Aviva Premiership final preview

Star winger Chris Ashton has found his form and that could be key in this match
Star winger Chris Ashton has found his form and that could be key in this match

Our Leeds team look forward to the big Aviva Premiership final at the weekend.

It's amazing what a couple of matches can do to the spirit, belief and confidence of a team. Two weeks ago, the pressure was on for England's arch-underachievers Northampton Saints finally to emerge from the shadows of their Midlands' rivals Leicester Tigers and secure a major title.

Since then, they have overcome adversity following the sending off of Salesi Ma'afu to see off the threat of Leicester in the Aviva Premiership semi-final and also triumph in the Amlin Challenge Cup, Europe's second-tier competition.

Their success last weekend was the club's first since winning the LV=Cup four years ago, slightly reducing the burden of expectation on their shoulders going into this final.
It will of course count for very little should they succumb in Saturday's showpiece event, but the assurance garnered from that victory may give them an advantage, given their opponent's defeat in the Heineken Cup.

Saracens aren't ones to wallow in their own misery, given the frustrations they have also encountered in the latter stages of competitions, but the nagging doubts of potentially losing two finals may surface should they find themselves behind early on.

Mark McCall's men have been exceptional all season. Dogged defensively, in which their 'wolf pack' mentality comes to the fore, and surprisingly expressive in attack, the London-based outfit are the complete package.

Only the Leicester team in the latter stages of the 2013/14 campaign and Northampton can potentially match the physicality and intensity that Sarries bring.

However, just focusing on their forward exploits would be disingenuous, considering the vast array of talent they have at their disposal. Often labelled as one-dimensional in previous years, the Londoners have expanded their repertoire this time around.

In Brad Barritt and Marcelo Bosch, Saracens have two excellent centres available, but they are more renowned for their physicality rather than subtlety, even if Barritt used to stand in at fly-half for the Natal-based Sharks during his time in Super Rugby.

Meanwhile, winger Chris Ashton has re-found his form, showing the vibrancy and enthusiasm which saw him first break onto the international scene - which is no surprise given the quality of ball he has been able to work with.

Ashton's partnership with the ever-impressive - at least in a red and black shirt - Alex Goode has remnants of his relationship with Ben Foden, when the former rugby league man was plying his trade for the Saints.

Foden will be the Saint in opposition to Goode on Saturday and will enter the match in fine form having recovered from an injury hit 2012/13, with the presence of George North also aiding Foden's form.

North's contribution to Jim Mallinder's side has been somewhat queried this year, given his superstar status, but that is harsh on the winger whose tally of seven tries in 14 league appearances is an impressive return.

His score in the semi-final inspired their comeback and, if fly-half Stephen Myler can utilise his talents correctly, then the Welshman could prove a devastating weapon in the showpiece event.

With world class loosehead Alex Corbisiero returning to fitness and quickly establishing some fine form, the scrum is an area where they can potentially challenge Sarries, particularly with the ballast Courtney Lawes and Samu Manoa offer from behind.

Up against a brutal Saracens' pack, which contains the likes of Billy Vunipola, Jacques Burger, Schalk Brits and Matt Stevens, Mallinder's forward eight will certainly have to front up if they are to emerge on the right side of the result.

Sarries will undoubtedly go into the encounter as favourites, having dominated the regular season, losing just three games, but Northampton will be the ones running out at Twickenham with the momentum and there is a sense that it could finally be their time.

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