Saracens try again to tame Tigers

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The Independent Online

Twelve months after banning Brendan Venter from Twickenham "and its environs" – truly, sports administrators are a law unto themselves – the Rugby Football Union will open their ornamental gates to the World Cup-winning South African ahead of this afternoon's Aviva Premiership final. By way of making life even more interesting, they are letting in Richard Cockerill too. There are many reasons to relish this contest, a repeat of last year's classic encounter, and one of the prospect of these two coaches screaming their heads off within whispering distance of each other.

There is undoubtedly a "bit going on" between these two clubs. Saracens may have abandoned last year's agitprop approach to rugby relations – by comparison, they have been positively conciliatory this time round – but all things considered today's winner-takes-all contest is boiling up nicely.

Both teams feel they have points to prove: Leicester are not amused at their failure to beat Saracens in the regular season, either home or away, while their opponents are bristling at criticism of their style of rugby. Given that Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, the Gloucester centre, described them as "horribly boring", their sensitivity is not wholly surprising.

"If you look at our last nine league games, we scored 19 tries while conceding eight," said Mark McCall, who took over the daily running of the Saracens operation when Venter returned to his home country for family reasons midway in the campaign. (The South African remains a valued member of the back-room team, spending three days a month at their St Albans base). "We're obviously doing something right. We're about winning and the statistics indicate we have an understanding of what that takes."

The champions know it, too, hence the full warpaint and the fighting talk. "Saracens win games, don't they?" the Tigers coach Cockerill responded when asked to assess the scale of task. "They were very pragmatic at the start of last season, played a lot more rugby towards the end of it, and have gone back to a more conservative style. Like them or not, they're effective. But this will be a match, definitely."

It may well come down to goal-kicking. Young Owen Farrell of Saracens has been a little erratic of late, but as Cockerill remarked of his more experienced Toby Flood: "We have one of those too." There is precious little separating these teams – so today should be hugely compelling.

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