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
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen