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Saracens and Bath will compete for the Aviva Premiership title on Saturday afternoon, as they do battle in the season finale at Twickenham. Bath are aiming to win their first top-flight trophy since 1996, while Saracens will be contesting their fourth final in six seasons. It promises to be a bruising encounter, and the bookies are generally undecided on who should be favourite, with even money available on either side to win.
Saracens record is incredible over the last few seasons, They were runners-up to Leicester Tigers in 2010, before beating the same opponent the following season to lift the trophy in 2011. They finished top of the table in 2012/13 but missed out on the final, before finishing top again last season but going down to Northampton Saints after extra time in a memorable final. Sarries will be aiming to go one better this time around, despite a less than stellar season in the Premiership.
Bath contested (and lost) two of the first four Premiership Play Off finals, but the last of those was in 2004, some 11 year ago. They finished 2nd in the table, just a point behind leaders Northampton Saints, and they will be fired up for their first shot at the Premiership title in over a decade.
Road to the Final
Saracens only secured their place in the play offs on the last day of the Premiership season, as a 68-17 thrashing of London Welsh saw them finish ahead of Exeter Chiefs on points difference. They took full advantage of their late ticket to the party in the semi-final when they overcame old foe Northampton Saints, and gained a small amount of revenge for the final defeat last year.
Owen Farrell’s late penalty gave Saracens a 29-24 victory over the side that had finished top of the regulation table. Saints had won the two league meetings between the pair this season, but were undone by Saracens incredible determination to do the dirty work. Northampton Director of Rugby, Jim Mallinder, was less effusive in his praise when he said, ‘Everyone decides how they want to play and Saracens have gone down their route’. Whatever your thoughts on the Sarries style of rugby, there can be nothing taken away from the result especially as Saracens Director of Rugby, Mark McCall, revealed there was a bout of sickness in the camp during the week building up to the game.
Bath had a much less difficult time of it in their semi-final, although it wasn’t expected to be that way before the game. They beat 3rd placed Leicester Tigers 47-10, which is no mean feat considering the Tigers had been in an astonishing 9 of the last 10 finals. Bath were in control of the scoring, if not the game, from very early on and their clinical finishing put a gloss on a scoreline which may not have been entirely reflective of the match. Leicester dominated territory but couldn’t gain the points at the right time, while Bath were ruthless in their attacking.
Bath Head Coach, Mike Ford, said that his side were ‘outstanding’ in the first half, and vowed to play the same attacking rugby against Saracens in the final. Let’s take a look at the latest odds for the winner of the match on Saturday afternoon.
Bath – +100 with Boylesports
Saracens – +110 with William Hill
If you fancy the tie to end in a draw and go to extra-time as it did last season, bear in mind that it was the first time that had happened in 14 Premiership finals. On that basic statistic the odds of +2000 might look appealing, but who knows how long we will have to wait for another final like last year. To be taking a bet on a draw, we’d probably want twice those odds.
Despite a poor season by their standards which saw them scrape into fourth position, Saracens can make their experience count against a young Bath side. If they deploy their kick-chase tactics and dominate territory they may be able to spoil Bath’s exciting attack and force their way to another trophy.
With Namibian’s George and Jacques Burger in great form, Saracens can more than hold their own against that Bath attack, and hooker George said that the side will draw on their experiences of five year of playing together to try and replicate the defensive side of the game which served them so well in the semi-final.
For Bath it will be a first Premiership final since 2004, but they have been victorious more recently at Twickenham, winning both regular season encounters against Wasps. However, it’s the head-to-head record against Saracens which is more of a concern, as Sarries have won nine of the last ten meetings. Bath did beat them 21-11 at the Rec in October, but that was their sole victory over Saracens since 2010, and it’s a big stat to overcome on a very big stage for the Bath youngsters.
Bath prop, Danny Wilson, admitted that very few of his teammates had ever contested a major final, and they must guard against being overawed on the big occasion. On bare form and stats over the season, Bath would be deserving favourites, but they must produce that rugby with the eyes of the world upon them, and that is no easy task.
Many neutrals will be supporting Bath as they play the more attacking rugby with a little more flair to their play, but it’s hard to underestimate the importance of the big game mentality, and that is something that the Saracens squad have in spades. There will be plenty more to come from this up-and-coming Bath side over the next few seasons, but this may just be a step too far for them at this stage of their development. Saracens have the experience of seeing this type of game out, and will fight tooth and nail for another title.
To win the Aviva Premiership Final, Saturday 30th May 2.30pm
Saracens – +110 with William Hill
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