Aviva Premiership Final Preview

After another year of unforgettable action in the Aviva Premiership, just two sides remain with the chance to be crowned 2015 champions. Will Mike Ford and son George lead Bath to their first Premiership crown in 19 years? Or will Mark McCall and his battle-hardened Saracens side lay to rest the demons of the 2014 Final? The match pits two contrasting styles: Bath’s free-flowing, attacking purpose versus Saracens’ attritional, bruising style of defence. Both sides showcased these respective styles in their semi-final victories. Saracens gained revenge for last season’s final defeat by defeating champions Northampton at the Gardens with a performance full of frightening physical intensity by an immense pack that laid the foundations for the faultless goal-kicking of Owen Farrell to lead the 2011 champions back to Twickenham. For Bath a home semi-final against Leicester promised much, and delivered arguably the best performance of the season for the home faithful. In an exhilarating attacking performance that has come to define Mike Ford’s young side, Bath racked up seven tries – including a Matt Banahan hat-trick – beating a demoralised Leicester 47-10 at the Rec. Not only was Bath’s usual attacking swagger evident, it was also the determined defending of the forwards that propelled Bath to their first Premiership final since 2004, as they withheld the Leicester pressure to record an emphatic victory. So with all roads leading to Twickenham, which individual battles will hold the key to Premiership glory?

Eastmond v Barritt

A match-up with more than just a Premiership winners’ medal at stake, the two England centres will look to gain an upper-hand in their battle for the England no.12 jersey ahead of the World Cup. With Stuart Lancaster watching on, Kyle Eastmond will be looking to continue his great try-scoring form that has been evident throughout the season and look to show Lancaster that the Bath axis of Ford, Eastmond and Joseph is the way to go for England’s World Cup midfield. Brad Barritt may have something to say about that. The defensive lynchpin of the Saracens backline, Barritt was crucial as always in backing up his forwards with another defensive masterclass against Northampton last week. A favourite of Lancaster’s in the past, Barritt has seen the likes of Eastmond and Luther Burrell steal a march on him for England while he was injured. However, back to full fitness and determined to regain his England jersey, Barritt will be keen to nullify the threat of Eastmond and the Bath backline, while also providing opportunities for Saracens’ danger men Strettle and Goode to wreak havoc.

Ford v Farrell

Without doubt the most crucial battle of the day, and an opportunity for both players to show why they should be marshalling the English backline in September. For Bath’s George Ford, the season could not have gone much better. Starring for both Bath and England with his exquisite skill-set, the young fly-half has put himself in pole position for the England no.10 jersey. For Farrell, injuries forced him to watch on with envy as Ford steered England agonisingly close to Six Nations glory. However back fit and fresh, Farrell showcased the class that saw him selected for the Lions in 2013, with a virtuoso kicking display in the semi-final complemented with a disciplined defensive performance from fly-half. A battle of different styles with Ford’s playmaking ability and wonderful ball-handling skills up against Farrell’s expert kicking game and game management. Expect a close-fought contest between the two where each player may have to display their opponents’ strengths as well as their own in order to push their side to glory and with it, grab the England fly-half berth.

Attwood v Kruis

Another contest Stuart Lancaster will have eyes on as the two lock forwards that formed a solid partnership in the Six Nations come up against one another. With both having wonderful seasons in the engine room and as key components of strong packs, both sides will look to their respective lock forwards for some vital momentum in attack and defence. With the likes of Courteney Lawes and Joe Launchbury back fit, Bath’s Attwood and Saracens’ Kruis will both be looking to use today as a platform to work their way up England’s second-row pecking order.

Burgess v Itoje

The battle of the new superstars, as former rugby league star, Sam Burgess rounds off his season with a Premiership final against the promising talent of Saracens’ Maro Itoje. Having struggled at centre in his first few matches, Mike Ford’s decision to unleash Burgess’ barrelling power and strength at flanker has seen Bath progress to their first final in eleven years. For Itoje, having led England to a Junior World Cup triumph last year, the 20-year-old has carried this form into the domestic season, forcing his way into the first team with his relentless work-rate and energy. With both players being picked in Stuart Lancaster’s World Cup training squad, the outcome of today’s match may be crucial in deciding which player makes the final squad.

Louw v Burger

The battle of the enforcers, the brute strength of these two opensides will be vital in both defence and attack for their respective teams. South African international Louw has been an ever-present for Bath this season as he looks to carry on his imperious form that has carried Bath to the final. For Saracens’ Jacques Burger (a member of the 2011 winning team), a man-of-the-match display in his 100th appearance for the club last week saw his side creep over the line, partly due to his excellent defensive work. With the battle at the breakdown being as crucial as always, both sides will be looking at their flankers to bring their physicality to what should be an enthralling contest.

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