Saracens v Northampton Saints, Aviva Premiership semi-final
Will Fraser returns for Saints clash
May 10, 2013
David Strettle has been in sparkling form for Saracens this term © Getty Images
Northampton Saints will be going all out to book their place in a maiden Aviva Premiership final but they will not have it easy against 2011 champions Saracens on Sunday - especially at the London club's new home.
Saracens are undefeated at the Allianz Stadium, complete with artificial pitch, and that is sure to have some bearing on Sunday's semi-final. Saracens took the 2011 crown but they were found wanting last year as they ran out of steam towards the end of the campaign.
This time around, despite their Heineken Cup quarter-final loss to Toulon, they have looked to be the most consistent side in the Premiership. And they have started to throw the ball around more and more in the second-half of the campaign; their style of rugby becoming increasingly easy on the eye.
The Saints finished the season in fourth and failed to make a dent on the European stage. This campaign could well end trophy-less for Jim Mallinder's men but they will have much to look forward to ahead of next term with the recruitment of Wales star George North, Samoan half-back Kahn Fotauli'i, England prop Alex Corbisiero and backs coach Alex King.
But that is next season, this weekend all their focus will be on Saracens. The likes of Ben Foden and Calum Clark will be going out looking to impress after being called into the England squad ahead of the summer's tour to Argentina, while the coaching set-up will want to prove any doubters wrong with a landmark victory.
Saracens - Player to Watch: Saracens' outstanding player this year has been openside Will Fraser. He returns just in time to face the Saints and will want to put in a solid performance against a Saints back-row including new England skipper Tom Wood.
Saracens - Team News: Saracens make two changes to their starting XV from the side that beat Bath last weekend, with Alex Goode returning at full back and Fraser named in the back row. There is only once change on the bench where Chris Wyles, who started at full back last week, is among the replacements. Carlos Nieto will make his 100th Saracens appearance should he take to the field.
Northampton Saints - Player to Watch: Samu Manoa has been an absolute colossus for the Saints this term. Superb in both the second-row and the back-row, Manoa's performance will have a huge bearing on how well Northampton do.
Northampton Saints - Team News: George Pisi misses out through injury so James Wilson gets the nod at outside centre. Luther Burrell continues at No.12 while the back-row sees Calum Clark, Tom Wood and Samu Manoa link up.
Key Battle: Ben Foden will line up against rival for the England fullback berth Alex Goode. While Foden has struggled with injury this term, Goode has made the No.15 shirt his own on the Test stage - it should be fascinating to see how the pair fare on Sunday.
Ken Pisi will be key to the Saints' final hopes © Getty Images
Trivia: This is the Saints' sixth Aviva Premiership semi-final but they have never got a shot at the silverware.
Stats: Allianz Park becomes the ninth different venue to host a Premiership semi-final, whilst Sarries have won all six previous contests they have played at their new home venue.
Betting: Saracens are 4/11 favourites to win while Northampton are at 11/5 with bet365.
"When this project started, the one thing we craved more than anything else was consistency. Saracens had been so inconsistent through the professional era. Steadily, we've been there or thereabouts. This will be our fourth consecutive semi-final and the first time we've finished top in Saracens' history. We're very pleased." - Saracens boss Mark McCall
"It's an unknown for us being away to Sarries in terms of the new pitch there. But we're not going to go there worried about them. We know they are a quality side, very difficult to beat, but we also know that, on our day, we've got a real good team. If we can put our play together for 80 minutes then we can upset the favourites. We are very motivated. We have players leaving the club, but we have been away to various grounds and to various sides this year as underdogs and we have turned them over." - Saints chief Jim Mallinder
Prediction: Saracens should book their place in the final but Northampton will push them all the way.
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