Key Clash Preview: Leicester Tigers v Saracens
Date: 12th May 2012
Referee: Dave Pearson
Venue: Welford Road
The fortress stands once more. Watching teams come to Welford Road and celebrate on the way out didn’t seem right at the beginning of the season, but six unbeaten months later there is no question that Leicester are back to their indomitable best. Six bonus point wins in a row was a new Premiership record, but perhaps the biggest testament to Leicester’s form right now is that even without hitting top gear last weekend against Bath, they still won by 25 points. It’s hard to look past them.
Of the sides making up the last four, perhaps Saracens are the only one who could actually travel to Welford Road and win. The way Saracens suck the life out of the opposition through their pack before racking up the points through the boots of messrs Hodgson and Farrell has been very sucecssful. Not many packs can go toe to toe with Leicester but Saracens are one who have that ability – just look at last year’s final for a reference.
What to Expect:
Perhaps the forward battle of the season. Saracens will miss Jacques Burger and Andy Saull more than ever, not forgetting Kelly Brown, in what will essentially be a breakdown scrap. The way Steve Mafi and Julian Salvi have performed in the last few months marks them out as the form flankers in the league – and they will hound the champions all afternoon. What is crucial however is the fact that Toby Flood’s fitness is unknown after he picked up a leg injury last weekend, because his absence would hand George Ford a start in the biggest game of his career. How he handles that pressure, nobody knows.
Head to Head: Thomas Waldrom & Ernst Joubert
Two game breakers who have lit up the Premiership over the last couple of seasons, Waldrom and Joubert are integral to their respective sides. Waldrom is now an adopted Englishman and pending the fitness of Ben Morgan this summer could make his debut in South Africa, whilst Joubert also qualifies in June and has been highlighted as another potential convert. Their dynamism off the back of the scrum is an opposition fly-half’s nightmare. The winner this Saturday could be decided by who is more effective.
One to Watch: George Ford & Rhys Gill
If Flood does fail to be pass his fitness test, then Ford will be thrust into the spotlight. The IRB Young Player of the Year performed well for Leicester during the LV=Cup, but has been left out of the summer tour to South Africa in order to get a full pre-season under his belt with Leicester before possible involvement with England within the next 12 months. The pressure of a Premiership semi-final though will be immense on the youngster’s shoulders.
There will also be plenty of pressure on Rhys Gill, because whether he is up against Martin Castrogiovanni or Dan Cole, he will be tasked to hold his own against one of the world’s best tighthead props. The platform at scrum time is essential to the way Saracens play, making Gill’s performance absolutely crucial.
There will certainly be no repeat of Saracens 25-50 win at Welford Road earlier in the season. Leicester’s form both at home and in the league makes them definite favourites. The margin of victory however, will not come easily. Tigers by 5
by Ben Coles
Here are the thoughts of Leicester Tigers scrum-half Ben Youngs: