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'Let's return to reality - Ireland must exercise caution'

Irish expectation soars as Andy Farrell's team sweeps all in its path, but cool heads are needed if they are to heed mistakes of the past

Sale win the lift Premiership needs – Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
George Ford of Sale Sharks looks on during the EPCR Challenge Cup Round Of Sixteen match between Cardiff Rugby and Sale Sharks at Cardiff Arms Park on April 01, 2023 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Ryan Hiscott/Getty Images for Sale Sharks)

Saracens are favourites but, with everything going on in the Premiership at the moment, it’d be good for the league to have a less familiar name on the trophy.


London Irish’s RFU-imposed deadline is looming on Tuesday and it’s almost impossible to discuss the showpiece final without referencing that the Premiership could have lost a quarter of its clubs during the course of just one season after Worcester and Wasps went to the wall too.

That is a remarkably bleak state of affairs and there’s no glossing over that but a winner that hasn’t held the trophy aloft for 17 years, one that has been in the doldrums for much of that time and one that is a geographical outlier would bring just give the league a bit of a lift.

Sale were nowhere when Ged Mason and Simon Orange took over in June 2016 and they’ve built gradually but the uplift in attendances and feelgood factor in Salford has been a joy to see this season and a northern winner from football and rugby league territory could really make a difference.

The Sharks do have a trio of Premiership winners in their ranks in George Ford, Manu Tuilagi and Jonny Hill but all the experience and knowledge of how to get over the line in big games is with Saracens and that is often what separates teams in a final.

It was a similar scenario last year though and Leicester triumphed in a defeat that hurt Sarries in a big way and has been mentioned by Mark McCall all season long in terms of it being a major motivation to right that wrong.


He felt they played within themselves and didn’t fire a shot, to such an extent that there has been a marked evolution in the way Saracens play this season and it’ll be fascinating to see if they can continue that into the final or if they revert to type.

Their counter attacking and offloading game has been outstanding but finals are a different beast and playing with freedom will be the ultimate test. In truth, they need a blend of this campaign’s adventure and the pragmatism and box-kicking brilliance of years gone by.

Sale are in a similar position to the last time they were in a Premiership final as well. They were big underdogs against Leicester in 2006 but took us to the cleaners by playing with a ‘no fear’ attitude, so they’ll be hoping for a repeat of that.

Sale Sharks
George Ford – PA

There are fascinating match-ups all over the pitch but the Farrell v Ford battle rightly steals the headlines, with the England subplot an interesting sideshow. Ford only played 24 minutes of last year’s final and it’s fair to say his old mate has had the better of him over the years.

The Sale fly half is a special talent but he has gone missing in big games before so he’ll be desperate to put in a commanding performance that not only takes the trophy to the North West but also catches the eye of Steve Borthwick.

Elsewhere, the Sharks’ inexperienced back three are sure to be put under a heap of pressure, while it’s the back row where Saracens are struggling and they definitely don’t have the depth they once did.

They have Mako Vunipola, with Eroni Mawi having been preferred as a starter presumably for scrummaging reasons, and Elliot Daly in reserve but Sale certainly look to have the stronger bench on paper.

Saracens McCall Premiership verdict
Saracens’ Owen Farrell (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

For all Saracens’ star quality and experience, they’ve lost major knockout games to La Rochelle, Toulon and Racing, as well as Leicester, recently and all of the contents of their overflowing trophy cabinet were won before the salary cap scandal hit.

As a result, the men from North London do have pressure on them to show they still have their mojo and the ability to win trophies even if the squad depth isn’t the same as it once was.

It’s no secret how Sale will want to play and the physicality is likely to be off the charts, with the breakdown battle proving as crucial as ever. Sale will miss Ben Curry and they have to ensure their discipline is on point, something that hasn’t been the case most of the time over the past couple of years.

Luke Pearce
Luke Pearce (Photo By Brendan Moran/Getty Images)

There aren’t many better than Luke Pearce when it comes to making sure teams are behaving themselves and I can’t believe it’s his first Premiership final but he’s definitely there on merit.

My heart says Sale to win because Northern Rugby Matters and a Sharks title has the potential to make a real impact but my head does say Saracens will have the experience and winning mentality to edge it.

The ultimate competitor Farrell just happens to be level with me on five Premiership titles at the moment too and my old mate Freddie Burns did the business to stop him overtaking me last year so I might be hoping Ford and Sale can do the same this time around too!


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