Things to look out for in the Gallagher Premiership Rugby final
A distinct hint of déjà vu swirls around this weekend’s Gallagher Premiership Rugby final as Exeter Chiefs and Saracens go head-to-head for the title for the third time in the last four seasons.
The growing rivalry between the Chiefs and Saracens at the pinnacle of the English game will be taken up another notch on Saturday, with the two sides primed for what is likely to be their most significant showdown yet.
The stakes feel higher than usual for England’s top two this year, with the Chiefs determined to avenge last year’s defeat to Saracens as they contest their fourth successive Gallagher Premiership Rugby final, while the holders are chasing a European and domestic double after winning the Heineken Champions Cup earlier this month.
With this simmering rivalry set to be reignited once again on Saturday, here’s what you need to look out for in this weekend’s showdown.
Numbers don’t tell the whole story with Chiefs
Rob Baxter’s Exeter have made the final for four successive years – however, their record at Twickenham Stadium does not provide the most favourable of statistics for the Devon-based side.
The Chiefs have only emerged victorious in one of their three previous final appearances but what will worry them more is that their two defeats have been against Saracens.
While their Twickenham record does not nearly compare with their opponents, Exeter’s confidence will be boosted by their league dominance, Rob Baxter’s side finishing eight points clear of Saracens at the top of the Gallagher Premiership Rugby table.
Boring, boring @ExeterChiefs
It’s not all pick and go with us, which is your favourite? https://t.co/ElIjBklTuF
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) 30 May 2019
But, having lost the final in identical circumstances 12 months ago, the Chiefs will be well aware that league form does not always translate into trophy success.
If they fall short again on Saturday, there’s another statistic that could rub salt in the wound – the only team to have topped the league table after 22 rounds and then won the final in the last six years was Saracens in 2016.
That said, this season has provided plenty of positives. Exeter have scored a record-breaking 89 tries in 22 games and they will be looking to fly-half Joe Simmonds to replicate his 17-point haul in the semi-final win over Northampton Saints to boost their attacking threat on Saturday.
Joining Simmonds will likely be Gallagher Premiership Rugby Player of the Season nominee Matt Kvesic, a stand-out figure for Rob Baxter’s side this season – he could play an instrumental role with his try-scoring ability and powerful running.
Saracens on the hunt for successive silverware
The odds, however, are certainly in Saracens’ favour with the defending Gallagher Premiership Rugby champions looking to win their fifth title in just nine years.
Mark McCall’s side clearly have no qualms about stepping up to the big stage either, having won 10 of their last 11 matches at Twickenham and three Heineken Champions Cup finals in the last four years.
The question remains however, over whether Saracens can conquer table-toppers Chiefs for a second successive year, as their opponents will be determined to avenge last season’s heartache by reclaiming the title at Twickenham.
We’ve scored some beautiful tries this season in @premrugby! 😍
Take a look at a few of them👌🔥 pic.twitter.com/dj64NEHCMJ
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) 29 May 2019
Saracens claimed the bragging rights in the last encounter between the two finalists, running out 38-7 winners in Round 21 in the league earlier this month but realistically, one can draw little from the victory, with both sides playing second-string teams.
This time around, however, Saracens will most certainly have the advantage of experience in their ranks, with the likes of four-time Premiership champions Owen Farrell and Jamie George set to be on hand to steer the ship.
The sophistication of their attack has continued to dazzle this year, spurred on by two influential wings in Sean Maitland and Liam Williams who are excellent at winning the aerial battle.
That said, it was the young Nick Tompkins who was the hero in Saracens’ semi-final victory over Gloucester last weekend, with his 14-minute second-half hat-trick proving Saturday’s showdown could be anyone’s time to shine.