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Aviva Premiership Rugby round-up: Semi-final Weekend

Saracens fought valiantly to book their place in next Saturday’s Aviva Premiership Rugby final, and director of rugby Mark McCall admits he is keen to keep faith with the line-up that got them there.

Sarries beat Northampton Saints 29-24 at Franklin’s Gardens, the boot of Owen Farrell providing 19 of those points, to set up a mouth-watering clash with Bath Rugby.

McCall’s troops lost 21-11 to Bath at the Rec back in round 5 before gaining a measure of revenge at Allianz Park in round 14, leaving next weekend’s decider at Twickenham too close to call.

A sickness bug swept through the Saracens squad in the build-up to the Northampton contest, with the likes of Schalk Brits, Brad Barritt and Chris Ashton all affected but it didn’t stop David Strettle or Jamie George crossing the whitewash for the visitors.

But McCall is keen to forget about their semi-final victory and focus fully on the showpiece at Rugby HQ.

“Beating Northampton now means nothing because we have to earn it and deserve it again next weekend in the final. It's about how we play in those 80 minutes,” explained McCall.

"But if we reach a similar level, we'll give ourselves a great chance. We have to transfer this energy to Twickenham.

"Having had a tortuous nine months of injury, we'll probably reach the final with everyone fit.

"But given how well the team did against Northampton it would be very hard not to play them again. We'll make those calls over the next few days.

"We're delighted to be in the final and put a huge amount into that game. We'll look after the players in midweek."

Meanwhile the Aviva Premiership Rugby player of the year, George Ford, insists his side will not change their attacking style for the clash with defensive juggernauts Saracens.

Bath swept Leicester Tigers aside in a 47-10 rout, that saw seven tries for Mike Ford’s men from only eight entrances into the Leicester 22.

Matt Banahan completed his hat-trick five minutes from time after crossing the whitewash twice in the first half, while there were also scores for Ford, Kyle Eastmond, Anthony Watson and Peter Stringer – on his final appearance for the club.

And while Ford accepts their task may be a lot tougher at next weekend’s Twickenham showcase, he is adamant Bath will stick to their guns and go after Sarries.

He said: “It's very pleasing to see us be so clinical. I think in these play-off games when you get the opportunities in the red-zone you've got to take them so to come away with seven tries is very good.

“I'm not sure whether it will be like that next week against Saracens! But we work hard in training to create opportunities like that and we'll try and score as many as we can.

“We call it 'coming alive' when we're out there. Whenever we get turnover ball and there's an opportunity to attack we want everybody to explode and we're all on the same page when we do so.

“You can see people like Banners [Matt Banahan] getting on the end of those tries which the forwards have created by their execution in the first place.”

And David Humphreys admits his side’s fighting spirit saw them through as they edged past Connacht 40-32 in Sunday’s European Rugby Champions Cup play-off.

Bill Meakes’ last-gasp try took the game into extra-time where Darren Dawidiuk and Jonny May notched the crucial tries to book a clash with French side Bordeaux-Begles – the winner being guaranteed a spot at European rugby’s top table next term.

And director of rugby Humphreys admits it wasn’t pretty but he couldn’t be happier with the result.

“It's hard to sum up a game like that in the immediate aftermath with the emotion but we're delighted to win,” he said.

“We probably made more mistakes today than we have in the last six months but we've talked about the character and never-say-die attitude of this team and you saw it here.”

Northampton Saints 24 Saracens 29

Northampton Saints
Tries: Penalty, Wood
Conversions: Myler
Penalties: Myler 4

Tries: Strettle, George
Conversions: Farrell 2
Penalties: Farrell 5

Referee: Greg Garner
Attendance: 13,362

Bath Rugby 47 Leicester Tigers 10

Bath Rugby
Tries: Banahan 3, Eastmond, Stringer, Ford, Watson
Conversions: Ford 6

Leicester Tigers
Tries: T Youngs
Conversions: Burns
Penalties: Burns

Referee: J P Doyle
Attendance: 13,349

Gloucester Rugby 40 Connacht 32

Gloucester Rugby
Tries: Moriarty, Sharples, Meakes, Dawidiuk, May
Conversions: Laidlaw 3
Penalties: Laidlaw 2, Hook

Tries: Cooney, Carty, Healy 2
Conversions: Carty 3
Penalties: Carty 2

Referee: Romain Poite
Attendance: 7,622

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