Preview: Saracens v Gloucester
PREMIERSHIP SEMIFINAL: Gloucester have the odds firmly stacked against them when they head to Allianz Park to take on the defending champions Saracens on Saturday.
Saracens’ Mark McCall already put one over Gloucester Rugby’s Johan Ackermann when he was named the Director of Rugby of the Season at the star-studded awards ceremony on Wednesday.
And this Saturday Saracens and McCall, of course, would be eager to amplify their dominance when they go up against Ackermann’s Gloucester in a huge semi-final – which marks the 3 000th Premiership match to take place since the competition began 22 years ago.
Saracens enjoyed a tremendous season and their impressive European Champions Cup win over Leinster was certainly evident of it.
The north Londoners outplayed the Irish with an impressive 20-10 win at St James Park and could get another boost on Saturday if they were to overcome an in-form Gloucester side.
The Cherry & Whites are also enjoying a stellar season. The side have recorded 13 wins this seasons and concluded the season third on the log.
However, they are entering unfamiliar territory as they are on the hunt for their first final since 2007 – a task Gloucester captain Willi Heinz has labelled very ‘tough’.
“Saracens have been outstanding for a number of years and have taken their game to another level in the last few weeks when they’ve had their top side out playing,” Heinz said.
“That intensity, physicality and accuracy that they brought to that Champions Cup Final [against Leinster]. They stick in the big moments and turn those moments into scoring opportunities.
“We know it’s going to be super tough down at Allianz on Saturday,”
Fascinating match-ups will line up across the 23s on Saturday, none more so than the expected battle between Danny Cipriani and Owen Farrell, with the sides having won one apiece against each other this term.
Cipriani, who won Premiership Rugby Player of the Season, will have to continue with that great performance he produced since joining Gloucester at the start of the season
“Danny is an outstanding player and character,” Heinz said, adding: “Nines and tens are so crucial and when you throw a new partnership together, it can take time to get humming but I’ve got on really well with Danny,”
Meanwhile, McCall has urged his side to shut down Cipriani.
“Danny is a brilliant player,” McCall told the Mirror.co.uk
“Gloucester’s starter plays are as good as anyone’s in Europe. If he gets front-foot ball and he’s playing off momentum the whole time he is very, very good.
“Obviously we want that not to be case. We want him to have some difficult slow ball as that makes the decisions that much harder for him,”
The coach acknowledged the similarities between this year and the 2016-17 season, when the club came off the back of a Champions Cup title win into semi-final defeat to Exeter.
But unlike in 2017 this time they have had an extra week and McCall is fully confident that history won’t repeat itself.
“There is this hangover from 2017 and how that opportunity got wasted – we don’t want to let that happen again.
“The good thing is that we’re playing against a really good team and we understand that. The players see the quality we are up against and the progress Gloucester have made – and that focuses the mind,”
Prediction: It is Saracens’ 11th appearance at the semi-final stage where their record is won six, lost four, although they have won four of the last five. Four of those semi-finals have been played at Allianz Park where their only defeat was to Northampton in 2013. Saracens defeat at Worcester on Saturday was their sixth this season in Premiership Rugby and all of those have been since November. Saracens are unbeaten in any home game at any venue since Leicester’s 28-20 victory at Allianz Park on February 25, 2018. Gloucester Rugby have appeared in just three previous Premiership Rugby semi-finals, and two of those were against Saracens. Their only victory at this stage was against Saracens at Kingsholm in 2007, whilst their two defeats were at home to Leicester in 2008 and away to Saracens at Vicarage Road in 2011. Gloucester’s only victory in the last three rounds of Premiership Rugby was at home to relegated Newcastle in round 21. The last seven meetings between the two clubs in Premiership Rugby have all been won by the home side on the day. Gloucester have lost on all six previous visits they have made to Allianz Park.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Alex Lozowski, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jackson Wray, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 George Kruis, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Richard Barrington.
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Ralph Adams-Hale, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Nick Isiekwe, 20 Mike Rhodes, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Nick Tompkins, 23 David Strettle.
Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Billy Twelvetrees, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Tom Marshall, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Jaco Kriel, 6 Ruan Ackermann, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Ed Slater, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Replacements: 16 Mike Sherry, 17 Val Rapava Ruskin, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Tom Savage, 20 Lewis Ludlow, 21 Jake Polledri, 22 Ben Vellacott, 23 Henry Purdy.
Date: Saturday, May 25
Venue: Allianz Park, London
Kick-off: 13.30 (12.30 GMT)
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Karl Dickson & Paul Dix.
TMO: David Grashoff.
Additional Sources: @PremRugby & Mirror.co.uk
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