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Gilbert Rugby News — Published on May 24 , 2018

The Aviva Premiership has been a fascinating campaign for all sorts of reasons, although it’s no surprise to see Saracens and defending champions Exeter in the Final as their consistency and strength in depth set them apart from the rest.

My personal highlight this season has been the Newcastle Falcons assault on the top four in the league and the fantastic response of the sports mad locals from Tyneside. No better example of this was the game that was played at St. James’ Park, and who will ever forget the sensational Vereniki Goneva’s Alan Shearer goal celebration after scoring at the iconic Gallowgate end. It is essential for rugby union that the north of England maintains its place in the game as a rugby stronghold, and both the Falcons and Sale Sharks are doing a fine job.

At the other end of the spectrum are Harlequins and Northampton Saints have headed in the other direction with both clubs failing to get anywhere near the top six, and sacking their top men in the process. However, they have recruited exciting replacements with Chris Boyd (Hurricanes) arriving at Saints and Paul Gustard (England assistant) appointed at Quins, and already their fans will be looking ahead to next season and hopefully a revival in fortunes.

As for this weekend’s encounter at Twickenham, it is a mouth-watering prospect with both teams very happy to play ball in hand. Exeter are regimented, disciplined, and all players understand their roles exactly. They are very well coached and play a system that is as relentless as the waves of the sea crashing onto the Devon coast. The X factor comes from Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, and lately young Joe Simmonds and the finishing power is delivered by Ollie Woodburn. Up front the grunt is provided by Hill, Ewers and the outstanding Don Armand with Simmonds pace an added bonus at number 8.

They come up against a Saracens outfit hell bent on regaining the title and the Barnet boys are just about fully loaded to do the job. Their performance against Wasps was as good as anything they have produced over the last couple of seasons and will have put Exeter on high alert. Stand out players playing at their very best were Farrell, Itoje, the two Vunipolas and the emerging Nick Isiekwe. They looked hungry, pacey and skilful, and it is hard to back against the double European champions. The game is all set to be an epic tussle and my spare pound coin would go Sarries to win the day by around 9 points.

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