Bath, England – The Aviva Premiership produced two wildly different matches during semi-final weekend. The first game of the day, between Northampton and Saracens, was a back and forth affair that was sealed in the 77th minute. Two hours later, Leicester were wandering around the West Country shell shocked and getting scored upon every time their opponents touched the ball. Through it all, it seems the two form teams in England have made it to Twickenham for what is a hotly anticipated finale. Before that, Rugby Wrap Up will revisit the last round to see where things went right for Saracens, and so very wrong for Leicester.
Saracens Fight it Out
Everyone knew it would be a titanic clash at Franklin’s Gardens. Saracens were attempting to do what had only been done once before- win an away semi-final. Both the Saints and Sarries have massive forward packs and plenty of firepower out wide, but few would have anticipated the course of Saturday’s match. Northampton fullback Ahsee Tuala went off in the third minute, sadly injured during the opening exchanges. David Strettle, spotting space where Tuala should have been, chipped and chased beautifully, gathering his own kick for a second minute score. The teams were off to the races. Saints went a man up when Mako Vunipola was sin binned in the 12th minute for collapsing a maul, and were awarded a penalty try. Stephen Myler and Owen Farrell traded penalties and the sides went into the break tied at 13. They were boosted by Northampton’s failure to get their loose forwards any substantial ball, with Samu Manoa conspicuously deprived during his final match in the Premiership. The massive American made only 3 meters in the entire match, a disappointing final return before heading off to Toulon in the summer. The Saints managed to keep possession and territory throughout the second half, but Saracens vaunted defense kept coming up with stops inside their own 22. Jamie George crossed the whitewash in the 47th minute before Tom Wood responded in the 57th. Myler and Farrell were both impressive from the tee. The Northampton fly-half went 5 from 6 for a 14 point haul. Despite his impressive form, his counterpart managed to shine even brighter, kicking five tough penalties and two conversions, missing only one of eight kicks at goal. Before the match, Saracens were heard to repeatedly reference “51 weeks,” the amount of time since Saints broke their hearts in the Premiership final last year. Owen Farrell kept the scoreboard ticking over in the second half, and managed to take a major step towards healing the wounds when he put Saracens up by 8 in the 77th minute with his final penalty of the afternoon. Though Northampton had time to reply with a penalty of their own and received a final kickoff, Saracens defense would not let them out of the 22. For fifteen phases, Saints battered away before a penalty at the breakdown secured a famous victory for Saracens. The defending champions lost the opportunity to become only the second team to make three consecutive trips to the final, while Saracens now have a chance to win their first title since 2011.
Bath Rip the Tigers to Shreds
A clinical Bath team demolished their hated foes from the north to reach the club’s first Premiership final in over a decade. Leicester exited Bath with tails tucked between their legs, but nothing can take away from the ferocity and power of Bath’s attacking prowess. In their first seven trips to the 22, Bath scored seven tries, while Leicester managed a meager three point return from four trips in the first half. The final score of 47-10 reflected the danger Bath possessed every time they touched the ball, but Leicester actually dominated most of the counting stats. The Tigers forced Bath to make twice the numberof tackles and possessed the ball for 65 percent of the match. However, Leicester utterly lacked the edge of their opponents. Freddie Burns and Tommy Bell combined to leave 12 points on the table, kicking only one of five penalties. Though it would be disingenuous to suggest that the Tigers would have won with better place-kicking, the match was actually competitive until the 63rd minute, when Peter Stringer ran a beautiful support line to score a try that put Bath ahead by 16. From there, the floodgates opened and the home team scored three more tries before the end of the match, ruthlessly putting Leicester to the sword. The final is now billed as a classic “defense vs. offense” matchup, and on the evidence of the semi-final results, it is hard to argue with that characterization.