Premiership semi-finals: Saracens v Northampton Saints match preview
A look ahead to this weekend's semi-final at Allianz Park
Saracens will take on Northampton Saints at Allianz Park in the second of this weekend’s Aviva Premiership semi-finals with both sides harbouring hopes of running out in the final at Twickenham on May 25.
This season was the first time that Saracens have finished top of the table come the end of the season, and the 2011 Premiership champions will want to claim their title back, starting with a victory against the Saints on Sunday.
Northampton saw off Gloucester to claim the final play-off position, and despite losing their final league game to fellow semi-finalists Harlequins last weekend, they will feel they have a genuine chance of progressing to their first Premiership final.
Both sides lost in last year's semi-finals, with Saracens knocked out by Leicester Tigers while Northampton were defeated by eventual champions Harlequins by a narrow 25-23 result.
However, defeating the league-leaders will prove a difficult task as Sarries saw off the Saints both home and away this season, and they are yet to lose in their new home in Barnet. Having beaten Northampton at Stadium:MK earlier in the season, Saracens will be with the knowledge that they have the composure on the big stage to triumph in yet another semi-final - their third this year.
Having lost to Sale Sharks in the LV Cup semi-finals before losing to a Jonny Wilkinson inspired Toulon in the Heineken Cup semi-finals a fortnight ago, Saracens will want to make sure they don't choke once again, and it will be the latest in a long line of tests for Lion-in-waiting Owen Farrell.
The young fly-half quickly developed a reputation for remaining cool under pressure, but the RBS Six Nations championship-deciding defeat to Wales along with the Toulon loss has seen questions raised about the Englishman's temperament.
Nevertheless, his talent is unquestioned, and he will look to control the game with his boot and put points on the board quickly - an approach that Saracens have used successfully to put their opposition out of the game early on.
He will be joined in the team with his fellow Lions tourists Mako Vunipola and Matt Stevens, who make up a third of the props travelling Down Under. Stevens was the surprise selection in head coach Warren Gatland's squad, and perhaps picked for his versatility in the scrum alone, he will want to put on a good display to prove his critics wrong.
Saints are led by their own Lion, with Dylan Hartley seeing off Ireland's Rory Best for the final hooker position. It is expected that Hartley will be behind Wales' Richard Hibbard and Aviva Premiership player of the year Tom Youngs, but as we have seen in tours previous, a run of strong performances can elevate anyone into the starting XV.
But before all that, the players will be focused on Sunday's match-up. With everything at stake in terms of the Premiership final, both teams will want to ensure that their season doesn't end this weekend, and it will surely be an intriguing game to watch for any rugby fan.
Previous three meetings...
Saracens 17 Northampton Saints 16, Aviva Premiership (Stadium:MK), December 30 2012
Northampton Saints 6 Saracens 16, Aviva Premiership, October 27 2012
Saracens 18 Northampton Saints 12, Aviva Premiership, March 4 2012
TV: Saracens v Northampton Saints is live on ESPN at 3pm on Sunday
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