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Throwback Thursday: Five classic semi-finals

Throwback Thursday: Five classic semi-finals

It is the Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-finals this Saturday, as Saracens host Wasps at Allianz Park before defending champions Exeter Chiefs welcome Newcastle Falcons to Sandy Park.

There have been some superb semi-final clashes over the years and we’re taking a trip down memory lane to have a look at five of the best.

Gloucester 25-26 Leicester Tigers, 2008

Defending champions Leicester Tigers had only just scraped into the play-offs thanks to a last-minute Tom Varndell try against Harlequins.

They were big underdogs going into the game against table-toppers Gloucester, and 12-3 down at half-time, it looked like their season was going to end at Kingsholm.

But a superb, powerful try from Alesana Tuilagi, battering his way through the Cherry & Whites defence, gave Leicester hope.

The two sides traded scores with James Simpson-Daniel crossing for Gloucester and Aaron Mauger for Leicester, to set up a dramatic finale.

Willie Walker thought he had won it with a drop-goal five minutes from time, but Andy Goode kept his cool with a drop-goal of his own a few minutes later to snatch victory.

Northampton Saints 19-21 Saracens, 2010

Schalk Brits was the hero for Saracens in 2010 as his late try sent the London club into their first Aviva Premiership Rugby final with a win at Franklin’s Gardens.

Saints went in a half-time 8-7 in front after Soane Tonga’uiha’s superb individual effort had cancelled out Alex Goode’s early score for Saracens.

Chris Wyles put the visitors in front again with a well-taken try, before Brian Mujati surged over with the rest of the Northampton pack and seemed to have the Saints in control.

But five minutes from time, Saracens’ South-African hooker raced over to deny Saints a first Aviva Premiership Rugby final of their own.

Harlequins 25-23 Northampton Saints, 2012

Saints were on the wrong end of another late try two years later, this time against Harlequins at the Stoop.

Joe Marler crossed for the decisive score on a day where table-toppers Harlequins were under par for much of the game.

Lee Dickson’s try with ten minutes to go seemed to have sent the Saints to Twickenham, but Ryan Lamb’s missed conversion would prove costly and he was punished by Nick Evans from the tee.

Harlequins would go on to win their maiden Aviva Premiership Rugby title, while it was more disappointment for Saints, losing in the play-offs for a fifth time.

Northampton Saints 21-20 Leicester Tigers, 2014

Northampton finally enjoyed late semi-final success when Tom Wood’s try fired 14-man Saints to Twickenham, beating bitter rivals Leicester.

Eleven points down at half-time, Saints looked destined for more play-off heartache, having lost in the final the year before, but they responded to Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs tries with a George North score on 64 minutes giving them hope.

Salesi Ma’afu’s red card made the task even more challenging, but with the Franklin’s Gardens crowd creating a raucous atmosphere, the Saints managed to claw their way in front, Wood showing superb composure to cut back inside and score three minutes from time.

The Saints would finally break their title duck that season, beating Saracens in the final after extra time.

Wasps 21-20 Leicester Tigers, 2017

Last year’s semi-final at the Ricoh Arena saw another late defeat for the Tigers, as Wasps winger Josh Bassett came off the bench to score two minutes from time.

Kurtley Beale helped Wasps move into a 10-point lead, but Leicester responded through Peter Betham and Telusa Veainu to move ahead.

Wasps hadn’t lost in the league at the Ricoh Arena for almost 18 months prior to this semi-final and had finished 18 points clear of the Tigers in the league.

But it was a tense affair and they left it late to reach their first Aviva Premiership Rugby final in nine years.

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