David Flatman: Flair of George Pisi against brick wall of Brad Barritt is a battle to relish

From the Front Row

In a world that revolves around human nature, and therefore human error, opponents develop habits that offer the hope of likely advantage. Some counter this with subterfuge; others offer no disguise whatsoever.

Northampton appear to exist by the principle that, even if everyone they play knows exactly what's coming, they will do it so well – with such conviction – that it will take some stopping. Saints' game has, for a few seasons now, been all about momentum. For a side who need to be on the front foot to truly thrive, two areas are crucial to their hopes of victory today. And so these facets of the game become the most vital for Saracens to defend.

Since Soane Tonga'uiha switched from tighthead to loosehead and Brian Mujati took position on the right, Saints' scrum has been both an effective generator of penalties and a constant supplier of forward momentum.

As they force opposing packs into reverse, so the defending back-line rocks back on to its heels. Then Saints' midfield can begin to punch the holes that allow the pack to get around the corner and carry hard, while opposing forwards are effectively having to run back around a breakdown to get where they need to be to defend.

James Downey was crucial to this plan before he left for Munster. A massive unit who carried with evil intent, he was arguably the pivotal player in that team. The midfield of Dom Waldouck and George Pisi is replete with tenacity and raw ability, but the crushing power of the Downey era has gone.

Waldouck is a very underrated player, with a low error-count and a punchy strength that belies his relatively diminutive stature. But it is outside him that I think the key confrontation will take place. Pisi, a wonderful attacking centre with balance, vision, pace and, above all, the confidence to have a crack, will come up against possibly the world's best defensive centre. If you run straight into Manu Tuilagi he will do you more damage, but if an attack needs reading and shutting down, Brad Barritt is world-class.

Pisi is one of those players that every supporter wants in their team. He has the sort of talent that even leaves his team mates guessing at times. Often their job is just to back Pisi to beat a man, make ground and free up the ball, and react accordingly. Barritt's job is, where possible, to close down his space and hammer him before he has the chance to do what he does. This will be incredibly interesting to watch as, in real terms, these are two completely different players wearing the same number.

Barritt showed against the All Blacks last autumn that he does possess enough pace to cause problems in attack and sufficient lightness of touch to move the ball when the window opens. But he remains primarily a cultured slugger. Today he faces a huge test and, while he seeks to line up the Samoan and knock the wind out of him, Pisi will look to leave the committed brute flailing as he dances by with poise and agility.

Sarries will know exactly what is coming. Saints will arrive with a big, aggressive scrum that will do its best to extract penalties and points. Their tighthead (be it Mujati, Tom Mercey or Doran Jones) will work a dubious angle (unless straightened up by the referee) designed to pressure the opposing hooker and allow Tonga'uiha to work almost outside Matt Stevens as Dylan Hartley attacks him head on.

This attempted sheering on the angle can be very hard to counter, but the frankness with which Saints state their intentions on a weekly basis means that the Sarries pack will have a plan. If they can execute it, Saints' dreams of midfield momentum will be far harder to realise. But in Pisi they have a man who can create momentum and release his side from anywhere. This flash of brilliance is always in him.

England's anchorman will either quietly enhance his reputation again or fall victim to one of the Premiership's most gifted individuals. A key battle within a war, and I can't wait.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea