Aviva Premiership Final Preview: Head-to-Head Ratings

tom wood

The Aviva Premiership reaches its pinnacle this weekend, and it’s the top two from the regular season that square off at Twickenham tomorrow. Here’s our head-to-head guide for tomorrow’s game:

1.Richard Barrington – Solid scrummager but Mako Vunipola’s presence around the park will be sorely missed.6Alex Corbisiero – Only question will surround match fitness. If he has it, he can wreak havoc in the scrums.8
2.Schalk Brits – Didn’t have it all his way in the Heineken Cup final, but Brits is capable of real magic if given space.9Mike Heywood – An able deputy for Hartley, but not in the league of his opposite man. Hartley’s influence from the bench could be vital.6
3.Matt Stevens – His last game in a Saracens shirt so will completely empty the tank. Intriguing to see how he does against Corbisiero.6.5Salesi Ma’afu – Has had a quietly impressive debut season in the Premiership. A key cog in a strong set-piece unit.7
4.Steve Borthwick (c) – One last hurrah for the Saracens captain. His studying of Saints’ line-out will test Lawes’ credentials.8.5Samu Manoa – A pillar of physicality at the heart of the Saints’ pack. One of the best ball carriers on the park.8.5
5.Mouritz Botha – A hard worker but nothing flash. Won’t let Saracens down, but won’t win them the game, either.6Courtney Lawes – Partnership with Manoa is one of the most physical around. Will hunt down the Saracens backs and look to pulverise them.8
6.Kelly Brown – Full of endeavour and in some great form. Needs one last big performance against a decent Saints back-row.8Calum Clark – Has had a quietly impressive season after returning from injury. His selection over Dowson will give them more dynamism.7.5
7.Jacques Burger – Leader of the Saracens’ wolfpack and one of the best tacklers around. Needs to be more influential than in Heineken final, however.8.5Tom Wood (c) – Gives absolutely everything for Saints, and has been superb form in knockout rugby recently. Battle with Burger is most important on pitch.8.5
8.Billy Vunipola – Saracens’ standout player last weekend. One of the most dangerous ball carriers in world rugby.8.5Sam Dickinson – Early season form has faded somewhat, but he is still an important source of go-forward ball for the Saints.7
9.Neil de Kock – All the experience in the world and a smart tactician. His intelligent box-kicking will put pressure on Saints’ back three.6.5Kahn Fotuali’i – Has had a storming end to the season, which keeps Dickson on the bench. A huge running threat, but needs to make sure kicking is accurate.7.5
10.Owen Farrell – Stands much flatter than he used to, which will bring outside backs into game. Place kicking needs to be better than it has been recently.8Stephen Myler – Mr Consistency this season. Has proved that he can attack as well as do the basics well – will be an intriguing battle with Farrell.8
11.Dave Strettle – A strong finisher who was starved of the ball last weekend. Will hope for ball in the wide spaces of Twickenham.7.5George North – Form has cooled somewhat, but he has the ability to win the game on his own. Will seriously test Ashton’s defence.8.5
12.Brad Barritt – A key defensive cog, but Giteau showed up his attacking deficiencies last weekend. Needs to offer more.7Luther Burrell – Another to have had a fine season, Burrell’s powerful running and intelligent lines will test even Saracens’ defence.8
13.Marcelo Bosch – A touch of Argentine class in Saracens’ midfield. Siege gun boot can punish indiscretions from distance.7.5George Pisi – Hard-hitting Samoan who links brilliantly with the quick men outside him. Possessor of a superb offload.7.5
14.Chris Ashton – Defence will be sorely tested by North, but Ashton will back himself to cause trouble too after a fine season.7.5Ken Pisi – Lightening quick and capable of brilliance, but also capable of moments of calamity. Saints will target him in defence.7
15.Alex Goode – Ability to create something from nothing makes him dangerous when joining the line. Astute tactical kicker, too.8Ben Foden – Is starting to hit superb form at the right time. An elusive broken field runner that will punish any wayward kicking.8


The totals above suggest that Saints have the edge, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story. Saracens are often better than the sum of their parts, as their performance against Clermont proved. That said, they ran out of ideas last weekend when they were unlocked by the brilliance of Matt Giteau. It became apparent that they are a side that does not like to chase the game too much. So where will that spark of brilliance come from for the Saints? Fotuali’i or North are the most likely to provide it, but their squad is not littered with game-changers as Toulon’s is. It’s also worth noting that Sarries probably have a stronger bench, which could be vital in what will be a hugely physical game.

The other aspect of this game is psychological. Saints comfortably won the Amlin Cup last weekend while Saracens looked easily second best in the Heineken final. Will that loss spur them on, or will the psychological trauma hinder them? Will the Saints kick on from the Amlin win, or have they already had their cup final moment? It’s difficult to say, but you’d probably give Saints the edge psycholigically – they come into this one on the back of a win, and have beaten Sarries impressively in recent times (the dismantling this season at the Gardens and last year’s play-off at Allianz Park). I think they’ll channel last year’s hurt into this one, and pull it off this time around. Northampton by 3.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

2 thoughts on “Aviva Premiership Final Preview: Head-to-Head Ratings

  1. To be fair to Sarries, I think any team would have looked second best last weekend. And Northampton were playing Bath! I’m pretty sure if Sarries had played Bath, and Saints played Toulon, the results would have been the same.

    Saints will be confident after last week, but Sarries will want to put last years semi final, and last weeks HC final to bed, and get a win here! Sarries by a score!

  2. Interesting? Considering last weeks Amlin final against Wilson, I would imagine that Stevens will need every ounce of his experience to get away with much against Corbisiero.

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