Ford’s Sale desperate to upset Farrell’s Saracens in final
27 May, 2023, 6:08 am
LONDON (Reuters) – The way Northampton were brushed aside in the semi-finals was a chilling reminder of how Saracens are able to find their A game – and their A team – when they really need to and Sale will need something special to cause an upset in Saturday’s Premiership final.
Saracens had top spot in the regular season tied up weeks ago and were able to rest many of their stars in the final fixtures, even giving debuts to seven academy players in their signoff 61-29 defeat by Bath.
But, with the big guns back and captain Owen Farrell in imperious form, they hammered Northampton 38-15 having effectively decided the outcome by surging 21-3 ahead after 30 minutes.
It was a reminder of what a superb all-round team they have become this season, with Farrell playing some of the most expansive and ambitious rugby of his career and any criticism of the team’s “efficient but dull” approach now long outdated.
“It’s been a change as a team,” said prop Mako Vunipola. “We’ve had to adapt to a different way of playing but we’re not relying on one or two players making the decisions. It’s enjoyable and it’s hard work, but it’s good for the backs to be getting some decent ball and it’s why you want to play.”
Saracens are seeking their sixth title but first since 2019 having suffered a heartbreaking last-minute loss to Leicester last season. Still stinging from that defeat, their incredibly experienced side will seek to make amends on Saturday when fullback Alex Goode will be aiming for a sixth winners’ medal.
Sale’s solitary victory came in 2006 in their only appearance in the final, though they were also runners-up in 2002, the last year before the playoffs and Twickenham final were introduced.
They have been consistently the next-best team in the league this season, chalking up 14 wins to finish second well clear of Leicester and Northampton. They were also impressive in seeing off Leicester 21-13 in their semi with George Ford pulling the strings.
Ford, in his final game for Leicester, limped out of last year’s final early with an ankle injury and watched his replacement Freddie Burns land a last-gasp drop goal to stun Saracens.
Though his long recovery meant it took a while to get back up and running at new club Sale, director of rugby Alex Sanderson rained the compliments on the flyhalf’s coaching influence and his control and rugby intelligence have put him right back in the mix for England.
The World Cup will be the furthest thing from his mind on Saturday, however, as he pits his wits against old friend and rival Farrell.
Sanderson has been trying to model the club from the outskirts of Manchester as “representing the north” and with growing crowds and success on the pitch the project appears to be bearing fruit.
It certainly won’t harm the underdog narrative that standing in the way are London’s Saracens, the behemoth of the domestic game in the last decade but whose success carries an asterisk after the exposure of their salary cap breaches.
“Selling rugby in the north-west has always been a battle – the beat of football dominates – but it’s humbling that you might be inspiring some kid to pick up a ball,” said Sanderson, who was part of the Saracens coaching team for over a decade before returning to Sale, where he spent most of his playing career, in 2021.
“Right now we are flying the flag for the North and I’m super proud of that.”