AP preview: Harlequins v Leicester

Date published: May 26 2012

Twickenham will be sold out when Harlequins and Leicester collide in what promises to be a final of classic proportions on Saturday.

Twickenham Stadium will be sold out when Harlequins and Leicester take to the field in what promises to be a final of classic proportions on Saturday.

Both these two sides deserve their place in the showpiece but for differing reasons as Quins have been the long-time league leaders while the Tigers launched an impressive late surge that saw them overcome Saracens in the semi-final. Now, will it be victory for the tortoise or the hare?

Leicester lost five out of their opening six games but then bounced back with six wins and a draw in the midst of their returning RWC stars. Since then they have been on a roll as their depth of quality players has again come to fore. Example, late semi-final call-up Craig Newby's performance.

Richard Cockerill's charges do always seem to come to the party at the business end and there is also the subplot of trying to put last term's final heartbreak against Saracens behind them. If they do manage to claim the trophy – in their eighth consecutive final – they will have deserved the win.

That is not to say Quins aren't worthy champions of 2012 and who would argue they don't deserve to be at the final stage after occupying the top spot for the majority of the season. Performances of the highest order throughout 2011/12 from Twickenham Stoop favourites Mike Brown, Nick Evans, Chris Robshaw and Joe Marler have helped their cause.

Speaking of Quins, this is their highest ever finishing position in the English regular-season which coincides with what is their debut appearance in the Aviva Premiership Rugby final.

Quins have topped the table since round three, whilst their only defeat in the competition since February was at home to the Tigers. Despite their lack of Premiership finals, Quins have won the last four showpiece appearances in all competitions, but have won just twice in their last seven trips to HQ. Leicester Tigers meanwhile have only gone one better at Twickers, winning three of the last eight finals they have been involved in in all competitions.

It is close to being a coin toss this weekend as intriguing battles all over the field are set to excite for the full 80 minutes. Manu Tuilagi against young gun George Lowe and Maurie Fa'asavalu's carrying against Steve Mafi's individual magic are just two of the match-ups.

Mafi is alongside Julian Salvi and Thomas Waldrom this week as Newby goes back to the bench. Toby Flood returns to the matchday squad after picking up an injury in Round 22, which means impressive England U20 international George Ford continues at fly-half.

Meanwhile, Quins are buoyed by the return of Ugo Monye and Danny Care. The two England men have recovered from injury and are the only changes to the team that defeated Saints.

Ones to watch:

For Harlequins: A luxury of choices to pick from for the regular-season winners as Mike Brown, Maurie Fa'asavalu, Danny Care and Ugo Monye leap out from the team sheet. But how could we avoid Aviva Premiership Players' Player of the Year, Nick Evans? The ex-All Black, who in all honesty should have been flown in by Graham Henry but for their overseas-player rules, has been superb for Quins since moving from the Blues in 2008. Assured with ball in hand and tactically excellent, his performance on Saturday cannot be downplayed.

For Leicester: When director of rugby Richard Cockerill was asked – before the awards ceremony – who he believed should receive the Premiership top player crown, his answer was Steve Mafi. Some may raise an eyebrow at that plug, particularly due to the fact Mafi hasn't been a mainstay in the XV, but over recent months the rangy back-row forward has been a thorn in the side of all opponents. Also look out for the destructive Manu Tuilagi.

Head-to-head: Two of England's midfield options collide as Jordan Turner-Hall and Anthony Allen scrap it out under the watchful eye of Stuart Lancaster. Brad Barritt is expected to wear the twelve jersey in his homeland next month but such a thought will not have crossed the mind of Turner-Hall and Allen, with the latter exuding intelligence while the Quins man is a bundle of power. Nick Easter versus Thomas Waldrom also excites.

Prediction: The excitement has been building for a fortnight and we expect a classic between two teams who have always tried to play rugby this season. Leicester will want to get a grip of this Quins pack, but Conor O'Shea's XV just has the edge. Quins by 3!

The teams:

Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 George Lowe, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (capt), 6 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 5 George Robson, 4 Olly Kohn, 3 James Johnston, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 Tomas Vallejos, 20 Tom Guest, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Matt Hopper.

Leicester: 15 Geordan Murphy (capt), 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Steve Mafi, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 George Skivington, 3 Dan Cole, 2 George Chuter, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Logovi'i Mulipola, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Graham Kitchener, 20 Craig Newby, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Toby Flood, 23 Scott Hamilton.

Date: Saturday, May 26
Kick-off: 15:00 BST
Venue: Twickenham
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant referees: Dave Pearson, Paul Dix
Television match official: Geoff Warren

By Adam Kyriacou