This weekend sees the final four of England’s top flight go head-to-head, with a fleet of Guinness Six Nations stars set to battle their compatriots for a place in the Premiership Rugby final at Twickenham.
With a scattering of names from across the British Isles ready to feature as Saracens take on Gloucester and Exeter Chiefs face Northampton Saints, players will be forced to put their international commitments to one side as domestic rugby comes to the fore.
With the countdown to the 2020 Guinness Six Nations also ticking down, time is at a premium for players to prove themselves ahead of a bumper summer.
Perhaps the team with the biggest influence on Eddie Jones’ England set-up, Saracens possess some of the side’s biggest and best talents.
Conspicuous among them is international skipper and driving force Owen Farrell, who is set to slot in at ten for the Londoners as he looks to dictate their clash against Gloucester.
Also resplendent in their ranks are England’s key players in the pack – Jamie George, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola will all take to the field at Allianz Park on Saturday, while star prop Mako Vunipola is ably deputised by compatriot Richard Barrington after picking up a season-ending hamstring injury.
— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) May 24, 2019
But it isn’t just Englishmen who provide Sarries with their star quality.
In fact, they will likely look to two flyers for that crucial spark, with few better to deliver than Wales’ Liam Williams and Scotland’s Sean Maitland.
Although Gloucester cannot boast the international pedigree that Saracens players have enjoyed as of late, their ranks are bolstered by some familiar faces from the Guinness Six Nations scene, while it may not be long before several of their young upstarts take the next step.
Former England internationals Danny Cipriani, Billy Twelvetrees and Matt Banahan have all starred for the Cherry & Whites this season, while back-rower Ben Morgan has been a vital cog up front.
And with star wing Ollie Thorley out of action for the final-four contest, Gloucester may look to another young Guinness Six Nations prospect to provide the spark.
Jake Polledri has emerged as one of the brightest sparks in a young Italian team over the past two years, and the back row may well be primed to make an impact from the bench against Saracens this weekend.
Chiefs prepare for battle
Like Saracens, Exeter Chiefs will be backing their Guinness Six Nations stars to lead the charge when Northampton Saints come to Sandy Park on Saturday afternoon.
In Jack Nowell, they have one of the game’s premier match-winners, as he has proved time and again in an England shirt – not least when he opened the scoring in spectacular style in England’s Calcutta Cup epic in March.
Another who stood out in this year’s Championship was Henry Slade. Two tries against Ireland in the Red Rose’s Round One win, followed up a week later by another in their rampage over France; the fly-half has proved his status as a big-game player.
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) May 24, 2019
Ably deputising from the bench against the Saints will be Wales prop Tomas Francis and Scotland back-row Sam Skinner, both of whom played exciting cameos for their countries at this year’s Championship.
Saints or sinners
On Northampton Saints’ team-sheet for their semi-final, two names stand out.
In the pack, Courtney Lawes has long been an England mainstay. After making his England debut back in November 2009, this year he took his appearance tally in Guinness Six Nations competition to 29.
Behind him, pulling the strings as he has all season since his arrival from Ospreys, will be Dan Biggar.
The welsh fly-half starred for his country throughout their Grand Slam-winning campaign this year, and will be keen to upset the applecart and take a shot at another piece of silverware, this time in domestic colours.