Saracens v Newcastle
12.30pm, Allianz Arena
Saracens were eight points behind Exeter in the regular season standings of the Premiership but the men in red and black are 11/10 favourites to take the Grand Final and they can succeed where they fell short last season by winning their semi-final against Wasps.
A European victory distracted them through the latter weeks of their Premiership run, thus meaning that they ended up with an away trip to Sandy Park where they were beaten by eventual champions Exeter. However, that defeat came by the smallest of margins, with Sam Simmonds crossing the line just as the clock went into overtime, an opportunity set up by Henry Slade with a perfect lineout penalty kick from 60 meters put with just seconds to go.
Wasps, as beaten finalists last season and then semi-finalists the season before, are perennial contenders at this level and do have the weapons to hurt any defence – as Saracens have found out in the past. Willie le Roux, Christian Wade, Juan de Jongh, Jimmy Gopperth, Elliot Daly, new England flyhalf Danny Cipriani and Dan Robson have caused havoc all season.
A total of 77 tries shows how true that is but Saracens have scored ten more themselves and for all Wasps attacking brilliance they are often vulnerable defensively – they conceded 61 tries through the regular season, 20 more than Saracens, who also let in just 350 points throughout the season, 151 less than Wasps.
Wasps deserve plenty of respect, but Saracens have the huge advantage of playing at home compared to last year and their Champions Cup exit at the hands of winners Leinster has cleared the way for them to take aim at this game for weeks now. Since then they have scored a total of 31 tries and conceded five in winning their four Premiership games and they ought to be too strong for Wasps once again today – perhaps even by more than the handicap of 12 points with over 51 points looking achieve able too.
2 pts Saracens -12 (10/11 general)
1.5 pts Over 51.5 points (10/11 general)
Exeter v Newcastle
3.30 pm, Sandy Park
Defending Champions Exeter haven’t put a foot wrong in the defence of their title and they can give themselves a shot at retaining their title with victory over Newcastle at Sandy Park today.
The Falcons deserve so much credit for a brilliant season under the guidance of Dean Richardson for giving them their first semi-final in 20 years – when the great side of 1998 took the title overall – and there’s plenty of power in this travelling outfit.
Toby Floods looks like the player that made so many appearances for England and his recovery from a hand injury to take the reins at 10 is crucial, as is the presence of Vereniki Goneva (joint top tryscorer in the regular season with 13) and Sinoti Sinoti on the wings to boot.
However, the Chiefs juggernaut looks too strong to stop. Exeter were a remarkable eight points clear at the end of the regular season – averaging an astonishing 3.85 points per game – and their form at Sandy Park is even more impressive. In a home league table Exeter are six points clear of Saracens and average 4.85 points per game, with nine four-try bonus points from ten wins. One of those was against the Falcons themselves, when Exeter held off a spirited performance from the visitors to win 34-24, and a similar outcome today would be no surprise at all. Exeter’s handicap is 15 points but winning margins might be a more imaginative way to look at things.
1 pt Exeter to win by 11-20 points (11/4 Paddy Power)
1 pt Exeter to win by 21-30 points (4/1 Betfair)