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What Jonny Hill, Maro Itoje have told the Premiership final teams

By PA
(Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)

England forward Jonny Hill has urged Sale Sharks to seize the moment when they contest their first Gallagher Premiership final for 17 years on Saturday. Five-time champions Saracens stand between Sale and silverware at Twickenham in a heavyweight battle of two clubs fresh from dominating the 20-game regular league season.

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While Saracens have reached eight Premiership finals, Sale’s solitary appearance came in 2006 when players like Jason Robinson, Mark Cueto, Charlie Hodgson and Sebastien Chabal starred in a 45-20 mauling of Leicester.

Having booked a belated return trip to English rugby’s showpiece domestic occasion, Sale lock Hill – a veteran of four Premiership finals with his previous club Exeter – knows the opportunity must not be allowed to pass them by.

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“I brought it up in a meeting this week that we don’t want to go there, enjoy the day and occasion, think we have had a really good season, let’s go and win it next year,” Hill said.

“You never know, we might not get there for another 17 years, so let’s make the most of this weekend. How we do that, there are ways and techniques.

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“A lot of these boys have never been to Twickenham, not even as a fan, so it was important to have a look at it all on Friday so that once we rock up on Saturday we will just be focused on the rugby and putting our best forward. We are in uncharted territory, really.

“There are quite a lot of players who haven’t experienced that big game in a big arena. It will be very close to a Test match, if not right there. Our preparation this week has been geared towards the hardest game we will have to play.

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“Sale have got a golden crop of young lads coming through, which Exeter had. I see a lot of comparisons, although this time around I am one of the older ones!”

Sale rugby director Alex Sanderson has made one enforced change from the side that beat semi-final opponents Leicester, with flanker Sam Dugdale replacing an injured Ben Curry, while number eight Jono Ross skippers the Sharks on his final appearance before retirement.

It means a Twickenham chance for home-grown northern talent like full-back Joe Carpenter, wing Arron Reed and scrum-half Gus Warr, and Hill is enthused by what the young brigade have brought this term.

“Their biggest strength is that they are really relaxed – I don’t think they know what they are doing at the minute!” Hill added. “They will look back at some point and realise how massive it was, but they are just rolling with the punches and going week to week. They don’t get ahead of themselves.

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“These are the best days you are going to have at club level. When you reach a Premiership final, the environment is of course very good. What Al (Sanderson) has created, what the squad has created for that to come to fruition is very, very impressive.”

Saracens boss Mark McCall also makes one switch after the play-offs, with loosehead prop Eroni Mawi preferred to England international Maku Vunipola, who is among the replacements.

McCall’s men were edged out by Leicester in a gripping final 12 months ago, and it is four years since they last lifted the title. Saracens and England lock Maro Itoje said: “We’ve had a lot of experience in these big games and these scenarios, but it is about who puts themselves on the front foot.

“It’s about who stands up and is counted on the day. We do have experience, but the challenge is to make that experience count.

“It is fair that number one plays number two in the league. I think the play-off system keeps the games and the league interesting and exciting. I have been a part of teams that have finished fourth and gone on to win it, so I do think the play-off system adds an extra element of buzz and excitement.”

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