Aviva Premiership final preview: Leicester Tigers v Northampton Saints
A look ahead to Saturday's game at Twickenham
It all comes down to one last game for both Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints in the battle to be crowned Aviva Premiership champions when the two collide at Twickenham stadium on Saturday.
10 teams have fallen by the wayside, with defending title holders Harlequins seeing their campaign end along with table-toppers Saracens at the semi-final stage. Just two remain in a war of the East-Midland's clubs, and perennial underachievers Saints will want to kill off a mounting reputation of failure against their fierce rivals.
It will be their first Premiership final in their history, having gone out at the semi-final stage for the past three seasons. However, they did reach the Heineken Cup final in 2011, and had it not been for a Jonathan Sexton-inspired comeback from Leinster, they would have added a second European trophy to their 2000 success.
They will face the toughest of challenges in the shape of Leicester though, with the Tigers set to walk out in their ninth consecutive Premiership final. Hope does come for the Saints in that their opponents have been beaten in the last two finals, but their last-gasp victory in 2010 via a Dan Hipkiss try shows they are a force to be reckoned with.
Richard Cockerill's side will go into the match as considerable favourites, but if Northampton are to have any success, they will need to show the no-fear defense and clinical finishing that saw off Saracens a fortnight ago. Samu Manoa took on Sarries up front and some will still be feeling his impact, with a number of thunderous tackles breaking their opponents both physically and mentally.
Manoa will start at No. 8, with his versatility allowing him to play in the second and back-row, meaning Christian Day and Courtney Lawes will continue at lock with Phil Dowson and Tom Wood joining Manoa as loose-forwards.
They will come up against Tom Croft, Julian Salvi and Jordan Crane, with the latter getting the nod ahead of Steve Mafi and Thomas Waldrom, who doesn't even make the squad. Logovi'i Mulipola continues to stand-in for the injured Marcos Ayerza at prop, with British and Irish Lion Dan Cole beating Martin Castrogiovanni to the starting line-up.
The Italian will be making his final appearance for Leicester, and another to leave Welford Road this year is full-back and club-captain Geordan Murphy, who has announced he will retire at the end of the season. Cockerill has shown there is no room for sentiment, leaving Murphy out of the match-day squad after a 16 year career with the Tigers.
Mathew Tait will start at full-back and he will have support from the wings in the shape of Niall Morris and the dangerous Vereniki Goneva. The Fijian scored the opening try in the semi-final victory over Quins, demonstrating his finishing has he opened the gates for Morris, Croft and Tait to all cross over as well.
And while they will head into the game as favourites, Northampton will know that if they show the same physicality that they did at Allianz Park, they stand a very strong and realistic chance of claiming their maiden Premiership trophy.
Leicester Tigers: Mathew Tait; Niall Morris, Manu Tuilagi, Anthony Allen, Vereniki Goneva; Toby Flood, Ben Youngs; Logovi'i Mulipola, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole; Graham Kitchener, Geoff Parling; Tom Croft, Julian Salvi, Jordan Crane.
Replacements: Rob Hawkins, Fraser Balmain, Martin Castrogiovanni, Ed Slater, Steve Mafi, Sam Harrison, George Ford, Matt Smith.
Northampton Saints: Ben Foden; Ken Pisi, James Wilson, Luther Burrell, Jamie Elliott; Stephen Myler, Lee Dickson; Soane Tonga'uiha, Dylan Hartley, Brian Mujati; Courtney Lawes, Christian Day; Phil Dowson, Tom Wood, Samu Manoa.
Replacements: Mike Haywood, Alex Waller, Tom Mercey, Ben Nutley, GJ Van Velze, Martin Roberts, Ryan Lamb, George Pisi.
The game is live on ESPN at 3pm.
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