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.

News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
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

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness