Saracens v Exeter Chiefs Premiership Final Preview

Saracens will play Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham

Saracens and Exeter Chiefs have both named unchanged starting teams for this Saturday’s Aviva Premiership Final at Twickenham.

Saracens boss Mark McCall has named the same side that defeated Leicester Tigers in the semi-final stages as Saracens look to secure back-to-back Premiership titles and a historic double.

Up front, Mako Vunipola will make his 100th Saracens appearance with the England prop starting alongside by Schalk Brits (hooker) and Petrus Du Plessis (tighthead prop) in the front row. In the second row, European Rugby’s Player of the Year Maro Itoje will be joined by George Kruis.

Michael Rhodes continues at blindside flanker with Will Fraser (openside flanker) and Billy Vunipola (No8) also named in the Sarries back row.

At full-back, the recently crowned Premiership Player of the Year Alex Goode starts and will be joined by Chris Wyles and Saracens all-time leading try scorer Chris Ashton in the Sarries back three.

At centre Duncan Taylor will partner Captain Brad Barritt in the Saracens midfield, whilst in the halves Owen Farrell starts at fly-half and is joined by Richard Wigglesworth (scrum-half).

On the bench, Jamie George, Richard Barrington and Juan Figallo are the front row replacements with Jim Hamilton and Jackson Wray the other forward cover. Experienced half-back Neil De Kock is also named, whilst legendary fly-half Charlie Hodgson could make his final appearance of a record-breaking career from the bench before he retires at the end of the season. Marcelo Bosch is the three-quarter cover.

Speaking ahead of the game, Mark McCall said: “Exeter are a top side and they’ve proven that over the course of the season. It’s going to be a really good game, two very good sides, two hard-working sides going toe-to-toe and we know what is at stake. Our challenge at the start of the week was to be as prepared as we could be and we’ve had a good couple of days but what happens on Saturday is the important thing. It promises to be a great final.”

Saracens are bidding to become English champions for the third time, having won the Aviva Premiership Final in 2011 and 2015, and been losing finalist in 2010 and 2014 whilst the most recent team to successfully defend their crown were Leicester Tigers in 2010.

The European Champions are also shooting for a domestic and European double to emulate Toulouse in 1996, Leicester in 2001 & 2002, Wasps in 2004 and Toulon in 2014.

Saracens have won their last nine matches in all tournaments since their 13-21 reversal to Leicester at Welford Road in Premiership Rugby on 20th March.

The Londoner’s only defeat in their last six visits to Twickenham was in the 2014 Premiership Rugby Final to Northampton Saints.

Exeter Chiefs are the tenth different club to participate in a Premiership Rugby final, and have played in four previous finals in other competitions at Twickenham, losing them all: to Rotherham and Orrell in the 2002 & 2003 Pilkington Challenge Shield, and to Cornish Pirates and Northampton in the 2007 & 2008 National Trophy.

The Chiefs have won their last three matches since their 9-16 defeat at Gloucester in round 20 of Aviva Premiership Rugby.

The two clubs have met on 12 previous occasions in Premiership Rugby with Saracens having the edge by 8 wins to four, they have also locked horns in one previous final, in the 2015 Anglo-Welsh Cup with Saracens running out 23-20 victors at Franklin’s Gardens.

The only changes to the Chiefs side that won last week’s Semi-final are on the bench where injuries to Thomas Waldrom (knee) and Sam Hill (hamstring) mean that Kai Horstmann and Michele Campagnaro are added to the mix.

Also included for the Chiefs in the third change is Damian Welch, who returns to the fray having recovered from a knee injury. His inclusion means Ollie Atkins is the man to make way. Otherwise, it’s as you were for Baxter’s side, who will be led into battle by the Premiership’s top points-scorer for the season, fly-half Gareth Steenson.

Steenson’s big-game mentality, coupled with the experience of key figures such as Geoff Parling and Julian Salvi – both of who have lifted the title in the past with Leicester Tigers – and the emergence of rising international stars such as Jack Nowell, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tomas Francis and Henry Slade mean the mind-set should be there for the Chiefs to sparkle.

“Guys like Nowellsy, Dickie and Sladey, they’ve played in front of 80,000 crowds before,” added Baxter. “Then the likes of Geoff and Julian Salvi, they’ve been in finals before and won the competition, so when you look at the squad we’ve actually got quite a few guys who have been in this type of environment before. The challenge, however, will be if we can bring it all together as a team.”

This season, though, the Chiefs have shown they have the capability of rising to the occasion. This is, however, new territory, particularly when you consider this is only Exeter’s sixth season in the top flight.

Baxter insists that the rise of the club is nothing new for those in and around the Westcountry and that there was life before a rain-sodden night in Bristol back in 2010.

“The big thing is we have always believed,” he said. “That is one of our big foundation elements. I say this a lot, but people seem to never look back beyond that last year in the Championship. Personally, I’ve played in two losing Cup Finals at Twickenham, I’ve coach in another two, and I remember finishing second and third quite a few times and missing out on promotion.

“But what we have never done is go away – we’ve always come back and got back on the horse. That’s the foundation element we have at the club and it backs up what we have done since.”

With recent encounters between the two sides serving up a feast of rugby, Baxter expects tomorrow’s tussle to be just as exciting.

“I don’t think we will be a team who will just be going there to walk around Twickenham in the sun,” said Baxter. “We are going to turn up and, I know, if we turn up we will make it a very interesting game.

“There is no doubt – and quite rightly so – they are being regarded as the best team in Europe and they are a much better team than when we beat them twice last season. That said, we’re also a much better team now.

“I think the biggest compliment I can pay them is that they do the basics very well. On top of that they have a good team spirit, a strong work ethic and they are well coached. However, if you look at the last four games between us, it’s 2-2, but could easily have been 3-1 to us as it was a real close game down here earlier this season.

“That says to me that we have got a lot within us to get where we need to be and hopefully we will show that at the weekend.”

The Bookies have given Exeter Chiefs a 10 point start for this Match – with an offer of up to £200 in Bonus bets.

Match : Saracens v Exeter Chiefs
Date : Saturday 28 May
Venue : Twickenham Stadium
Kick Off : 3pm
Live on: BT Sport
Match Officials
Referee :Wayne Barnes (170th Premiership game, 7th final).
Assistant Referees: JP Doyle & Luke Pearce.
TMO: Sean Davey.

Teams

Saracens

15 Alex Goode , 14 Chris Ashton , 13 Duncan Taylor , 12 Brad Barritt (c) , 11 Chris Wyles , 10 Owen Farrell , 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola , 7 Will Fraser , 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 George Kruis , 4 Maro Itoje , 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Schalk Brits ,1 Mako Vunipola

Replacements : 16 Jamie George , 17 Richard Barrington , 18 Juan Figallo , 19 Jim Hamilton , 20 Jackson Wray , 21 Neil De Kock , 22 Charlie Hodgson , 23 Marcelo Bosch

Exeter Chiefs

15 Phil Dollman , 14 Jack Nowell , 13 Henry Slade , 12 Ian Whitten , 11 Olly Woodburn , 10 Gareth Steenson (capt) , 9 Will Chudley, 8 Don Armand , 7 Julian Salvi , 6 Dave Ewers , 5 Geoff Parling , 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams , 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon

Replacements : 16 Jack Yeandle , 17 Alec Hepburn , 18 Tomas Francis , 19 Damian Welch , 20 Kai Horstmann , 21 Dave Lewis , 22 Michele Campagnaro , 23 James Short

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