Gloucester’s rise up the table and closing of the gap on Saracens and Exeter Chiefs has been impressive, but will it be enough to see them secure a victory at Allianz Park and book a place in the final at Twickenham?
We have balanced up both teams and put together a composite XV ahead of the contest on Saturday, and the results don’t make Gloucester’s chances look too promising.
- Alex Goode, Saracens
Gloucester have had good production from 15 this season, whether it’s been Jason Woodward, Charlie Sharples or even Matt Banahan in the position, but there are few full-backs in the world who would win a head-to-head currently with Goode. His security at the back, counter-attacking and ability to step up as a playmaker in the back line all give Saracens and Goode the advantage here.
- Liam Williams, Saracens
The Welsh international and British and Irish Lion has been consistently effective for Saracens this season and it’s hard to see that changing on Saturday afternoon. His reading of the game and finishing ability out wide have been difference-makers for his side this season.
- Billy Twelvetrees, Gloucester
Alex Lozowski has been excellent and will prove to be a threat, but Twelvetrees has quietly laid down a marker over the last nine months that he is one of the most consistent performers at club level in English rugby. He has linked Gloucester’s potent midfield with their weapons out wide and he has been one of the key reasons behind Gloucester’s march to the playoffs.
- Brad Barritt, Saracens
Another extremely tough call and selections of Lozowski and Mark Atkinson would not cause anyone to bat an eye, but Barritt is a man that has been here and done it so many times in the knockout rounds of Premiership and European rugby. The duel between Barritt and Atkinson won’t draw the interest like the battle of the fly-halves, but it may end up being the more decisive match-up.
- Sean Maitland, Saracens
With breakout star Ollie Thorley on the cusp of Eddie Jones’ Rugby World Cup squad but unavailable for this match, the nod has to go to Maitland. He hasn’t scored as many dazzling solo tries as the 22-year-old. but his finishing and reliability in defence have helped him excel with Saracens. His contest with Sharples has the potential to be an enjoyable one.
- Owen Farrell, Saracens
Like Barritt, Farrell is the man that has been here and done it so many times before, despite being still just 27 years of age. Danny Cipriani has been at the spearhead of Gloucester’s resurgence and good value for his player of the season award, but in the crunch games, there are few who pick against Farrell.
- Ben Spencer, Saracens
From the sniping runs to the game-managing box-kicks, Spencer is rapidly turning himself into the complete scrum-half. If Gloucester gift Saracens any sort of cheap possession, Spencer will swiftly move his side into the right areas of the pitch and punish the Cherry and Whites.
- Richard Barrington, Saracens
Losing Mako Vunipola was always going to make the game a little less special, but Barrington has consistently stepped up for the England international over the last few years. His display in the Heineken Champions Cup final showed that he still has plenty to offer at this level.
- Jamie George, Saracens
Having established himself, beyond any doubt, as England’s number one option this season, George has also made sure that his club form has not suffered as a result. His chemistry at the lineout with his array of jumping options is excellent and the amount of work he gets through in the loose is one of the reasons why Saracens are so hard to unlock in defence and stop in attack.
- Vincent Koch, Saracens
The South African just gives Saracens a little more in the loose than most tightheads, whilst still providing a strong anchor for a functional scrum. As long as he holds his own against Josh Hohneck at the set-piece, his impact on the game is likely to be a positive one.
- Ed Slater, Gloucester
Perhaps the toughest call in the XV, Will Skelton has been in tremendous form for Saracens, although the same can be said of Slater at Gloucester. He won’t be able to match the Australian as a ball-carrier, but his lineout work, mobility and defensive work rate will all be vital for the visitors on Saturday afternoon.
- Franco Mostert, Gloucester
An all-Gloucester second row? Versus Saracens, of all teams? It’s a measure of how well these two have combined in the engine room this season that they are starting ahead of two in-form internationals in Skelton and George Kruis.
- Maro Itoje, Saracens
It doesn’t matter if he’s packing down at four, five or six, Itoje is making the XV. His physicality, technical expertise and leadership all separate him from the chasing pack and he will almost certainly be pivotal to Saracens’ efforts to make it to Twickenham.
- Jaco Kriel, Gloucester
Injuries have plagued Kriel of late in his career, but if he is fully-fit on Saturday, it will take an excellent rucking effort from Saracens to keep him quiet and deny him the pilfers that he thrives on. He could be exactly the kind of breakdown difference-maker that really gives Gloucester a shot at upsetting the European champions.
- Billy Vunipola, Saracens
The powerful number eight was in fine form in the Heineken Champions Cup final victory over Leinster. His combination of power in the tight, energy and work rate in defence and explosive ability in the wider channels is arguably unmatched in world rugby, let alone the Premiership, even for someone as balanced and talented as Ben Morgan.
Watch: The Academy – Part Six
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