}

22 May 2012

Harlequins vs Leicester - Aviva Premiership Final Preview

Twickenham will host yet another packed house on Saturday 26th May; with it's second major final in as many weeks. This time though, it will be showcasing England's two best club sides from the  2011/12 Aviva Premiership.

Table toppers Harlequins deservedly secured their passage to the final with a narrow 25:23 victory over the Northampton Saints in the semi-finals, while Leicester continued their impressive late season surge with a 25:14 win over the reigning champions; Saracens, to book their place in the showpiece. With the top two placed teams in the league standings meeting at Twickenham, the match is befitting of a final.


UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Last year, we were treated to a thrilling culmination to the season, as Saracens held on in the face of a ferocious Tigers onslaught late on, to become crowned Premiership champions for the first time. For over 30 phases, Leicester had pummeled their way to the line, but ultimately fell agonisingly short after the final hooter had gone.

Saracens celebrate victory in 2011

It was a dogged defensive display by Saracens, but the margins between the sides were slight if anything at all. It could have been so different and it must therefore have been incredibly crushing emotionally for the Tigers squad to see Saracens' captain Steve Borthwick holding aloft the trophy in celebration. As the saying goes though, 'what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger'.

Leicester will undoubtedly be looking to make amends for that painful loss and perhaps inflict some pain themselves. One only need to look at the feisty responses from Leicester coach Richard Cockerill, (surrounding Toby Floods fitness) this week, to see that there is unfinished business. They will be focused, mentally tough and the appetite is their for sure. There may also be a lot of tension behind the scenes too though. Their opponents in the final, Harlequins, may have finished top of the league table but as we all know, that doesn't guarantee ultimate success. Leicester seem to have timed a 'London Wasps like' surge in form just in time for the final.


ROAD TO THE FINAL

Harlequins

Semifinal - Beat Northampton 25-23
Round Robin - Finished 1st

Harlequins have been the most consistent side in this year's Premiership and it would have been a travesty if they had not at least made the final. Some of the stuff they've played this year has been beautiful on the eye, and it's not surprising when you look at the talent in their ranks. The spine of their team (Robshaw, Easter, Care, Evans) is international class and flanker Chris Robshaw was rightly rewarded with the Player of the Season award only a few weeks ago. Thankfully, Quins sneaked past the Saints in their semi-final....even if it was a little too nerve jangling for their fans, setting up the final every neutral was wishing for. A victory in the final over Leicester will bury the embarassment of 'Bloodgate' once and for all.

Leicester

Semi-Final - Beat Saracens 25-14
Round Robin - Finshed 2nd

Who would have thought Leicester would have been in the final after their horrific start to the season during the World Cup? Missing their International contingent, the back-ups struggled and the English heavyweights were languishing near the bottom of the table early on. Fast forward to the current date though and Leicester have won 13 of their last 14 games (including an exhillarating comeback victory over Quins at the Stoop). With a salivating mix of power, passion and precision, you wouldn't bet against them doing it again.... would you?


KEY BATTLES

Danny Care/ Nick Evans vs Ben Youngs/ Toby Flood

Zero to Hero for Care?
The battle of the halves wil be a great contest. Danny Care has been in scintillating form in the second half of the season and has rightly received a reprieve for his off-field antics from England coach Stuart Lancaster, with a call up to the squad to face South Africa in June. He is snappy around the ruck and an imposing display against his England opposite Ben Youngs in the final, may just inch him closer to an England starting spot too. Ben Youngs has been a man on a mission in the second half of the season too though. The chirpy scrumhalf seemed out of sorts earlier in the season, failing to back his instincts and overcomplicating things a tad following an unsuccessful World Cup. Rugby in essence is a simple game though and he is getting back to his old self now. The leicester backline (and forwards) have been purring of late and fans at Welford Road can thank their young tyro in no small part for that.

Time for Flood to prove his worth
The fly-halves for the the two sides are undoubtedly the two best in the league. Nick Evans would have been an All Black starter if it wasn't for a certain Dan Carter blocking his path. He has electric pace, an eye for the gap and an ability to make the seemingly impossible, possible. His threat should open up space for the powerful young centre Jordan Turner-Hall too. Leicester's Toby Flood meanwhile is less spectacular than his counterpart, but knows how to use his outsides efficiently when sitting behind a dominating pack. The rumours are that he should be fit enough to play. Crucially, standing flat on attack, he has a certain Manu Tuilagi on his outside able to make inroads too, who seems to up the ante on the big occasions. This game is going to be physical but I have a feeling it will come down to who is more ruthless in attack.


PAST MEETINGS THIS SEASON

October 2011 - Quins beat Leicester 27-18 @ Welford Road
January 2012 - Lecister beat Quins 19-9 @ The Stoop
April 2012 - Leicester beat Quins 43-33 @ The Stoop


PREDICTION

The heart says England and Harlequins captain Chris Robshaw will be lofting the trophy aloft on Saturday afternoon, but the gut says Leicester. The way they dismantled Quins at the stoop only a few weeks ago was ominous indeed and I have a feeling that although the game will be tight, the men from Welford Road have that extra gear needed. They have an intoxicating mix of power, creativity and crucially....FORM. Quins have the players though, so don't count them out just yet. If anyone can take on Leicester physically, it's them. Will the intensity be too much though? Whatever the result...the game is sure to be a humdinger!

Leicester by 4 points


Who do you think will be crowned Champions of England for 2011/12?
Where will the game be won and lost?



If you enjoyed this article, you may also like the following posts:

Shingler's List - The best (and worst) of the Turncoats (Click Here)
Leinster vs Ulster - Heineken Cup Final Review (Click Here)
Leinster vs Ulster - Heineken Cup Final Preview (Click Here)






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