Preview: Premiership Final

Date published: May 29 2015

Bath flair comes up against Saracens power in what is set to be an all-thrills Premiership Final on Saturday at Twickenham.

There is plenty to be excited about when analysing not just the individual match-ups between the two sides but also the contrast in styles and strengths.

Saracens are looking to avenge last year's agonising extra-time loss to Northampton by coming good one year on, after defeating the Saints in the semi-final last weekend, while Bath will have taken great pleasure from thrashing Leicester Tigers for the second time in a season as they return to the big stage for the first time since 2004 and look to win a first title since 1996.

Nothing has been subtle about Bath's recruitment policy but in acquiring quality experienced players – Francois Louw, Paul James, Peter Stringer – and also exciting prospects like George Ford, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson, Bath have have created a potent force who are well coached by Mike Ford and his assistants.

Bruce Craig's investment appears to be on the cusp of recouping a reward, if not on Saturday then certainly in the future, as Bath seek to bring back the glory days from the early 1990s to The Rec. Some of the tries they have produced this season have been first-rate.

Providing the likes of Ford and Joseph with quick ball will be fundamental to Bath's success but few sides are better at dictating the tempo and possesion of a match than Saracens.

They were phenomenal at the breakdown against Northampton both in the way they slowed down any possession Saints had and also forced turnovers, led by Jacques Burger's Man of the Match performance.

An added bonus for Mark McCall is the timely return of Owen Farrell, with the England fly-half kicking like a dream off the tee at Franklin's Gardens to secure the return to Twickenham.

Saracens are more than capable of throwing it wide to the likes of David Strettle and Chris Ashton, lethal finishers both, but it's through the kicking game and their powerful ball carriers in Billy Vunipola and Brad Barritt that they will look to dominate.

Getting consistency from those areas of the game with will give Saracens plenty of confidence, as will their record of nine wins in their last ten games against Bath. 

With the rain set to stay away at Twickenham, we might just witness one of the great Premiership Finals.

In team news, Bath have named an unchanged matchday squad. Watson will make his 50th appearance for the club at full-back, with Matt Banahan (who scored the first ever hat-trick in a Premiership semi-final against Tigers) and Semesa Rokoduguni on the wings.

Kyle Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph are paired in the midfield for an impressive 19th time this season. Stringer and Ford start in the half-backs, in what will be the Irishman's final appearance for the club.

It will also be the last time loosehead prop James runs out in the Blue, Black and White, as the Welshman packs down in the front row with hooker Ross Batty and tighthead David Wilson. Captain Stuart Hooper and Dave Attwood are named in the second row. Sam Burgess, Louw and Leroy Houston continue in the back row.

"Following our performance in the semi-final we thought about making changes, but it's hard to change a winning line-up. We've made sure that nothing changes this week, especially in how we have approached the game ," said head coach Mike Ford.

"It's a hugely exciting day for everyone involved in the club, and we're really looking forward to getting out onto the turf at Twickenham against very good opposition."

Meanwhile, Mark McCall names an unchanged team to the side that beat Northampton Saints at Franklin's Gardens in last weekends' play-off semi-final.

Up front, Mako Vunipola starts at loosehead prop alongside hooker Jamie George and tighthead prop Petrus Du Plessis. In the second row, Alistair Hargreaves captains the side and will start alongside England international George Kruis at lock.

In the back-row, fresh from a Man of the Match performance in the Premiership semi-final, Burger continues at openside flanker. Burger is joined by Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola.

At half-back, Richard Wigglesworth starts at scrum-half with Farrell named at fly-half. In the backs, Barritt continues at inside centre and is partnered by Duncan Taylor, whilst Chris Wyles and David Strettle are named on the wings. Alex Goode is named at full-back.

Ones to Watch

For Bath: Starting at full-back where England may well use him later this year during the Rugby World Cup, Anthony Watson is a rapid running threat who cannot be given any space. In 13 league games Watson has beaten an average of 2.3 defenders per game while also making over 900 metres with the ball in hand. Give him a half chance and he will punish you.

For Saracens: A product of the Saracens academy who has risen through the ranks, Jamie George might have found himself on the end of Dylan Hartley's headbutt last Saturday but received a World Cup call-up for England as a result. George is solid at the set-piece and a brilliant ball carrier around the fringes to get Saracens over the gainline.

Head-to-head: Two players who grew up together and know each other's games inside out, old mates George Ford and Owen Farrell will face off once again at Twickenham. In another audition for England fly-half role, although with Ford now as the incumbent, Stuart Lancaster will be taking note. No player has created more assists in the league this season than Ford with 13, while Farrell has the experience of playing in this game before on his side.

Form: Bath have not won a league title since 1996 and their only Premiership Rugby final to date was in 2004, in which they fell to Wasps. But they've triumphed in their last two visits to Twickenham – both regular season encounters against Wasps. They will need to improve on their recent form against Saracens however, with their only triumph over Mark McCall's men in the last ten attempts coming at the Rec in October. Saracens also have the advantage of experience, having beaten Leicester Tigers in the 2011 final.

Prediction: So much hinges on how much ball Bath get to play with and you sense that Saracens extra experience and ability to close games out could be crucial. Saracens by 3!

The teams:

Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Sam Burgess, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Stuart Hooper (c), 3 David Wilson, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Paul James

Replacements: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Matt Garvey, 21 Carl Fearns, 22 Chris Cook, 23 Ollie Devoto

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 30
Venue: Twickenham Stadium
Kick-off: 14:30 local (13:30 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: JP Doyle, Greg Garner
TMO: Derek Bevan (WRU)

by Ben Coles