Saracens are favourites for Saturday’s Premiership final but do not underestimate the power of purpose. Every individual needs a purpose, it becomes their fuel, and the same can be said for every team. That is not to say Saracens do not have one but what I love about this Sale side is how clear their purpose is – to put northern rugby back on the map. They are desperately important to the Premiership in that sense and I’m so pleased they’ve made it to Twickenham.
Playing for something beyond yourself can be such a driving force. We saw it with Rassie Erasmus building the narrative around the South African people for the Springboks in 2019 and Sale will be aware that they are representing so many more people than there are in the squad, in the changing room and even in the stands. Leaning into that can be huge.
These are two evenly matched sides but the gulf is in experience. I don’t see Sale’s youngsters like Arron Reed, Tom Roebuck, Joe Carpenter and Gus Warr being fazed by the Twickenham occasion, though. They’ve proved themselves to be excellent players on too consistent a basis for that. That said, there’s nothing that can prepare you for the occasion like playing in it previously and Saracens have someone who is preparing to start in his ninth Premiership final in Alex Goode. That is a remarkable statistic.
For Saracens it’s yet another trip to Twickenham and it’s safe to say that the tools are that little bit sharper than last season, when they did so incredibly well to reach the final in their first season back in the Premiership. This year there should be no redemption narrative. Rather, it’s an opportunity to celebrate a remarkably consistent season with a trophy. They have been models of excellence throughout the season, unbeaten at home, comfortably top of the table but they will know that will count for nothing if they do not win the title. That should be what they are fighting for as opposed to any external noise or pressure.
There are mouthwatering clashes all over the pitch but for me the battle of fly-halves and flankers top the bill. A fly-half’s ability to influence proceedings is dependent on the direction in which their forward pack is travelling but in George Ford and Owen Farrell we have two special No 10s. For all the debate about who should start for England I truly hope that for 80 minutes we can just appreciate both. They’ve grown up together throughout their rugby life so it’s no surprise that they have so many similarities. The way they see the game and analyse the game, they’re the closest thing to having a player-coach on the pitch that you’ll get and that’s such a calming influence to have.
But there are differences. In attack, Ford has a better feel and instinct for the game but that’s something that Farrell has really developed. You look at his team and the extra gears they have found, there seems to be a greater freedom to Saracens in attack and a greater freedom to Owen in himself as well. We’re looking at two of England’s great fly-halves. They both played in Premiership finals as 19-year-olds and there are more things that connect them than split them apart. This is a day to celebrate both of them.
While both teams have injuries in the back row, Ben Earl’s duel with Tom Curry will be explosive. Curry’s game in attack has really come on in the last couple of years. I remember when he first got selected by England at No 8. His best position is No 7 (even if he’s at 6 on Saturday) and I wondered how he’d manage but what I saw was him take on that responsibility and become a better ball player and a better ball carrier.
Earl, we know how dynamic and powerful he could be; he could look very comfortable at centre. He’s the closest thing we have to Levani Botia, it’s not a perfect comparison but he wouldn’t look out of place in the backline. That’s a really key head-to-head because when you have two teams like this, and with the battle lines drawn at the gainline, whoever is able to win those physical exchanges and disrupt the attacking flow will ultimately win this match. Enter the main stage Ben Earl and Tom Curry.
The closer we get to the game the more nervous I get and I’m not even playing. On Monday I said Saracens would win straight off the bat. The only reason I’m now hesitant is because I’ve got so much respect for Sale, they’re a quality side. Emotionally they’ll be in the right place but if there’s not much between the teams maybe the chasm in terms of experience in matches like this will prove pivotal in the end.
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