Preview: Northampton v Saracens

Date published: May 22 2015

The agony of last year's defeat in the final must still haunt Saracens as they face Northampton in this season's semi-final.

Alex Waller’s extra-time try sent every Saints fan across the globe into rapture, the start of some amazing scenes as Jim Mallinder’s side delivered on their potential.

But what about Saracens? Seeing the likes of Charlie Hodgson sat disconsolate on the turf following 100 minutes of rugby and nothing to show for it was a sorry sight.

The pain from defeats like those tend to be transformed into fuel to succeed, which is why Saracens, despite it going all the way to the final day, are back in the play-offs and gunning for a second title in four years.

Ten of that starting side from the 2011 final remain involved for Saracens today and have been part of defeats in a Premiership Final, plus a European Cup Final and semi-final.

Racking up those near-misses can often create a psychological hurdle and Saracens will be so determined to banish that, even if they face an ominous challenge.

Northampton on the other hand have a chance to really cement their status as one of the Premiership’s top sides by going back-to-back.

Unfairly perhaps the Saints haven’t received extensive praise for their performances in 2014/2015, despite only five losses from 22 games in the league this season.

Saturday will be a final game at the Gardens for two big players this season and last in Salesi Ma'afu and Samu Manoa, with both desperate to bow out in style before they join Toulon.

The champions, at home, will be very difficult to bring down. 

In team news the Saints coaches have named the same 23-man match day squad as that which faced London Welsh a fortnight ago, with the only changes in the starting team from that day both coming in the front row.

Alex Corbisiero and Ma'afu are the two starters in place of Alex Waller and Gareth Denman.

Meanwhile, Saracens welcome back centre Brad Barritt. The England international returns to the side to take his place at inside centre and will be partnered by Duncan Taylor in the Sarries midfield.

David Strettle and Chris Wyles are named on the wing to join Alex Goode in the Saracens back three.

Chris Ashton, who has missed much of this week’s training due to illness, is expected to be well enough to take a place on the bench.

In the halves, Richard Wigglesworth is named at scrum-half with Owen Farrell starting at 10.

Forward duo Jacques Burger and Petrus Du Plessis will both make their 100th appearances for the club.

Tighthead prop Petrus Du Plessis starts the game alongside Jamie George in the Saracens front row, with Mako Vunipola packing down at loosehead.

At lock, Alistair Hargreaves skippers the side and is partnered by England man George Kruis. In the back row, century man Jacques Burger starts at openside flanker to join Maro Itoje, who packs down on the blindside. Saracens Player of the Season Billy Vunipola starts at number eight.

Form: Northampton have won the last three Aviva Premiership Rugby meetings between these two sides. Northampton might have lost their final game of the regular season 22-14 to Leicester Tigers but they had long wrapped up home advantage in the semi-finals. Franklin's Gardens has become a fortress for the Saints this season – they have lost just once in 14 home games, in November against Exeter Chiefs. 

The teams:

Northampton: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Samu Manoa, 7 Calum Clark, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Alex Corbisiero
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Sam Dickinson, 20 Jon Fisher, 21 Kahn Fotuali'i, 22 Tom Stephenson, 23 James Wilson

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Wyles, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 George Kruis, 4 Al Hargreaves (c), 3 Petrus du Plessis, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Chris Ashton

Date: Saturday, May 23
Venue: Franklin's Gardens, Northampton
Kick-off: 14:00 local (13:00 GMT)
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant Referees: Luke Pearce, Matthew Carley
TMO: Sean Davey