Gallagher Premiership Semi-Finals Preview: Saracens and Sale target Twickenham but Saints and Tigers out to 'upset' odds

Owen Farrell and Saracens missed out on the title last year
©David Howlett

The regular season of the 2022-2023 Gallagher Premiership has concluded, and the top four teams will battle it out this weekend in an attempt to earn a spot in the final at Twickenham on May 27th.

Saturday afternoon’s semi-final sees Saracens welcome Northampton Saints to the StoneX Stadium, with Owen Farrell and his men looking to go one better than last year and bring the trophy back to North London.

Having secured top spot in the league with a win over London Irish in Round 19, the five-time Premiership winners were able to rest a lot of their key men in last weekend’s defeat to Bath.

Saracens have been imperious all season, and have only lost five league games throughout the whole campaign. Their squad also boasts a frightening amount of experience in knockout matches - Mark McCall’s side have featured in six of the last nine Premiership finals, despite being relegated in 2020 and spending the next season in the Championship following the salary cap saga.

"It wasn’t so much losing last year’s final, it was how we lost it which is the thing that is driving us,” McCall reflected earlier this week. "It felt like we played within ourselves. Anyone can lose a final – knock-out games are hard to win – but when you don’t feel you have given it a proper go you carry that all summer. I guess that has driven this season to a degree."

Whilst the home team are heavy favourites going into this game, Northampton are on a fine run of form, averaging over 46 points in their last four games, all of which were victories. One of these wins came against their opponents this weekend [38-29 on April 15th], proving that Saints have more than enough quality to tackle the task that faces them.

Phil Dowson’s men come into this game without playing a competitive fixture in the last three weeks - the first time this has happened before a play-off semi-final in Premiership history. Having had an unusual amount of time to prepare, Northampton will be looking to secure a first spot in the final since 2014.

On Sunday, a sold-out Salford City Stadium will be the venue as second-place Sale Sharks host the reigning champions Leicester Tigers.

Alex Sanderson’s side have earnt a first home semi-final since 2006, the year they last won the title, and their performance against Newcastle Falcons [a 54-12 victory] to conclude the regular campaign suggests Manu Tuilagi and co are firing on all cylinders.

"It is a game of grand magnitude which we are looking to enjoy and embrace, not to be overwhelmed by," Sale boss Sanderson said. "That is the challenge. Our excitement exists within this bubble. You don’t want to talk about the further reach because it can become overwhelming.

“You have to stick to process while being aware of the buzz around. We feel the support more than we ever have done. We have just got to come back to what has been working well for us, which is communicating well and training hard.”

As for the Tigers, they have lost home and away to the Sharks this season so the Midlands club come into this fixture as heavy underdogs. However, Leicester, who have lost five senior coaches to England this season, have shown an incredible amount of resilience throughout this campaign to finish in third spot.

Seven-time Premiership winner turned Leicester head coach, Richard Wigglesworth, will certainly back his side to defy the odds this Sunday and give themselves a shot at retaining their title: "The club doesn't do losing semi-finals as a success," said Wigglesworth, who started last year's final for the Tigers against Saracens.

"One day we'll be able to look back on a season no-one will ever have again and know we've learned loads and grown from it. Can we take that as a success? Absolutely. But is it a success losing a semi-final? Absolutely not."

Wigglesworth also won the Premiership with Sale 17 years ago while Sharks fly-half George Ford was part of the Leicester side who became champions last term so there are plenty of little sub-plots sprinkled around this semi-final.

With away sides having only won six times in 37 semi-final attempts since this format was introduced, the Midlands duo of Leicester and Northampton face a momentous task in what is set to be an exhilarating weekend of Premiership rugby.

Widely regarded as the most competitive rugby union league in the can only be the Gallagher Premiership.

The division is becoming more and more exciting as each year passes by so who will be lifting silverware at Twickenham in May?

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