PREVIEW: Saints v Saracens Cup Final
By St Marcus
March 14 2019
St Marcus has kindly provided us with a preview of this Sundays cup final, let us know your thoughts below... If anybody else feel like writing as preview or review f any matches, just drop me a line
As someone who used to enjoy reading previews on here when they used to be written on a weekly basis, it has taken me quite a while to finally write one. But with our first home final upcoming, against probably our second biggest foes - and a bit of spare time this week - now seemed to be the ideal opportunity to note down some ramblings. I’ll start by reviewing our respective paths to the final.
Saints qualified for the knockout stages by topping Pool 3 with 15 points and finishing as second seeds. We started the pool stages by putting a half century on Bristol at home before tight matches at Wasps and Gloucester ended in one victory and one defeat respectively. Arguably we were a little unlucky to lose at Kingsholm, after not finding favour with referee Greg MacDonald (unfortunately this has become a recurring theme!). Saints finished the pool stages with a – eventually comfortable – victory over Tigers, however this was not before they had pushed us hard. In the semi against Falcons, Saints started very slowly going 21-0 down, before a strong comeback earnt us a 59-33 win and a home final against Sarries, due to our higher seeding at the pool stage.
Sarries qualified from Pool 2 as best runners up, finishing level on points with Worcester, but with a slightly worse points difference. They started by beating Tigers at home before drawing away at Sale and then winning their final two pool matches at home to Worcester and away to Quins. In their semi-final at Sixways, Sarries ran out comfortable winners beating Worcester 38-22, with Warriors curiously fielding a relatively inexperienced side having selected stronger squads for much of the pool stages. Perhaps half an eye on the premiership?
So, here we are, awaiting another match against Sarries. As we know only too well, our recent record against Sarries is dire, with Saints having lost on each of our last 8 meetings. Yet this run must come to an end sometime; I seem to think that our famous semi-final win over Tigers in 2014 ended a barren run of several seasons without a derby victory.
Even without some of Nigel Wray’s most esteemed business partners Saracens can still field a quality squad, as we were recently reminded in our 36-17 defeat. Going in at half time 29-3 down most of us probably feared another 50+ point thrashing, so it was to Saints credit that they managed to keep the scoreline respectable.
Sarries have shown they are beatable in recent weeks, losing their last two away games at Gloucester and Bath respectively. However, Saints recent form has not been so hot either following our impressive result against Sale. If we are going to win on Sunday we need to start fast and not allow Sarries to build up a lead, as we allowed them to do at Allianz Park and Bristol to do last Saturday. We will need to play high intensity rugby, contesting the contact area much more aggressively than at Allianz Park and hitting them hard on the gainline. Of late our defence has looked a little flaky at times, defensive discipline and shape will be key on Sunday. To this end I am very pleased that Piers Francis is back, as our midfield defence always seems to look better with him in the side.
One concern I have with Saints is our discipline – we have conceded the most penalties of any side in the premiership this season (186). (Sarries are in second place on 171). Minimising the penalty count against Sarries is particularly important given they are usually so clinical – if we give them chances we will be punished. I wasn’t too thrilled to read earlier that Ian Tempest will be refereeing, seeing as he has penalised us heavily in our last two matches (Exeter and Bath). We will need to work very hard to stay on the right side of him on Sunday.
Chris Boyd has opted for a fair degree of rotation over recent weeks, and indeed over the course of the season. This week I would expect him to opt for consistency and select a fairly similar side to last Saturday’s. At the time of writing it seems uncertain whether Harrison and Painter are going to be available. If they are I imagine both will be involved, we could really do with T’s tenacity and Painter’s bulk against what is likely to be a heavy Sarries pack.
When talking to a Saints supporting friend recently he suggested he wasn’t too bothered about Sunday’s final – something along the lines of “it’s only the rubbish cup”. Whilst we would all rather be contesting the premiership final I do think that winning would be fitting for Saints in a season where so many of our exciting younger players have become first team regulars.
So I will end by calling on fellow Saints supporters to get behind the team vocally on Sunday. Players and coaches alike comment on the boost that a vociferous FG crowd gives them – this is the one thing that we in the stands can control. Some may deride Saracens’ supporters for their lack of numbers but I am sure there will be plenty of them at Franklins Gardens on Sunday. Let’s maximise home advantage and sing the boys home.
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COME ON YOU SAINTS!
Church's Stand season ticket holder