Premiership final: Warrior Brits seeks final word in ‘grudge match’

 

Rugby union correspondent

It is hard to think of a player who revels in the joy of rugby more obviously than Schalk Brits, so when the twinkle-toed Saracens hooker with the permanent smile refers to Saturday afternoon’s Aviva Premiership final with Northampton at Twickenham as a “grudge match”, you can bet your bottom dollar that the relationship between the two strongest clubs in England is based on something just a little darker than love, affection and mutual understanding.

The Premiership is a fiercely competitive place, full of stresses and strains between age-old rivals: the dockyard brawl between Gloucester and Bath at Kingsholm in mid-April had its roots in West Country sporting history rather than in rubbish refereeing, although poor old Tim  Wigglesworth hardly helped matters by dealing out cards like a croupier on steroids. Sadly for those who resent the union game’s increasingly enthusiastic embrace of political  correctness, these bitter local feuds have not been fought out on the biggest stage for the very good reason that Leicester Tigers have  invariably made it through to the final.

Today, for the first time in a decade, the Welford Roaders are either slogging around the training fields of New Zealand with the England tour party or sunning themselves on a beach. By beating their nearest neighbours by a single point in a classic semi-final a fortnight ago, Northampton performed the not inconsiderable service of giving the showpiece occasion the fresh face it has craved for longer than anyone cares to remember.

Saracens worked their way under Northampton’s skin back in 2009-10, winning twice at Franklin’s Gardens at the business end of the season and doing everything in their considerable power to ensure that the Midlanders would not forget their humiliation in a hurry. The Saints considered the Londoners’ celebrations to be several miles over the top, having already fallen out with them during a public tug-of-war over the services of Soane Tonga’uiha, the South Sea islands prop. It is safe to say that the memory of those difficult weeks has yet to be erased.

Hence the Brits take on today’s resumption of hostilities, and the South African is sure to find himself at the centre of things. Not only has Dylan Hartley, the Northampton hooker, recovered from a shoulder injury in time to participate off the bench – if all goes to plan, he will be eyeballing the man from KwaZulu-Natal some time around the 50th minute – but there is also the small matter of Alex Corbisiero to consider.

Corbisiero, the best loose-head prop in Europe, played an influential role in helping the Midlanders to the Amlin Challenge Cup title eight days ago, wrecking a previously rock-solid Bath scrum with a potent mix of strength and technique. Saracens will fear his presence, not because the experienced tight-head specialist Matt Stevens will find it impossible to subdue him – Stevens scrummaged particularly well in last weekend’s Heineken Cup final and will be highly motivated on his farewell appearance in Sarries colours – but because of the cavernous hole left by Mako Vunipola on the other side of the front row.

Vunipola suffered a dislocated kneecap during the defeat by Toulon at the Millennium Stadium and is way off-limits, to the England tourists in All Black country as well as to his club. He underwent surgery earlier this week and as things stand, no one has the foggiest idea of when he might reappear. “He will return to full fitness later this year,” Saracens said in a curt official statement, the tone of which was far from encouraging.

There is a sense that the Londoners are just a little more beaten-up than their opponents – a number of other key players, including the captain Steve Borthwick, his fellow England lock Mouritz Botha, the flanker Jacques Burger and the outside-half Owen Farrell, have all been struggling with injury in recent weeks – and that their spirits are significantly lower as a consequence of the negative Heineken Cup final experience. If this proves to be the case and Northampton’s big-occasion players, from  Greorge North on the left wing to Tom Wood in the back row, perform to their level, there could well be a new name on the Premiership trophy by Saturday evening.

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
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific