Heineken Cup: Saracens can claim maiden trophy with win over holders Toulon

Saracens warmed up for the final with a Premiership semi-final win over Harlequins last weekend
Saracens warmed up for the final with a Premiership semi-final win over Harlequins last weekend

Simon Mail previews the Heineken Cup final and thinks Saracens look a decent bet to win the competition for the first time...

"The Men in Black clinched their Premiership final place last weekend with a win over Harlequins and have won nine of their last ten matches."

Toulon v Saracens 
Saturday May 24, 17:00
Live on Sky Sports 2

The Heineken Cup reaches its climax with the final bringing the tournament to a close before the newly formed European Rugby Champions Cup is launched next season. This year's competition has all the makings of another classic showdown with Saracens looking for their first triumph against defending champions Toulon at the Millennium Stadium.

Saracens could not come into the Cardiff final in better shape. The Men in Black clinched their Premiership final place last weekend with a win over Harlequins and have won nine of their last ten matches. Their only defeat during this run was at Leicester Tigers when they opted to rest their side so there are no weaknesses in this team and their form could hardly be better. The team are also boosted by the news retiring captain Steve Borthwick is fit to start after suffering a chest injury last week. 

Mark McCall's side have improved as the competition has gone on this season and Sarries managed to qualify for the last eight despite home and away defeats to Toulouse. In the quarter-finals, Saracens battled to a win at previously unbeaten Ulster before they upset the odds to crush Clermont Auvergne 46-6 at Twickenham.

Toulon are closing in on a successful defence of the trophy after pipping Clermont in a dramatic final last season. The French giants are also within sight of the double as they will face Castres at the end of this month in the Top 14 final. Toulon are on a seven-match winning run which includes victories over Leinster and Munster in the knockout stage of the Heineken Cup. The retirement of Jonny Wilkinson at the end of the season is another story which will run throughout this clash but there is no guarantee it will be a dream finale for England's World Cup winner. 

The sides met last season at Twickenham in the semi-finals and Toulon ran out 24-12 winners so it is no surprise the defending champions start as odds on favourites. But Saracens appear to have moved up a level from 12 months ago as their clinical win over Clermont showed in the last round.

The Men in Black are so confident and will feel the side is peaking just in time for European silverware. This looks such a closely matched clash but at the prices Sarries are fancied to edge to a tight win. Saracens will be hard to stop if they make a fast start so it may also pay off to back them to be leading at half-time and full-time at a generous price. 

Recommended Bets:
Back Saracens to win at 2.427/5
Back Saracens/Saracens in the Half Time/Full Time market at 3.3512/5

Bath v Northampton Saints
Friday May 23, 20:00
Live on Sky Sports 1 

The final of the Amlin Challenge Cup is a domestic affair with Bath taking on Premiership finalists Northampton Saints. Bath have had a fortnight to get over the disappointment of missing out on the top-four on the final day of the league season. Mike Ford's side were denied in the last match at Harlequins which left a bitter taste after such a promising campaign.

But Bath have the chance to end the season with silverware when they face their English opponents at Cardiff Arms Park. Their progress in the competition has been very comfortable with victories in all their matches including against Brive and Wasps in the knockout stages. The last time it was as an all-Premiership final, Bath came out on top in their 2008 win over Worcester Warriors. 

Northampton may have one eye on their Premiership final with Sarries at the end of this month but their first priority is to set themselves up for the double. Jim Mallinder's side must be buoyed by their dramatic last-gasp win over rivals Leicester Tigers in their domestic semi-final last weekend. It has been a strong recent run from the Saints with four wins from their last five games.

The Saints started out in the Heineken Cup this season but qualified for the last-eight of this tournament after finishing second behind Leinster in their pool. Northampton have already had to overcome two Premiership sides on their way to the final with victories over Sale Sharks and Harlequins sealing their showdown against Bath. 

Northampton have had the edge in recent meetings between the sides, having not lost to Bath in the last five matches. The teams faced each other at the start of this month at the Rec and it finished in a 19-19 draw. This tie could be similarly tight but Northampton go into as the favourites. The Saints, who won the competition in 2009, appear to have all the momentum and are taken to edge home by a narrow margin. Backing them to be winning at the break and full-time looks another bet which could pay off if Northampton start in the way they finished their match against the Tigers. 

Recommended Bets:
Back Northampton to win by under 12.5 points at 2.47/5
Back Northampton/Northampton in the Half Time/Full Time market at 2.35/4

Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster

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