Aviva Premiership
Heavyweights collide in Twickenham final
Tom Hamilton
May 30, 2014
Will it be Steve Borthwick's Saracens or Tom Wood's Northampton who are celebrating at full-time? © Aviva Premiership
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And then there were two. After 22 rounds of Aviva Premiership action and a pair of semi-finals, we are now down to Northampton Saints and Saracens who face each other in Saturday's final. Both will go into the match off the back of European finals in which they experienced contrasting fortunes.

For Saracens, they fell to Toulon under the roof in Cardiff as they had little answer to Jonny Wilkinson's boot and the back-row skills of Steffon Armitage, Juan Smith and Juan Fernandez Lobbe. They have been the form Premiership side this season and will want to finish off with some silverware, but they will have their work cut out on Saturday against a Saints side full of confidence after seeing off Bath last weekend to take the Amlin Challenge Cup.

Inevitably with finals, individual sub-plots dominate the build-up. For Saracens, their captain Steve Borthwick will be playing his last game in a remarkable 16-year career. He has been key to Saracens and their recent renaissance after joining the club in 2008 and will hope to add his second Premiership title after helping them to their maiden league win in 2011.

For Saints and England hooker Dylan Hartley, in this match last year he experienced his nadir as he was issued a straight red card for what referee Wayne Barnes deemed to be bad language aimed in his direction. It was a slip of the tongue that saw Hartley banned and missing from the British & Irish Lions tour. Northampton were forced to play half the final against Leicester with 14 men and despite a valiant effort, they lost. Hartley takes his place among the replacements this year, but expect him to pull up trees when he is introduced.

The play-off system still divides opinion but it does guarantee a fantastic end to the season. Premiership finals rarely disappoint and there will be a new name on the trophy come 5pm on Saturday as the Tigers watch on while Saracens and Saints battle it out on the Twickenham turf.

Three key areas

The lineout

This is Borthwick's domain. He has run lineouts for club and country and knows their inner workings better than most. But if the likes of Courtney Lawes and Samu Manoa can unpick Saracens' codes then they can disrupt their game plan. With Hartley only fit to make the bench for the Saints, they will lack a little confidence in this area and will have to hope stand-in hooker Mike Haywood can find his men.

The centres

Brad Barritt is key to Saracens game plan both in defence and attack and he has been ably assisted by Marcelo Bosch this season. But Saints also have plenty of ability in that area of the game with both Luther Burrell and George Pisi no strangers to turning a game on its head. This could be a match-up that goes a long way to deciding which way the title goes.

No.8

Billy Vunipola was heroic in defeat against Toulon last weekend and has been one of the stand-out players in both domestic and international rugby over the past 12 months. Saints' Sam Dickinson has also had an impressive season and will be wanting to stop Vunipola in his tracks.

Stats

  • The most accurate kicker in the Premiership this season? It's Alex Goode with a 82.61% success rate. Stephen Myler is next on 81.74%.
  • The Saints scored the most points in a match this season when they put 74 on Wasps back on May 10.
  • David Strettle is second in the Premiership's try-scoring stakes with 11, one behind Leicester's Niki Goneva. Chris Ashton is in fourth with eight. Northampton's top finisher is George North on seven.

Trivia

  • Northampton Saints would become the eighth different side to win the Premiership if they manage it on Saturday. They would also be the first do a domestic and Challenge Cup double since Wasps back in 2003.
  • The Saints have struggled in finals at Twickenham, winning just two of their last seven.
  • The Saints have a good record against Saracens, with three wins in their last four matches. The last game ended in a 28-24 win for Saracens.

Prediction

Saracens will give Borthwick the perfect send off with a three-point win.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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