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LV = Cup: The story so far

Franklin’s Gardens will host the LV= Cup final a week on Sunday and ahead of two mouth-watering semis, there are four Aviva Premiership Rugby clubs champing at the bit to play their part.

The reigning champions are still in the hat and after lifting the trophy on home soil last year, Exeter Chiefs are determined to repeat the feat in Northampton.

They kicked off the title defence with a thrilling win against Gloucester Rugby, saved by the upright to clinch a 28-27 victory at Sandy Park.

Adam Hughes and Fetu’u Vainikolo crossed the whitewash for the hosts, while Ceri Sweeney kicked 13 points but they had to rely on Aled Thomas missing a last-gasp, long-range penalty to secure victory – the Cherry & Whites fly-half watching his effort strike the post and bounce clear.

Next to arrive in Exeter were Aviva Premiership Rugby high-flyers Bath Rugby and a pair of replacement front rows did the business, Carl Rimmer and Moray Low each powering over for an 18-6 triumph.

They made it three out of three in another blockbuster fixture, visiting Newport Gwent Dragons and emerging with a 37-32 victory.

Hughes and Vainikolo were at it again, while tries for Tom James and England Under-20 international Sam Skinner earned them a bonus point.

And defeat to Saracens mattered little with the Chiefs safely into the last four – though it did deny them the luxury of a home semi-final.

Exeter will visit Leicester Tigers on Sunday and, if the pool stage is anything to go by, they will have a tough time breaking their hosts down.

As well as racking up 14 tries in four games, the Tigers have conceded just three – making them the LV= Cup’s most miserly outfit.

They kicked things off with a gritty 17-16 win at London Irish, courtesy of tries from Miles Benjamin and Robert Barbieri.

Sale Sharks were the first visitors to Welford Road and Benjamin was once again at his clinical best, crossing over twice to lead Leicester to victory – Matt Smith and Harry Thacker also dotting down to secure a bonus point.

First-half tries from Sebastian De Chaves and Laurence Pearce then settled a Midlands derby with Northampton Saints, the Tigers eventually edging it 17-8 to preserve their winning record.

And that record stayed intact in style when they went to Cardiff in round four, completing the pool stage with a 43-9 thrashing of the Blues – Adam Thompstone dashing over for two of their six tries.

Northampton Saints – as reigning Aviva Premiership Rugby champions and current leaders – will have a bounty on their head and face a trip to Saracens on Saturday.

Tom Collins got their campaign off to a flyer with a two-try haul to sink Newcastle Falcons 37-23, while Howard Packman, Mike Haywood and Teimana Harrison also got in the act.

Packman grabbed another try in their 24-7 triumph at Scarlets before defeat at Leicester dented their semi-final hopes.

But Jim Mallinder’s men finished the pool on a high, running in four tries to see off Wasps 29-6 to book a place in the last four.

And lying in wait is an imposing Saracens side, who kicked off their LV= Cup campaign with a hard-fought 25-20 win against Harlequins back in November.

A trip to Swansea saw Ben Spencer take centre stage, kicking seven penalties to lead Sarries to a 21-9 victory over Ospreys.

London Welsh put up a stiff fight at the Kassam Stadium in round three but Spencer was at it again, adding two conversions and two penalties to his try, while Jared Saunders also crossed in a 20-15 win.

And they topped the pool in style, Nick de Jager bagging two of five Saracens tries as Exeter Chiefs were beaten 35-18 at a sun-soaked Allianz Park.

Tickets to the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final are selling faster than this time last year so with just six rounds to go, now's the time to click here to book your place at the world's biggest club rugby final.

 

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