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Exeter vs Saracens composite XV

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Gallagher Premiership final - Exeter Chiefs vs Saracens composite XV

After months of slogging it out in the regular season, the 2018/19 Gallagher Premiership final is finally here, pitting reigning champions Saracens against perennial contenders Exeter Chiefs.

The pair have accounted for the last four domestic titles and it was only Exeter’s efforts in 2017 that have denied Saracens a clean sweep of domestic trophies to go with their two European titles over that period. A win on Saturday would take Saracens to four Premiership and three Heineken Champions Cup wins in the past five years.

It would seem like the odds are against Exeter, but we have put together a composite XV from the two teams named by their respective clubs to see if there are reasons for optimism among the fans travelling up the M4 to Twickenham this weekend.

  1. Alex Goode, Saracens

From the counter-attacking to the game management, and from the intricate footwork to the pinpoint passes linking with threats on the outside, Goode is arguably the pinnacle of full-backs at the club level currently. He transitioned into a cult hero with his antics following the Champions Cup victory and another sterling display on Saturday will only add fire to the incredulity of those who believe he should be starring for England.

  1. Liam Williams, Saracens

Not all big-name signings work out for clubs, but Williams has fit like a glove for Saracens. He’s embraced the abrasive and defensively responsible foundations of the side, as well as adding incision, speed and finishing ability out wide. What he brings when available more than makes up for the time he misses through international duty.

  1. Henry Slade, Exeter Chiefs

The case of Alex Lozowski seemingly grows by the month, although Slade has been playing at a high level for a number of seasons now and has taken that ability to the international arena. Having another ball-handler and decision-maker in the midfield will be crucial for Exeter, who will be faced by aggressive line speed from Saracens.

  1. Ollie Devoto, Exeter Chiefs

With Brad Barritt coming off a hamstring injury in the semi-final and not trained this week, Devoto sneaks in here with his physicality and not-too-shabby technical game. If Saracens are rushing up and closing the space outside of him, Devoto is capable of taking the ball to the line himself. But if he sees the opportunity to get around the corner of that Saracens defence, he has the ability to push the ball wide and exploit them.

  1. Sean Maitland, Saracens

The claim of Tom O’Flaherty was certainly boosted by his excellent solo try in the semi-final, but Maitland was equally impressive at the same stage, tormenting the Gloucester defence at Allianz Park. Like Williams, he delivers all of the basics in defence and the aerial game, while also providing a bit of attacking x-factor to help swing the tight contests.

  1. Owen Farrell, Saracens

The crown is still Farrell’s, despite Joe Simmonds continuing to show that he can be a challenger to the throne over the coming years. Farrell’s consistency at being able to unlock defences, control territory and put pressure on with his line speed and tackling separates himself from the chasing pack of fly-halves in English rugby.

  1. Ben Spencer, Saracens

It’s a mark of the leap that Spencer has made over the last 18 months that he is keeping a player of the calibre of Nic White calibre out of this XV. He is capable of influencing the game in a number of different ways and that will often be tailored towards what opposition sides are showing him. He has the speed to take the gaps, his passing is strong off both hands, he can measure his box kicks expertly and he puts in as much work and effort as a support-runner as anyone in the game.

  1. Ben Moon, Exeter Chiefs

The loss of Mako Vunipola hurts Saracens and although Richard Barrington is a very able deputy, you feel like the balance of power here – and in the scrum in general – leans slightly towards Exeter and Moon. With the general consensus that Saracens are the slightly better team in most facets, the scrum could become a very valuable area for Exeter to try and exploit if Moon can get an early edge on opposite number Vincent Koch.

  1. Jamie George, Saracens

Jack Yeandle deserves nothing but praise for his consistency in the south-west over the last few seasons, but George is the standard bearer at the position in English rugby. He gives his side the physicality and discipline in the tight that they need, very rarely fails to hit his jumper at the lineout, and can thrive in Saracens’ attacking game as a potent ball-handler and carrier.

  1. Harry Williams, Exeter Chiefs

Just as with Moon, Williams will fancy his chances of getting an edge on Saracens at the scrum, although Barrington is an adept set-piece player himself. Williams’ carries close to the ruck will be important for Exeter, too, with Saracens occasionally vulnerable there, particularly with carries through the breakdown, due to their desire to keep players on their feet and fanning wide.

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Will Skelton’s form in recent weeks has been excellent (Photo by Dave Rogers/Getty Images)

  1. Will Skelton, Saracens

Skelton wins the all-Australian contest with Dave Dennis here and that’s a mark of how far he has come with his conditioning and the consistency of his displays. Dennis is a very influential player for Exeter, but with Skelton carrying and tackling the way he has been for Saracens, he has to get the nod here. Talk of an Australia recall only go to emphasise that.

  1. George Kruis, Saracens

Two very similar players, Kruis and Jonny Hill provide underrated impact on their sides. The reliability as lineout targets, the tackling and breakdown work in the tight and the ability to pick up a metre or two on a carry when the defence is set, although we have leant narrowly towards Kruis due to his form in doing this at club and international level for several seasons now.

  1. Maro Itoje, Saracens

Whether at four, five or six, Itoje is featuring in this XV. His set-piece work, his dynamism in the loose as a ball-carrier and bringing line speed, and his physical work at the contact area all set him apart from players all over the world, not just in England. His leadership and the energy he brings to his team-mates shouldn’t go under the radar, either.

  1. Don Armand, Exeter Chiefs

It’s not been quite the dominant season for Armand in 2018/19 that he enjoyed in 2017/18, but he is still a multi-faceted back rower who is capable of hurting Saracens in a number of different ways. He provides Exeter with a source of front-foot ball through his carrying and he also helps them pick up the slack at the breakdown and is a talented third lineout option.

  1. Billy Vunipola, Saracens

Not too many players would be ahead of Matt Kvesic right now, such has been the season the former Gloucester man has had for Exeter, but Vunipola has been in rampant form for Saracens of late. He has done his best to bury his recent controversies off the field with his play on it and he was one of the major difference-makers for Saracens in their European final against Leinster.

WATCH: The new episode of Don’t Mess with Jim sees former Saracens player Hamilton preview the Gallagher Premiership final

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Gallagher Premiership final - Exeter Chiefs vs Saracens composite XV