stuart Lancaster that he is worth his place in the England XV.
Harlequins - Team News: Mike Brown starts at fullback with Tom Williams and Sam Smith getting the nod on the wings. George Lowe and Jordan Turner Hall start in the centres with Karl Dickson - who comes in for the injured Danny Care - and Nick Evans at half-back. Joe Marler, Joe Gray and James Johnston form the front-row with Olly Kohn and George Robson in the second-row. Skipper Chris Robshaw starts at openside with Nick Easter and Maurie Fa'asavalu joining him in the back-row.
Northampton Saints - Player to Watch: Ben Foden looks set to keep his spot in the England team on their tour of South Africa but he will face an interesting audition for the role when he comes up against Mike Brown. Expect Foden to be firing on all cylinders for the Saints.
Northampton Saints - Team News: Chris Ashton was originally passed fit for the clash but was a late withdrawal with Vasily Artemyev drafted into the starting line-up where he will feature in a back three alongside Foden and Paul Diggin. George Pisi and James Downey form the centre partnership with Ryan Lamb and Lee Dickson starting at half-back. Soana Tonga'uiha, Andy Long and Brian Mujati form the front-row with Mark Sorenson and Christian Day providing the grunt in the second-row. James Craig, Phil Dowson and Roger Wilson are the chosen back-row.
Key Battle: The battle of the scrum-halves promises to be a key aspect of this game. Brother Karl and Lee Dickson will go up against each other with both still harbouring international ambitions. Lee has got the nod for the tour of South Africa but Karl has been consistent throughout the campaign.
Trivia: This is the Northampton Saints' third successive Premiership semi-final but they have yet to make it to a final.
Stats: Northampton's only win against Quins at The Stoop since 2004 was 20-16 on 11 September 2010
Quote Unquote: "The home semi-final is massive, Saints are a very strong side but with a big Stoop support it should be a cracker. It's a one-off game. We know how the league works and we just need to get on with it."- Quins skipper Chris Robshaw
"Harlequins will quite rightly be confident because they have been the most consistent team in the league. They have won the most games by a large margin so they deserve it. But we will go in there and will quietly give it a go. We have a bit of momentum. Look three games back and we were struggling a little bit, but we went down to Bath and won well there." - Jim Mallinder ahead of the clash with thee Saints.
Prediction: Harlequins put in an efficient performance against the all-English Sale and expect them to continue in the same vein with a solid win against the Saints on Saturday.
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