Date: 12th May 2012
Referee: Andrew Small
Venue: The Stoop
Having finished 1st in the league with only four losses all season, Harlequins have been the truly dominant force in the Aviva Premiership from start to finish. Capitalising on other sides losing their stars to the Rugby World Cup, the huge gap opened up at the top before Christmas has stood them in good stead and ensured that despite some dips in form throughout 2012, they finished in the top spot. The enormous effort from their pack and Nick Evans’ trusty left boot have worked brilliantly in tandem all season – the perfect combination for knockout rugby.
By hook or by crook, Northampton have made it into the playoffs despite an inconsistent campaign. The enormity of their win at Sandy Park a fortnight ago has shone through and after sweeping aside Worcester last weekend to give their loyal stars such as James Downey, Roger Wilson and Chris Ashton the perfect send off at Franklin’s Gardens, the semi-final awaits.
What to Expect:
Saints will have targeted Joe Marler on the loosehead side of the Harlequins scrum, unleashing Brian Mujati in a bid to create plenty of shots at goal for Stephen Myler. The lineout however should be an area where Quins are on top, due to the excellent form of George Robson that has seen him receive a first call-up to the England squad this summer. Saints are undoubtedly weaker in the back row without Tom Wood or Calum Clark, but James Craig put in a top performance against Worcester last week and will need to match it against the likes of Maurie Fa’asavalu, Chris Robshaw and Nick Easter.
Head to Head: Danny Care & Lee Dickson
Two England number 9s who whilst they will no doubt tell you all their attentions are on this weekend, will have part of them considering their own individual dual ahead of the tour to South Africa. Care’s season may have been disrupted but there have been no problems with his form over the last two months, with his distribution and sniping runs back to their best. Dickson on the other hand is the incumbent England number 9 playing with outstanding confidence.
One to Watch: George Lowe & Ben Foden
One of many players in an area where England are bursting with young talent, Lowe has returned from injury to continue making an impression, especially against Saracens at Wembley last month with some brilliant defence. Still just 22, expect Lowe to make plenty of line breaks and keep Northampton on the back foot.
Meanwhile going up against one of Harlequins favourite sons in Mike Brown will be current England full back Foden, who despite a solid Six Nations campaign still has his place under threat. Foden’s form however in recent weeks has been first class; notching up tries and playing at his most threatening in attack. What’s more, fewer full backs have safer hands.
Home form should dictate in this semi-final due to Quins record this season. If Northampton can get ahead early in the scrums and put pressure on the lineout, then they have a sniff but it will need a monumental effort to turn over this season’s 1st placed side. Quins by 8
by Ben Coles