Preview: Leicester v Northampton

Date published: May 24 2013

Leicester's ninth consecutive Premiership Final will see them face East Midlands rivals Northampton at Twickenham on Saturday.

Leicester's ninth consecutive Aviva Premiership Final will see them face East Midlands rivals Northampton at Twickenham on Saturday.

By contrast this will be Northampton's first visit to the show-piece, arriving on the back of an unexpected triumph over table-toppers Saracens earlier this month.

In doing so, Northampton shattered the bridesmaid tag that has haunted them now for so long.

Four successive semi-final losses and the dismantling of the 2011 side that reached the Heineken Cup Final felt like a sign that Northampton's times challenging at the top were perhaps coming to an end.

Roger Wilson, James Downey and Chris Ashton have already gone, with Soane Tonga'uiha and Brian Mujati on their way at the end of the season.

The outlay on Kahn Fotuali'i, Alex Corbisiero, Salesi Ma'afu and of course George North has indicated that Northampton could become a title contender, but not until next season. Instead the Saints have taken the script that forecast another disappointing finish to the 2012/2013 season, and torn it up. Why not them indeed.

Of the possible Finals drawn up at the beginning of the playoffs, Leicester against Northampton felt like the most obvious outcome due to a previous result earlier this season.

The 36-8 thrashing handed out by Richard Cockerill's side on Northampton's home turf sent a message. It reopened the suggestions that the Saints were too far off the pace, mentally and skilfully, to challenge for the title.

Leicester's eyebrows will have been raised by Northampton's semi-final success – how could they not be – but the memory of what they did at Franklin's Gardens will have been revisited this week.

Nine consecutive finals is an unfathomably strong record, but of those eight previous visits there are only three trophies to show for it – with three titles in four years from 2007-2010.

Since their last Premiership title three years ago Leicester have fallen to narrow losses against first Saracens and then Harlequins, watching the trophy stay within London and left to stew and seethe.

With both of those sides out of the equation, their path to glory seems to be clear. Cockerill though would never let his side leave anything down to assumption, not after successive stings at the final hurdle.

One assumption however about Leicester, that their squad is filled with star names, doesn't quite tell the truth in 2013. Yes, six Lions will be making the trip from Welford Road to Australia, but many in the Leicester squad fly under the radar.

Anthony Allen and Mathew Tait are currently thriving within the Leicester set-up after earlier setbacks in their careers.

Young talent including Niall Morris, Adam Thompstone and the impressive Ed Slater are all flourishing, building blocks for the future.

Saracens, Harlequins and in many ways Northampton may all have their moment in the sun, but Leicester have always had continuity. They are a dynasty unlike any other. Finals are what they live for. Being denied for a third successive year feels out of the question.

Ones to watch:

For Leicester: With the Lions tour looming and many already decided that the 2009 partnership of Roberts and O'Driscoll should be rekindled, Manu Tuilagi has a point to prove. Looking back on his big games this season, he was omnipresent against the All Blacks, but subdued against Wales. Warren Gatland want players to thrive in finals, performing on the biggest stage. There is no reason why Tuilagi cannot stun everybody once again.

For Northampton: So much rides on Stephen Myler. When his first two kicks strayed wide of the target against Saracens the story felt familiar – same old Myler, same old Northampton on the big stage. He never looked back from that point and was at his scintilating best, a performance that has rightly seen him called up to England's squad to tour South America. If Northampton are to win, it will be down to his composure and mental strength.

Head-to-head: The battle at the breakdown lead by Tom Wood and Julian Salvi will play it's part, but the set-piece and the clash between Dan Cole and Soane Tonga'uiha will dictate this one. Cole at his worst is penalty-prone – at his best utterly dominant. Tonga'uiha, or “Tiny” as Franklin's Gardens will always affectionately remember him, has left a legacy at Northampton and can still dominate at the scrum. Yet another close-range try would be a fitting send-off.

Form: The Tigers have lost just one Aviva Premiership Rugby match since February: 26-27 at Bath on 20 April. Leicester have been defeated on their last two visits to Twickenham – the Premiership finals in 2011 (to Saracens) and 2012 (to Harlequins). The Tigers are bidding to be English Champions for a record tenth time. Northampton Saints become the ninth different club to reach a Premiership final as they attempt to carry off the Champions of England crown for the first time in their history. This is only the second Premiership final not to feature the number one seeds, Saracens having been eliminated last week by the Saints in the semi-finals just like Gloucester were in 2007/08. No side ranked lower than 2nd has ever won the Premiership final. Northampton's only defeat in their last four matches was 19-22 at Harlequins on 4 May. This is the Saints' sixth visit to Twickenham where their only two victories were over Munster in the 2000 European Cup final, and against Exeter in the National Trophy final in 2008. Overall the two great East Midlands rivals have locked horns on 227 previous occasions since they first met at Leicester's Belgrave Cricket and Cycle Ground on 6November 1880, with the teams sharing a nil-nil draw. Their only previous clash at a neutral venue was in their sole meeting in a final – in last season's Anglo-Welsh Cup final at Worcester, where the Tigers won 26-14. The Tigers have won their last seven games against the Saints in all competitions since Northampton won 27-19 at Franklin's Gardens in the Premiership on 5 September 2010.

Prediction: Northampton stunned many against Saracens, but Leicester's performance against Harlequins has been overlooked. They were clinical, relentless, and will be again at Twickenham. Tigers by 5!

Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Niall Morris, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Toby Flood (c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Tom Croft, 5, Geoff Parling, 4, Graham Kitchener, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Logovi'i Mulipola
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Fraser Balmain, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Ed Slater, 20 Steve Mafi, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 George Ford, 23 Matt Smith.

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 James Wilson, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Samu Manoa, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Phil Dowson, 5, Christian Day, 4, Courtney Lawes, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Dylan Hartley (c),