... and then there were two. Exactly eight months and 18n days after the Wayne Barnes blew the whistle to open the Aviva Premiership Season at Franklin's Gardens we found out which two Aviva Premiership sides would go head to head for the 2015 trophy; Saracens and Bath. The two Semi-Finals were a complete contrast to each other but equally entertaining in their own right and at Twickenham Stadium we will see two diametrically opposing styles clash under the most intense pressure with silverware on the line.
After the most intense and competitive season that we have seen in recent years it is only fitting that this Final is going to be a titanic clash of wills and personnel. Saracens have the greater experience however I think that it is fair to say that Bath have the form. If you cast your eyes down the expected team sheets then head to heads across the park are mouth watering; Ford vs. Farrell, Watson vs. Goode, Burgess vs. Itoje, Stringer vs. Wigglesworth, Eastmond vs. Barritt, Houston vs. Vunipola... I could continue but I won't.
For every player beating their opposite man will be critical to pushing their side towards success, scrum time will be an arm-wrestle given the two packs and the breakdown will be absolutely brutal with the Louw and Burger show! That said, there is one match-up that will capture the headlines and take the spotlight, the Ford vs. Farrell encounter. Ford is the fulcrum of Bath's beautiful back line, he pulls the strings with his innate vision and rugby ability and rightly so is the Premiership's and England's darling. Farrell's industrious performance against the Saints signals that he is back on his game after injury and his goal kicking is on song. The Saracen has been deemed by some to be a 'boring' player and in my eyes this is unfair for he too is at the heart of his side's game plan. Farrell distributes with proficiency and creates for his side, perhaps not with the flair of Ford but it works. Both are fiercely competitive young men, neither will give an inch and it will be a fascinating match up for us all, including Stuart Lancaster, to watch.
The head to head record between the two stands are one win apiece, Bath took the spoils at The Rec in October 21 - 11 while at Allianz Park Saracens prevailed 34 - 24. In my mind it doesn't pay to look back any further for when it comes to Finals rugby historic form isn't the best indication of outcome, it is the here and now that counts. However the part that history will play is in terms of delivering the emotion of the day; Saracens' memories from last year must not haunt them whilst Bath must not become overawed by the occasion. This Final and the build up to it isn't just about how the players handle the pressure it is also about how the men at the helm handle it too.
As we've seen this season Saracens are very comfortable without the ball, Mark McCall's side have won countless matches with limited possession and territory, their Semi-Final against the Saints being point and case. Saracens like to stifle teams, they like to provide very little room for manoeuvre and let their kick chase and brutal breakdown work delivers the goods. Against many this is the perfect tactic, however Bath are not just any side and their backs are not just any set of backs.
Invention, flair, slick handling skills and electric pace are attributes that every man in the Bath back line posses, not just their wing men or their centres, every single back. If any Aviva Premiership side are going to unlock the Saracens' wall then it will be Mike Ford's side. They are not going to change their style and play a low risk game just because it is the Aviva Premiership Final, that we know for sure from the words of Ford and from personally speaking to the players themselves. To me it makes total sense for why should they change what has been working so well for them just because there is silverware on the line? Tempo and an all court game will be put on the park at Twickenham Stadium and if they deliver the clinical hit rate that they didn't against Leicester, seven tries from eight ventures into the opposition 22, then they will be difficult to beat.
This Final is fascinating, both starting XVs are mighty and the benches will play a critical role in deciding proceedings. As for my prediction regarding the victor, let's just say the side between the two that scored the most tries in the opening twenty two rounds of action might just nick this one!
• If David Strettle scores a try in the Aviva Premiership Final it will be his 50th Premiership try
• Bath last won the Aviva Premiership Title in 1996 and their last Final was back in 2004 against Wasps which resulted in a 6 - 10 loss
• Saracens would be the first side to win that had finished outside of the Top 2 after the regular season of action
• George Ford's kicking percentage stands at 82.65% [81 of 98] and Owen Farrell is operating at 81.82% [45 of 55]Suggest a correction