The Premiership season reaches a dramatic conclusion on Saturday at Twickenham with a Grand Final between two sides with something to prove, Sale Sharks and Saracens.
For Sale, their wait for a title has been 16 years with Jason Robinson and Charlie Hodgson having been in their pomp when they claimed their only previous English crown.
In comparison, Sarries’ four-year wait seems short, but having been perennial Premiership champions in the 2010s and having come within a drop goal of glory last year, the London club are chomping at the bit to get back on top.
|What||Saracens v Sale Sharks|
|When||15:00, Saturday 27th May|
|How to watch||ITV1 and BT Sport 1|
|Odds||Saracens 8/15, Sale 8/5, Tie 20/1|
Having been kings of England and Europe for a good chunk of the last decade before demotion from the Premiership in 2020, Saracens had looked set to complete their redemption arc last year when reaching the Grand Final.
They were favourites to overcome Leicester Tigers on that occasion, but by their own admission failed to show up on the day as they lost 15-12 via a 79th-minute Freddie Burns drop goal.
The pain of that defeat has been referenced regularly this season by the director of rugby Mark McCall as a driving force behind a strong domestic season from Sarries as they finished the regular campaign top of the table.
A change of style to a more attacking brand of rugby saw them end the campaign as the Premiership’s top pointscorers, and they were able to blend those old and new styles nicely in their 38-15 semi-final win over Northampton Saints.
Sarries showed their class against the Saints that day as they eased into their ninth final in the last 13 years, and plenty of this squad know what it takes to get across the line in a title decider.
Saracens have won four of the last eight Premiership finals, with the likes of Owen Farrell, Alex Goode, Billy Vunipola and Sean Maitland influential in those triumphs.
The majority of the squad are Twickenham regulars, unlike a good chunk of the Sale team, with scrum-half Gus Warr revealing this week he’s never previously played at HQ.
The experience of England regulars Manu Tuilagi and George Ford is therefore vital to a Sharks side unfamiliar with the big stage. Two-time Premiership winner Ford has seen it all and was part of the Leicester team that overcame Saracens last year.
He got injured in the final, but since getting back to full fitness at new club Sale he’s had a growing influence on the side, who look sharp in attack with Ford in the team.
England coach Steve Borthwick will be keeping a close watch on Ford and Sarries fly-half Farrell, who has once again been vital to his side’s success this season, with the England No.10 shirt seemingly up for grabs ahead of the World Cup later this year.
Numerous others will be looking to catch the eye of Borthwick with plenty of young English talent in the Sale squad.
The club have made a point of developing homegrown talent from the north of England and are now reaping the rewards.
The likes of Bevan Rodd, Raffi Quirke and Joe Carpenter are amongst a young core to the side who Sale hope will keep them in the title picture for years to come.
Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson, a former Sarries coach, has moulded his youthful charges into a fine outfit, one that finished just five points behind their opponents in second in the regular season.
They then saw off reigning champions Leicester in fine style in the play-off semi-finals, albeit that win came at a cost as skipper Ben Curry suffered a hamstring injury that keeps him out of the final.
Curry will be badly missed from a powerful Sale pack, one that will still back itself to match Saracens’ experienced group of forwards, even without its captain.
There doesn’t look a great deal between the backs for either side, yet there’s enough difference between the teams for Saracens to be favoured by four points at 10/11 to cover the handicap.
Sale have had an excellent season and they’ll believe they can pull off an upset, having been underdogs when they beat Leicester in 2006.
Experience counts for a lot in finals though, and Saracens have that in spades. That could be the difference between two sides who have played some close games recently with the last five meetings decided by 11 points or less.
Saracens are 6/4 to win by a margin of one to 12 points as they bid to reassert their dominance over the Premiership after last year’s near miss.