The business end of the Northern Hemisphere rugby season is upon us and there are three weekends of exciting fixtures to look forward to. Saracens finished top of the Aviva Premiership and therefore were rewarded with a home semi-final whilst Northampton Saints 74-13 win over the London Wasps on the final day of the league season secured a home semi-final for them.
It all starts on Friday evening at Franklin’s Gardens when Northampton Saints take on the Leicester Tigers in the first Aviva Premiership semi-final of the weekend. The second semi- final of the weekend takes place on Saturday when Harlequins travel to the Allianz Park to take on Saracens.
Northampton Saints v Leicester Tigers (Friday 16th May, 7:45pm GMT)
Northampton Saints XV – Ben Foden, Jamie Elliott, George Pisi, Luther Burrell, George North, Stephen Myler, Kan Fotuali’i, Sam Dickinson, Phil Dowson, Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes, Samu Manoa, Salesi Ma’afu, Mike Haywood, Alex Waller
Leicester Tigers XV – Mathew Tait, Niall Morris, Manu Tuilagi, Dan Bowden, Vereniki Goneva, Toby Flood, Ben Youngs, Jordan Crane, Julian Salvi, Jamie Gibson, Ed Slater, Louis Deacon, Logovi’i Mulipola, Tom Youngs, Marcos Ayerza
The first semi-final of the weekend is a repeat of last season’s final and the home side will be looking to make amends for the 37-17 defeat. Hooker Dylan Hartley has been ruled out due to a shoulder injury suffered against the Tigers in late March so will not get the chance to make up for the red card that he received at Twickenham last year. Steven Myler missed the defeat in March but starts on Friday and his kicking ability could prove to be the difference. The fly-half already has 225 points in the league this season and will be looking to add to that over the coming weeks.
The reigning Champions go into the match having only lost once in the league since the 28th of December 2013, with a win at Franklin’s Gardens included in this run. Owen Williams scored 17 of the Tigers 22 points in the match but will start from the bench on Friday with Richard Cockerill opting for the more experienced Toby Flood to wear the 10 shirt. Adding another Aviva Premiership winners medal to his collection is sure to be high on Flood’s agenda of things to do before he heads over to France, so expect a big performance from the former England man.
LR Prediction: Northampton Saints 22 – 24 Leicester Tigers
Look out for: Vereniki Goneva – The Aviva Premiership’s top try scorer has been devastating with the ball in hand all season and has 12 league tries from 17 appearances. Give the Fijian an inch and he is sure to take a mile as we have seen so many times this season. The Northampton centre partnership of Burrell and Pisi will need to put pressure on their opposite numbers in an attempt to prevent them shipping the ball out to Goneva.
Saracens v Harlequins (Saturday 17th May, 2:00pm GMT)
Saracens XV – Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Marcelo Bosch, Brad Barritt, David Strettle, Owen Farrell, Neil de Kock, Billy Vunipola, Jacques Burger, Kelly Brown, Mouritz Botha, Steve Borthwick, Matt Stevens, Schalk Brits, Mako Vunipola
Harlequins XV – Mike Brown, Tom Williams, Tim Molenaar, Jordan Turner-Hall, Ugo Monye, Nick Evans, Danny Care, Nick Easter, Chris Robshaw, Luke Wallace, George Robson, Charlie Matthews, Kyle Sinckler, Dave Ward, Joe Marler
Sarries have only lost at the Allianz Park once this season, back in February to London Irish, and will be looking to continue their impressive home form. Wembley played host to this fixture earlier in the season and Saracens ran out comfortable winners 39-17. Owen Farrell made his mark on the game with a try, three conversions and two penalties and is likely to be key once again on Saturday. Wingers David Strettle and Chris Ashton have 18 league tries between them for the season and we would not be surprised if they were to add to that when Harlequins visit.
Key players Danny Care and Mike Brown both missed the Wembley date but are both in the starting XV this weekend. The pair have been two of the star players for both club and country this season and deserve to be running out a Twickenham on the 31st of May. On Thursday evening Brown was presented with the Aviva Premiership Player of the Season award. The Quins front row features two potential England internationals and the trip to the Allianz Park should give us an idea of what Ward and Sinckler can bring to the big matches.
LR Prediction: Saracens 32 – 26 Harlequins
Look out for: Steve Borthwick – The former England man is due to retire in the coming weeks but a date is not yet set thanks to Saracens involvement in both the Aviva Premiership knockout stages and Heineken Cup Final. He will be hoping that he finishes his impressive career, which currently boasts 263 Premiership performances, with him lifting silverware and you can be sure that he will be doing all that he can to ensure that this happens.