After 9 months and 22 action packed rounds, the Aviva Premiership reaches its semi final Stage. And the four teams contesting it for 2017/18 are Exeter Chiefs, Saracens, Wasps and Newcastle Falcons. Saracens take on Wasps at 12.30 on Saturday and Exeter ChiEfs v Newcastle Falcons is at 4pm this Saturday 19th May so you can still catch Prince Harry and Meghan Markel getting hitched in between the games ! I expect all teams will be 'royally' up for the challenge and will all be looking to be Crowned Kings of the premiership this season.
There is always a division between those who think then league winners should be crowned champions automatically as in most other sports, and those that believe the play off system to be crowned champions is fair and international matches affect what can happen during the campaign, unlike most other professional sports. Since 2001/02 there has been a play off system, so it appears it is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Leicester Tigers were the first team to win league by play offs in 2002. Wasps themselves have also benefitted from this system, winning the premiership on 4 occasions including 3 in a row in 2003, 2004 and 2005 respectively, they also won the premiership a decade ago in 2008. Last season saw wasps at Twickenham again for the first time since 2008 and they were runners up after losing to Exeter Cheifs 23 - 20 After Extra Time. The Play offs have been kind to Saracens as well, over the past 9 seasons Sarries have been at the semi final stage or better. They won the trophy 3 times their first title came in 2011 and also won it in 2015 and 2016. Sarries are runners up twice also once in 2010 and also 'That' final 4 years ago, where they lost to saints in the final moments of Extra time, due to a possible try being given.
Onto Saturday then and Both teams come into the game in fine form, Saracens haven't conceded a point in the second half in their previous 4 games, last time they conceded a point in the second half, was against the new European Champions, Leinster in the quarter final stage. And have also scored nearly 200 points in four games also. And with home Advantage Saracens are probably slight favourites for this one on paper. However the game of Rugby isn't played on paper it's player on plastic (in some cases) and Wasps have happy memories at Allianz Park when they put 60 plus points on Sarries in the St Valentine's Day massacre, they will be looking to repeat that this time around.
Wasps recent form suggests they will be more than fired up for this fixture, winning 3 games out of the last 4 including home victories over Worcester (30-15) and Northampton Saints (36 - 29) and their most recent outing on an artificial pitch up at Kingston Park, where they won 22-39 to book themselves a semi final place with Sarries. Wasps raced into a 3 - 19 half time lead thanks to tries from Cruse, Daly and Cipriani, then two quick fire tries in the second half looked to put wasps out of sight, or so everyone thought, Newcastle though appear to be the come back kings and after completing a hard earned Victory over Leicester Tigers to secure their semi final there wasn't quite enough in the tank and even though the scores were close Wasps had the final say with a break away try late on and ended up winning 22 - 39.
Wasps are always a dangerous team, have the ability to score tries for fun and from anywhere, with Danny Cipriani in exhilarating form and pace from the wings and the creativeness that Pablo Picasso would have been proud of, wasps potentially have the best backline in Europe when they are on fire, the likes of Christian Wade, Elliot Daly, Jimmy Gopperth and Willie Le Roux, and marshalled by the kicking ability of either Joe Simpson or Dan Robson, they are not to be underestimated. However wasps have been suspect defensively and for all their excitement and try scoring abilty they do tend to leave gaps and many teams and exploited this and score lots of tries because of this, Also Danny Cipriani and James Haskell are off to Pastures new in the new season they will want to end their Wasps career with some silverware. That is more than enough motivation for Wasps to reach the final again and maybe go one step further this season. Nathan Hughes is also available for selection this weekend,
A potential Wasps line up could be:
McIntyre, Taylor, Cooper-Wooley, Launchbury, Myall, Haskell, Young, Hughes, Robson, Cipriani, Daly, De Jongh, Gopperth, Wade, Le Roux
Saracens as briefly mentioned, have been I. Tremendous form recently, if given half a chance they will score for fun, they tend to keep games tight in the first half then choke the life out of teams and then turn the screw and that's why they have been winning by such large margins recently. For any team to not concede a point in the second half in 4 games at this level is incredible, and if they manage to somehow repeat that feat again and are leading at Half time it will be job done for the Men in Black. Saracens secured their home Semi a few weeks back when they beat already relegated London Irish at the Madjeski Stadium in Reading. The final score that day was 14 - 51. Then in round 22 Saracens dominance prevailed yet again with a demolition job over Gloucester at Allianz Park, the former European Champions scored 9 tries en route to thrashing the Cherry and Whites 62 - 12 which has set the standard going into this weekend v Wasps. Saracens have been ever present in the semi Finals or beyond for the past 9 seasons, the only other teams to better that is Leicester Tigers who until this has qualified for the semi finals on 13 occasions in a row. Last season Sarries fell at this stage to Eventual Champions Exeter Chiefs. In what can only be described as a Wonder kick by Henry Slade late on sent the Cheifs upfield 50 plus metres and gave them an attacking line out 5 metres from the try line,and inevitably Exeter did what they do best and scored from the driving mail meaning they progressed to their second final in as many years.
Saracens will definitely want to end the season with a trophy and claim a 4th Title which would cap off the careers of two Sarries legends, Schalk Brits and Chris Wyles. Also with news that Williams could be out for up to 6 weeks and not sure on the fitness of Billy Vunipola, Jackson Wray the unsung Hero of Sarries could be making his 200th appearance for Sarries, what a remarkable achievement for such a young man.
Tommy Taylor and Simon McIntyre I believe are both injured and will not play. Haskell also in doubt. Expect to see Guy Thompson in the mix in his penultimate game before moving to Leicester. Should be a great game.
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