Aviva Premiership Final Preview: Leicester vs Northampton

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The East Midlands relocate to Twickenham on Saturday, as the Leicester Tigers go head to head with the Northampton Saints, in one of the most eagerly anticipated Premiership finals in recent years. Leicester will be seeking to add to their record nine titles in the modern Premiership era, whilst a victory for Northampton will bring the club its first title, as they compete in the first Premiership final of their history. The odds may favour the Tigers, but odds meant nothing to the Saints when they dismantled Saracens in their semi-final at Allianz Park, and they will enter the game extremely confident that they have every chance of leaving Twickenham victorious.

Leicester Tigers

Leicester have done the double over Northampton this season, including a 36-8 demolition at Franklin’s Gardens at the end of March, and if either team has a psychological advantage heading into this game, it certainly lies with the men from Welford Road. Their experience in finals, both domestic and European, is almost unparalleled in world rugby, and if you can rely on one thing, it is that Leicester will embrace the pressure of playing in a final. Northampton may not have the same pedigree as Leicester, but a key factor could be what their current crop of players have learned from their 2011 Heineken Cup final loss to Leinster, as they certainly can’t afford to turn off for the first half on Saturday, as they did in that game.

The Tigers’ 33-16 victory over Harlequins in their semi-final was one of the strongest performances you’ll have seen in the Premiership this season, and arguably the score line didn’t flatter Leicester enough. Their pack was physical and efficient throughout, and their backs displayed a ruthless streak which will have not made for pleasant viewing in Northampton’s video analysis sessions these last two weeks. If they can replicate that intensity and precision at Twickenham on Saturday, it will take an extraordinary effort from Northampton just to live with the Tigers, let alone beat them.

Key Player: Dan Cole

The Northampton front row took apart Mako Vunipola and Matt Stevens in the semi-final, and Cole will have to be at his very best to avenge his Lions’ colleagues in the final. Northampton blew Saracens away right from the whistle, and much of this stemmed from their excellent work at the scrum. If Cole can negate the influence Sione Tonga’uiha at scrum time, an unenviable task, he will go a long way to helping his team emerge victorious on the day. Cole’s mind will be solely focused on the game at hand, but there is no doubt that Warren Gatland will be an extremely interested onlooker, as there are few tougher tests out there than the one posed by Tonga’uiha.

Northampton Saints

Despite waxing lyrical about Leicester’s pedigree at this stage of the competition, it is important to note that they have lost at this stage of the competition in both of the last two seasons, and their reaction to those disappointments will be just as important as the lessons Northampton learned from their Heineken Cup loss two years ago. Arguably the most important factor in Northampton’s victory over Saracens was the dominance exerted by their pack, particularly at the breakdown, which kept the vaunted Saracens’ defence on the back foot, allowing the Northampton backs to find holes and exploit mismatches. If the Saints are to beat Leicester, they will need to find a similar edge, and not just at the breakdown, but also at the scrum and lineout.

A quick start will also be vital for Northampton. Leicester are one of the hardest teams to play against when chasing a lead, as they have a great ability to close games out, so the Saints will need to keep the scoreboard ticking over early in the first half, and make sure they capitalise on any penalties that Leicester give up, as well as minimising their own infringements.

Key Player: Dylan Hartley

One of the most emotional leaders currently playing the game, Hartley will be vital to his side’s success. The most accurate hooker in the Premiership this season (successful with 88% of his throws), Hartley will have his ability at the lineout tested by the likes of Geoff Parling, but will need to come out on top, especially as the territory battle will be key, with the game likely to be far less expansive than either of the semi-finals. His emotions can get the best of him at times however, and he will need to maintain a cool head, whilst playing with his trademark passion, lest he be a source of cheap penalties for Leicester.

Prediction

If both sides play this game with the intensity they played their respective semi-finals with, we will be in for one of the best Premiership finals since the inception of the league in its current format. That being said, it’s hard to ignore the heavy loss Northampton suffered at the hands of Leicester towards the end of the regular season, a game which really turned into a capitulation for the Saints. Expect this game to be much closer, but it’s hard to look beyond a Leicester win given the balance of their squad, quality of their replacements and extraordinary experience at this stage of the competition. Leicester by 7.

by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)

8 thoughts on “Aviva Premiership Final Preview: Leicester vs Northampton

  1. I fancy Saints to pull this one off. With the hurt of so many near misses and it being the final game for a couple of club icons I think they will pull out one of their big power performance. A bit like the first half against Leinster, but believe they have enough in the tank for the second half this time.

