Fronting up key for Northampton

Will Northampton be lifting yet another trophy?
Will Northampton be lifting yet another trophy?

It is Grand Final time in the Aviva Premiership but who will come out on top?

Saturday sees the end of yet another thrilling Aviva Premiership campaign as Saracens and Northampton face off in the Grand Final at Twickenham.

The pair each won their home games when they met in the regular season but will arrive at HQ with differing mindsets, with Sarries having lost Saturday's Heineken Cup final to Toulon and Saints defeating Bath on Friday to win the Challenge Cup.

Both matches in Cardiff showed exactly where these sides' strengths and weaknesses lie, with Mark McCall's men being outmanoeuvred by the more skilful and streetwise French outfit, and the East Midlanders again demonstrating the determination that has seen them through so many big games over the years.

It may also have signalled a new era for Jim Mallinder's side as, after missing out in their four previous finals, they finally got over the line at the Arms Park.
Momentum is always key going into big games and despite being the underdogs, Northampton will be looking for a fast start that could knock the favourites, who have been almost immaculate at times this season, off their stride.

Of course where Saracens often shine is in the forwards but despite the dynamism and power they possess in their pack, there are areas of significant weakness that can be exploited.

Perhaps the most obvious is in the front row where for all the pace of hooker Schalk Brits and experience of tighthead Matt Stevens, the other side of the scrum can often creak, with Mako Vunipola regularly coming under pressure.

Vunipola left the Millennium Stadium on crutches after picking up a knee injury but the Saracens medical staff are sure to be doing all they can in an effort to get him fit for the Twickenham finale.  

Despite being just 23, the loosehead has already represented both England and the British & Irish Lions and his ability in open play is almost second to none when compared to anyone else in world rugby but for all his plus points, his scrummaging is a major concern.

Over the last few years the former Millfield School man has regularly been criticised for not driving straight and if he is fit, his opposite number Tom Mercey, who began his career with the Fez-heads, will fancy his chances of unsettling his opponent.

It is also certain to be an intriguing battle in the back-row where England colleagues Billy Vunipola and Tom Wood will surely be keeping an eye on each other.
Billy is just like his brother in that he relishes the freedom of running in open space, with his position at number eight often allowing him to get a head start on his opponents, which invariably results in him getting over the gain line.

In contrast, Wood is a true man mountain, skilled in the dark arts of forward play and has all the attributes to dominate opponents, regardless of what number he has on his back.

His ability to both slow the ball down in the ruck, as well as tackling anything that moves will mean he will be crucial to limiting Vunipola's opportunities in attack.
Like all the top sides, both teams' back-lines are sprinkled with internationals with the ability to strike from anywhere, and of course there is the added dimension of the appearance of Chris Ashton, who joined Saracens from Northampton in 2012 and now finally seems to be rediscovering the sort of form that made him such a hero at Franklin's Gardens.

Northampton triumphed in the pair's most recent play-off meeting, upsetting the odds to win in last season's semis at Allianz Park before losing in the showpiece to Leicester.
Their forwards were huge that day and another such gargantuan effort on Saturday could see them finally become English champions.

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