Twickenham plays host to Exeter Chiefs and Saracens on Saturday, as the England’s top two sides go head-to-head for the second successive season in the Premiership final.
Recently-crowned Champions Cup winners Saracens came out on top last year, but the table-topping Chiefs will be hoping to make amends for defeat this time out to claim what would be their second domestic triumph.
Exeter’s squad is packed full of Guinness Six Nations stars, and their 42-12 rout of Northampton Saints in the semi-final demonstrated the quality they possess, as they steamrollered into their fourth successive final.
They face the toughest possible test however, with plenty of international heroes among the Saracens squad that comprehensively beat Gloucester in their last-four battle.
With bona fide quality throughout both teams, the stage is set for a mouth-watering contest which could well require a moment of magic from one of the game’s star names.
Changing of the guard
Both squads are littered with England internationals, and there will be key battles all over the pitch between past, current and future Red Rose stars.
Across the two centre positions, former England and Guinness Six Nations star Brad Barritt comes up against Exeter’s Henry Slade.
It’s all smiles from @exeterchiefs stars @don_armand, @Sladey_10, @joesimmo10, @Yenz_2 and @mattkvesic as they carry out some pre-match photo duties ahead of the @premrugby Final with @Saracens at Twickenham#EXEvSAR pic.twitter.com/B3k76KzRXJ
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) May 30, 2019
Saracens’ Barritt made his England debut back in 2012, and started every game of that, and the following year’s Championship.
After appearing at the 2017 Championship, Slade has emerged as a regular for Eddie Jones and he notched three tries in 339 minutes of action as England finished second in 2019.
At fly-half, England captain Owen Farrell lines up opposite future prospect Joe Simmonds.
With 59 points, Farrell was the leading scorer at the 2019 Guinness Six Nations and played an integral role in the England team that claimed Grand Slam glory in 2016.
Twentytwo-year-old Simmonds struggled in the same match-up in last year’s Premiership final, but the youngster demonstrated his quality with a try in Exeter’s semi-final and is tipped to eventually progress to the international ranks.
Battle of the wings
While the majority of international stars that will be on display on Saturday belong to the England set-up, there are representatives from two of the Championship’s other nations out wide.
Scotland’s Sean Maitland lines up for Saracens opposite ex-Wales star Alex Cuthbert, with vast Guinness Six Nations experience being shared between the two.
🏉 – Winger @acuthbert11 delighted to be back on the big stage as he targets @premrugby glory with @ExeterChiefs in tomorrow’s final against @Saracens ⬇️https://t.co/J9pKHU38Kn#EXEvSAR pic.twitter.com/ZIus6hjOg0
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) May 31, 2019
Maitland started against England as Scotland retained the Calcutta Cup this year and having scored a try against Gloucester in the semi-final, he will be hoping to continue his good form on Saturday.
Cuthbert missed out on Wales’ Grand Slam win this year, but the 29-year-old proved invaluable in the side’s previous title win in 2013.
Liam Williams – who played 339 minutes of Wales’ 2019 campaign – also lines up for Sarries as part of a devastating backline.
Saracens strength at second row
Exeter pair Dave Dennis and Jonny Hill won’t have come up against much stronger opposition at second row all season than Maro Itoje and George Kruis.
The English duo are both Lions stalwarts and boast vast Guinness Six Nations experience between them.
🗣️”To come back from that early setback shows the character of the boys and the team spirit.”@alexlozowski10 says there’s more to come from Saracens this weekend. ⚫🔴
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) May 30, 2019
Both were involved in England’s 2016 Grand Slam win and remain firmly in Eddie Jones’ plans.
While Itoje had an injury-hampered Spring and only managed 53 minutes of this year’s Guinness Six Nations, his counterpart started in every one of England’s matches.
Australian Dennis and his young team mate know they need to be at their best if they are going to win the battle of the second rows.
Brilliance on the bench
The quality in Exeter’s list of replacements is typical of a table-topping side, and Saracens know that there are plenty of Chiefs players that could come on and cause them problems.
Prop Tomas Francis made four appearances for Wales at this year’s Championship and will offer extra strength to the Devon side’s pack.
Scotland’s Sam Skinner is another who featured this Spring, while Sam Simmonds – older brother of Joe – took to the field four times in the 2018 Guinness Six Nations.
In his final week before retirement, has preparation changed for @David_Strettle? 🤔
“We’ve got the biggest game of rugby – the grand final – coming up so it’s not like you can have an easy week!”
Good answer! 👏⚫🔴
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) May 30, 2019
Saracens have their fair share of talent on the bench too however, and former England star David Strettle will be eager to make an impression in his last outing before retirement.
Scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth – who made his England debut back in the 2008 Championship against France – will provide a steady head with Saracens vying for their fifth Premiership title.