    Yes they were stuffed at home by Tigers, but they were also stuffed at home by Ulster, and turned that round with something special.

    Key battle for me is Mooj Vs Mulipola. Think the Tigers scrum is a little vulnerable without Ayerza and when Mujati has his tail up there aren’t many who can control him.

    Saints to pull out a ~9 point lead, Tigers to close it to 2, Saints to hold on just!

  2. I think Saints will win by 1-2 points, I am going so here’s hoping for a Saints win!
    COME ON YOU SAINTS!

  3. So Hartley has had an 11 week ban given to him, which means he will miss the Lions tour…

    i will start off by saying that hartley was dumb, and shouldnt have said anything at all, especially after the warning he had just had. However. Based on the fact that Barnes had previously had a go at Flood for how he was “being spoken to” (use of inverted commas to signify the fact that it may not have been him being spoken to!). I personally think that Barnes was being a little bit of a self-obsessed fool. God forbid players on opposing teams would actually communicate in a game, so it MUST have been him that Hartley was talking to…

    Also, the whole issue arose because Barnes was not clear in his communication with Myler. he said to Myler, “you can’t kick it out, but yes, there’s time.” which having listened to it again, does sound pretty similar to “but yes, THIS time”. Simply, Barnes should have said “you CANNOT KICK IT STRAIGHT OUT” no ifs or buts were needed.

    oh, and one final point. Hartley has recieved an 11 week ban for what happened, and yet Cockerill has got off free after his outburst towards the touch judge and 4th official. seems a bit unfair that one if punished and the other gets away scot free. after all, we cant have players swearing at refs, we also cant have coaches having visible arguments with officials.

    yesterday made me question Barnes in a big way. and one of the biggest moments to illustrate his incompetence was needing to TMO Dickson’s try. Barnes was the closest person, and stood right in the correct spot. he is happy to go brandishing cards when he thinks someone might have been talking to him, but he will shift the responsibility when it comes to making a decision on a try… not surprised the Kiwi’s and rest of the world think he is a bad ref.

  4. The ban seems excessive but I feel the argument that he was not talking to Barnes is utterly ridiculous. That sort of abuse should not be said to anyone on a rugby pitch whether they are the opposition or not. Also I was listening to the ref mic live at the match and I found him perfectly clear when he was saying that he could not kick the ball straight off and he said it a couple of times as well. Hartley is an idiot. This is his 4th ban in his rugby career. Maybe by missing the lions tour he’ll finally learn. I just felt sorry for the rest of the team. Northampton were just getting into their stride and Leicester were not brilliant. He let them down, not Wayne Barnes. Barnes was right with the red card.

    1. ignore for a moment the moral issue of talking to an opponent like that, because there is not rule against it. Barnes’ interpretation that the insult was directed at him, rather than a Tigers player, has cost Hartley a lions tour.

      personally i do not think that Barnes was clear in his commuication to Myler. as i said above, Barnes should have made it very simple. “No, you cannot kick it out on the full” is all that he should of said.
      instead barnes says “you can’t kick it out, but yes there’s time”. on top of the confusing extra bit to the sentence, Barnes’ accent doesnt really help. with 60odd thousand people yelling, it is very easy to confuse either the “can’t” for a “can” or the “there’s time” for “this time”. both of which completely change the message that Barnes was giving. for a referee (and someone who studied law) it should be obvious how important being clear and concise is.

      With regards to the comment about saints getting into their stride, i think a fair amount of the performance from the saints was actually coming as a bit if an “up yours” to Barnes.

      either way, it is just frustrating that once again an official has grabbed more headlines than the actual rugby. to me a ref is like a waiter, all the good ones go unnoticed.

  5. Wayne Barnes should have been suspended for putting in his usual inept performance. Send him back to where he came from, I say!

  6. Please explain the law regarding kicking straight to touch to finish a half.This in regard to the Saints v Leicester game.aside from not being clear,was Barnes correct in his interpretation?

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