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Preview: Premiership semifinals

Thu, 10 May 2012 00:00
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England's showpiece tournament, the Premiership, is into the play-offs and four of the giants of the competition will go head-to-head on Saturday.

The early game will see Harlequins take on Northampton Saints, while defending champions Saracens tackle Leicester Tigers in the second semifinal.

For England captain Chris Robshaw it could be a dream season.

The 25-year-old Robshaw, who saw off competition from Mike Brown, Brad Barritt and Nick Wood to win the Premiership Player of the Season award, led England to second place in the Six Nations in March, while also making 16 appearances for Harlequins.

However, the carrot of a Premiership Final appearance at Twickenham on May 26 beckons for Robshaw, while he will also be aiming to be the first England skipper since Martin Johnson to lead a victorious side in South Africa.

He may have enjoyed the applause of his peers on Tuesday, but for Robshaw he is desperate to ensure his season finishes with competition silverware - not personal glory.

"If someone had said a year ago that this would be the season I would have had with Quins and England I would probably have laughed at them," said Robshaw.

"It's been a tremendous year, to captain the England team was a real honour and to finish top of the pile with Harlequins is great.

"I do look back and reflect on the Six Nations and think 'that was a great couple of months' but the club are great at bringing you back down to earth.

"It's a great achievement but this is when the real hard work starts because we haven't won anything yet."

And Robshaw is only too aware that Northampton, who have lost in the Premiership semifinals for the previous two years, will pose a formidable challenge.

"The home semifinal is massive, Saints are a very strong side but with a big Stoop support it should be a cracker," he added.

"It's a one-off game so the team that turns up on the day and delivers is the better team and we know that.

"We know how the league is, this is how it works and we just need to get on with it now."

* In the Premiership semifinals and Final, if scores are level after 40 minutes each way, there shall be an immediate period of extra time between the teams of 10 minutes each way.

If the scores are still tied after extra time then the winner will be the team which has scored the most tries in the game (including extra time).

If scores are still equal then there will be a place kick competition to determine the winner.

We look at the semifinals!

Saturday, May 12:

Harlequins v Northampton Saints
(Twickenham Stoop, 14.45)

Harlequins play in only their second Premiership semifinal - the other was at home to London Irish in 2008/09 where they were defeated 0-17. Quins (along with Northampton) are the best home side in Aviva Premiership Rugby this season, with a won 9, lost 2 record. Harlequins nine game winning run at the Twickenham Stoop in the Premiership ended last time out at the venue when Leicester were the visitors.

Northampton Saints reach a third successive Premiership semifinal but they have yet to make it to a final. Saints only reversal in their last five matches was 21-35 at home to the Tigers on 14 April. Northampton have won three of their last four away games.

Each side won its respective home game when the two clubs met in the regular season, whilst Northampton’s only win against Quins at The Stoop since 2004 was 20-16 on 11 September 2010. The Saints did however win the European Challenge Cup at the venue in 2009, beating Bourgoin in the final 15-3. The two teams have never met before in the semifinal of any competition.

Teams:

Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 George Lowe, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Sam Smith, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Karl Dickson, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 5 George Robson, 4 Olly Kohn, 3 James Johnston, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 Tomas Vallejos, 20 Tom Guest, 21 Richard Bolt, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Matt Hopper.

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 George Pisi, 12 James Downey, 11 Paul Diggin, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Lee Dickson (captain), 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Phil Dowson, 6 James Craig, 5 Christian Day, 4 Mark Sorenson, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Andy Long, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Paul Doran-Jones, 19 Ben Nutley, 20 Teimana Harrison, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Tom May.

Referee: Andrew Small

Leicester Tigers v Saracens
(Welford Road, 17.30)

Leicester Tigers have reeled off ten successive victories in all competitions and have not lost at Welford Road since Harlequins were the visitors on 8 October. This is the Tigers eighth successive appearance in the Premiership Playoffs and the East Midlanders have won their last eleven semifinals in all competitions.

Defending Premiership champions Saracens participate in their fourth Premiership semifinal encounter and their third in succession. Sarries are already one of just three sides to have won an away Premiership semifinal, doing so at Northampton in 2010.

Leicester and Saracens have played out the Premiership final for the past two seasons, but they have never clashed before in any semifinal. Saracens have won on their last three visits to Welford Road - the best run of success at the venue by an English club side since Harlequins won five games in a row there between 1973-78.

Teams:

Leicester: 15 Geordan Murphy (captain), 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Steve Mafi, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 George Skivington, 3 Dan Cole, 2 George Chuter, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Logovi'i Mulipola, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Graham Kitchener, 20 Craig Newby, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 Scott Hamilton.

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 David Strettle, 13 Owen Farrell, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Mouritz Botha, 4 Steve Borthwick (captain), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 John Smit, 18 Carlos Nieto, 19 Hugh Vyvyan, 20 George Kruis, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Adam Powell, 23 James Short.

Referee: Dave Pearson

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