Things to look out for in the Semi-Finals of Gallagher Premiership Rugby
The penultimate weekend of Gallagher Premiership Rugby is here and there could not be more at stake.
Saracens, Exeter Chiefs, Gloucester Rugby and Northampton Saints have silverware in their sights if they can win their semi-finals.
For the victors a berth at the season’s showpiece at Twickenham awaits but any side who makes it will have to earn their place with 80 minutes of attrition guaranteed no matter who the game breaks for.
Here’s what to look out for in this weekend’s two crunch semi-finals:
Saracens’ silverware hunt continues
Saracens’ credentials for know-how and nous when it comes to matches which really matter needs no introduction.
Mark McCall’s men have already lifted the Heineken Champions Cup this term as well as being the defending Gallagher Premiership Rugby champions.
They need look no further for motivation than last weekend when a 31-29 defeat to Worcester Warriors came down to Duncan Weir’s 83rd-minute penalty.
The Men in Black will want to avoid it being that close in the dying minutes this time out so expect the big guns to hit this game hard from kick off when they face Gloucester.
Gloucester gunning for glory
Johan Ackermann’s Gloucester have made the semi-finals for the first time in eight years this term, so will be looking to make their mark by claiming the scalp of the champions.
The Cherry and Whites can arguably match the attacking prowess of Saracens – they scored 75 tries this term compared their opponents’ 77.
Where it could be won and lost is if the visitors at Allianz Park are able to match their opponent’s defensive intensity – Saracens conceded 440 points to Gloucester’s 515 in the 22 league games.
If it becomes an attacking shootout – which fans may well be hoping for – a battle of backlines orchestrated by Owen Farrell and newly crowned Gallagher Premiership Rugby Player of the Season Danny Cipriani could not be more intriguing.
Chiefs look for fourth-straight final appearance
Exeter Chiefs have been a model of consistency under Rob Baxter – both in their no-frills style of play but also the results they produce.
A win here for the Devon-based side would earn them a fourth-straight appearance at Rugby HQ with the Gallagher Premiership Rugby trophy on the line.
The Chiefs head into their semi-final on Saturday having set out their stall for playing Saints in last weekend’s Round 22 win – taking a 40-21 triumph at Sandy Park.
Seven tries, from seven different scorers, last time out show the wealth of Exeter attackers capable of hurting Northampton again, not to mention a record-breaking 89 tries this season.
Saints set out stall under Boyd
Chris Boyd’s influence on Northampton’s fortunes since joining the club from Super Rugby’s Hurricanes last summer could not be clearer.
His side have already lifted the Premiership Rugby Cup, to the delight of the fans at Franklin’s Gardens, as well as earning the last semi-final spot despite defeat against Exeter last time out.
It could not be further from last season’s ninth-place finish, in style as well as outcome as the New Zealander has successfully implemented his attacking philosophy into the Gallagher Premiership Rugby side.
Having scored more than 20 points in their last nine matches across all competitions, if Boyd’s men are to prove the victors here, it will only come one way – outgunning the league’s leading scorers.