Bath v Saracens
The velvet glove and the iron fist; the unstoppable force against the immovable object; the struggle between good and evil. This afternoon’s Premiership final can be characterised in any number of ways, some of them just a little over the top, but this much can be said without fear of contradiction: the conditions are set fair for a rugby classic.
Even the weather is promising to play its part. Bath, with their galactico midfield and their free-scoring glitterati out wide, have been praying for a dry ball, a fast Twickenham track and a touch of sunshine, and if the forecasters are to be believed, their beseechings have not fallen on deaf ears.
If they fail to impose their exhilarating attacking game on the most resolute defensive side in the country, they will not be able to blame the heavens.
Saracens can play some rugby of their own, of course, but their selection appears to be based around iron will, intense physicality and complete security in their own half of the field.
The American wing Chris Wyles (pictured above), as close to an error-free player as it is possible to imagine, has beaten Chris Ashton of England to a starting place; Owen Farrell, an implacable competitor at outside-half, plays ahead of the more artistically driven Charlie Hodgson.
There are individual confrontations to savour, many of which will have a bearing on World Cup-related events as they unfold through the summer. The two full-backs, Anthony Watson and Alex Goode, are both in the England training squad, as are the inside centres Kyle Eastmond and Brad Barritt. David Wilson and Mako Vunipola will be up close and personal at scrum time; Dave Attwood and George Kruis may well find themselves chasing one second-row berth for the global gathering; Sam Burgess and Maro Itoje could conceivably be in the self-same position at No 6.
And then there are the two goal-kicking playmakers: Farrell, the fire-and-ice street fighter, against his old schoolmate, age-group partner and current red-rose rival George Ford, the player of the season by a country mile and the polar opposite to the Saracens man in style and temperament. Not since the days of Rob Andrew and Stuart Barnes has the argument at No 10 been quite so transfixing.
Saracens are the ones with the relevant experience. Grand finalists in three of the last six seasons and winners in 2011, they take a lot of beating on these occasions: indeed, their defeats by Leicester in 2010 and Northampton last year were of the last-minute variety. Bath have not played one of these games for more than a decade, but the momentum is theirs. It could, and should, be a belter.
Glasgow v Munster
Saturday night, 6.30pm
Tonight’s Pro 12 final in Belfast has a similar ring to it, largely because the Scots, raised to new heights by the exceptional coaching of Gregor Townsend, have developed an attacking game that bears comparison with Bath’s.
Glasgow have their injury issues, but they have enough game-breakers – Stuart Hogg at full-back, Finn Russell at No 10, Jonny Gray at lock – to win themselves a first title.
Gloucester v Bordeaux-Bègles
The West Countrymen will qualify for next season’s European Champions Cup if they prevail over Raphaël Ibanez’s visitors in this winner-takes-all game at Worcester. (The match has been forcibly moved from Kingsholm because of a pre-arranged Madness concert, which just about sums it up). Sione Kalamafoni returns to the Gloucester pack at blind-side flanker.
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