Planet Rugby

Preview: Northampton v Leicester

15th May 2014 12:08

Share:

luther burrell manu tuilagi northampton leicester

England's men: Burrell and Tuilagi

Northampton will host Leicester in a sizzling East Midlands derby on Friday for the right to play in the Aviva Premiership Final.

A rematch of the last year's Twickenham showpiece which was effectively ended with red card shown to Dylan Hartley for his petulance, Northampton have regathered themselves, licked their wounds and produced a phenomenal campaign to finish ahead of their nearest and dearest in the league.

That should make them favourites, no? Except Leicester have had to battle all season with an apocalyptic injury list that might have brought other clubs to their knees and yet only finished four points behind their hosts.

For large portions of the campaign they have been without Manu Tuilagi, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Anthony Allen and more, all key components to their squad. Under Ed Slater's leadership Leicester have rallied and typically as ever find themselves sitting in the playoffs, looking to make it nine consecutive Premiership finals in a row.

That would be some feat; achievable, certainly, but a mountain of an ask for Richard Cockerill and his squad considering the performances that Northampton have produced this season.

Yet with their Six Nations stars back in the fold they lost to the Tigers 16-22 back at the tail end of March, even with Leicester losing two men to the bin.

Saints fans will still be smarting with Wayne Barnes over the timekeeping controversy that saw Northampton never have the chance to go for the win with a 5m lineout, but having secured a home semi-final it doesn't matter now.

Instead there will just be that little extra fire in the belly to prove they are better than Leicester on their own turf. The reverse fixture at Welford Road ended in a 19-19 draw.

Individual moments of brilliance are more than likely to decide this one and both teams are bursting with world class players. For Northampton you have George North and Kahn Fotuali'i, two arrivals this season that have added that extra touch of class. Leicester will look to Tuilagi to continue his try-scoring run after returning from injury.

But every kickable point will be essential, which is why plenty rests on the shoulders of Stephen Myler and Toby Flood.

Friday could be Flood's final game in a Leicester shirt after a successful stint with the club before he joins Toulouse. Another title to his name would be a fitting conclusion.

Leicester welcome back six internationals to the starting line-up.

After rotating the squad for the Round 22 win over Saracens at Welford Road last weekend, Tigers are able to recall Marcos Ayerza, Jordan Crane, Vereniki Goneva, Logovi'i Mulipola, and Ben and Tom Youngs for the trip to Franklin's Gardens.

There are also places in the forward pack for captain Slater, Julian Salvi and Jamie Gibson after sitting out last week, and Dan Bowden joins Tuilagi at centre, with Flood at fly-half.

"We've come through 22 tough rounds of Aviva Premiership rugby, everyone has worked really hard, and we've shown a lot of resilience to get here. Now it comes down to 80 minutes on Friday for a place in the Final," said Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill.

For Northampton, George Pisi, Fotuali'i, Samu Manoa and Tom Wood all step up from the bench to re-join the starting 15, while Courtney Lawes and Ross McMillan both return to the match day squad after missing the Round 22 win over London Wasps.

Form: When it comes to Aviva Premiership semi-finals Leicester have played eight, won eight, though just one of those triumphs came on the road against Gloucester in 2008. Tigers have won on their last three visits to Northampton but have not won four in a row at Franklin's Gardens since the 1980s. Jim Mallinder's troops have also won four of their last five semi-finals in all competitions - and six of the last seven played on home turf.

Prediction: Make no mistake, losing Hartley to injury is a huge blow for Saints. But, at home, this is a massive test of their credentials. Fail to win this one and they will be left with more questions than answers. With no Allen and no Parling, Leicester are missing two key figures themselves. Those abscenes matter. It should be a classic. Northampton by five.

For Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Kan Fotuali'i, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Phil Dowson (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Mike Haywood, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Christian Day, 20 Calum Clark, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 James Wilson, 23 Tom Stephenson

For Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Niall Morris, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Dan Bowden, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Ed Slater (c), 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Logovi'i Mulipola, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza
Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Graham Kitchener, 20 Steve Mafi, 21 David Mele, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Adam Thompstone

Date: Friday, May 16
Venue: Franklin's Gardens
Kickoff: 19:45 (local, 18:45 GMT)
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Nigel Carrick, Paul Dix
TMO: Rowan Kitt

by Ben Coles

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Friday , September 26
London Welsh vs Gloucester19:45
Saturday , September 27
Saracens vs Sale15:00
Leicester vs London Irish15:00
Northampton vs Bath15:15
Sunday , September 28
Exeter vs Harlequins14:00
Wasps vs Newcastle14:00
More Aviva Premiership fixtures
Rugby Championship
Saturday , September 27
South Africa vs Australia16:05
Argentina vs New Zealand23:10
More Rugby Championship fixtures
Guinness PRO12
Friday , September 26
Edinburgh vs Scarlets19:35
Leinster vs Cardiff Blues19:35
Glasgow vs Connacht19:35
Saturday , September 27
Zebre vs Ulster15:00
Munster vs Ospreys18:30
Sunday , September 28
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Benetton Treviso16:00
More Guinness PRO12 fixtures
Top 14
Saturday , September 27
Toulon vs Montpellier18:00
Stade Francais vs La Rochelle18:00
Bayonne vs Toulouse18:00
Brive vs Bordeaux-Begles18:00
Oyonnax vs Clermont Auvergne18:00
Lyon vs Castres18:00
Grenoble vs Racing Metro Paris18:00
More Top 14 fixtures
Currie Cup
Friday , September 26
Cheetahs vs Blue Bulls19:10
Saturday , September 27
Sharks vs Eastern Province Kings14:00
Pumas vs Western Province15:00
Griquas vs Lions15:00
More Currie Cup fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , September 21
Newcastle 10 - 35 NorthamptonNewcastle vs Northampton Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Guinness PRO12
Ospreys 62 - 13 EdinburghOspreys vs Edinburgh Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
ITM Cup
Otago 38 - 7 WaikatoOtago vs Waikato Report
Wellington 20 - 42 TasmanWellington vs Tasman Report
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , September 20
Sale 46 - 8 London WelshSale vs London Welsh Report
Harlequins 26 - 23 WaspsHarlequins vs Wasps Report
London Irish 32 - 36 SaracensLondon Irish vs Saracens Report
Bath 45 - 0 LeicesterBath vs Leicester Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Guinness PRO12
Newport Gwent D'gons 13 - 33 GlasgowNewport Gwent D
Scarlets 43 - 0 Benetton TrevisoScarlets vs Benetton Treviso Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Top 14
Racing Metro Paris 27 - 16 ToulouseRacing Metro Paris vs Toulouse Report
Grenoble 24 - 15 Bayonne
Montpellier 23 - 3 Stade FrancaisMontpellier vs Stade Francais Report
La Rochelle 26 - 29 Bordeaux-Begles
Clermont Auvergne 43 - 12 LyonClermont Auvergne vs Lyon Report
Castres 27 - 18 Oyonnax
More Top 14 results
Currie Cup
Western Province 36 - 12 GriquasWestern Province vs Griquas Report
Blue Bulls 15 - 26 SharksBlue Bulls vs Sharks Report
Eastern Province Kings 22 - 37 CheetahsEastern Province Kings vs Cheetahs Report
More Currie Cup results
ITM Cup
Hawkes Bay 36 - 17 Bay Of Plenty
Manawatu 36 - 17 Southland
Auckland 32 - 7 North HarbourAuckland vs North Harbour Report
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Friday , September 19
Gloucester 22 - 25 ExeterGloucester vs Exeter Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Guinness PRO12
Munster 31 - 5 ZebreMunster vs Zebre Report
Cardiff Blues 9 - 26 UlsterCardiff Blues vs Ulster Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Bath314
2Saracens313
3Northampton311
4Exeter310
5Leicester Tigers39