Saracens v Sale Sharks: Premiership final preview as Mark McCall’s men set to claim sixth title

·11-min read
Saracens v Sale Sharks Premiership final twickenham stadium Credit: Alamy
Saracens v Sale Sharks Premiership final twickenham stadium Credit: Alamy

It all comes down to Saracens v Sale Sharks at Twickenham, bringing an end to a bizarre, heartbreaking, entertaining and enthralling Premiership campaign.

The regular season started with 13 teams, ended with 11 – after Wasps and Worcester Warriors entered administration – and now the two best sides throughout this term clash in the showpiece event.

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Collectively, the two sides lost just 11 of their 40 matches throughout the season as Saracens finished top of the table and their fellow finalists in second.

Saracens romped past Northampton Saints in the semi-finals running in four tries in the 38-15 victory, while Sale secured a 21-13 win over the defending champions Leicester Tigers – reaching the final for the first time in 17 years.

Saracens go in search of their sixth title on Saturday, a tally that will make them the joint-second most successful side in Premiership history, along with Bath and Wasps.

The clash also sees Sale boss Alex Sanderson go up against the club he ended his playing career at and started his coaching career with.

After a thoroughly entertaining campaign, the finale promises to be an epic clash as last season’s beaten finalists collide with the underdogs looking to claim their first title in over a decade and a half.

Team news

There is one change from to the Saracens side that beat Northampton Saints in the semi-final as Eroni Mawi comes in to start at loosehead.

Mawi, Jamie George and Marco Riccioni start in a strong front-row, with Maro Itoje and Hugh Tizard operating the lineout in the second-row.

Nick Isiekwe and Ben Earl continue at six and seven, and they will be joined by Jackson Wray at the base of the scrum, who will make his 309th and final Saracens appearance after over a decade of service to the club.

Ivan van Zyl starts at nine fresh from signing a new two-year contract, and he will have Owen Farrell as his half-back partner at Twickenham.

Nick Tompkins and Alex Lozowski keep up their ever-reliable midfield partnership, and a back-three of Sean Maitland, Max Malins and Alex Goode will be aiming to take any chances that come their way.

On the bench Mako Vunipola will add a wealth of experience when called upon, and Aled Davies has recovered from a hamstring injury to take his place amongst the replacements.

Meanwhile, Alex Sanderson makes just one change to his starting line-up with flanker Sam Dugdale replacing the injured Ben Curry (hamstring) in the side.

Former Saracen Tom Ellis is named on the replacements bench in place of Dan du Preez, who will undergo surgery on a dislocated shoulder.

The Sharks front-row is unchanged from the semi-final win against Leicester, with Simon McIntyre and Nick Schonert lining up either side of Akker van der Merwe, who has been on the winning team in all 11 of his Sale games this season.

Jonny Hill, who tasted a Premiership victory in his time at Exeter, and Jean-Luc du Preez line up in the second-row.

And in the back-row, academy graduate Dugdale starts at openside flanker alongside Tom Curry with skipper Jono Ross, playing his last Sharks game before retirement, at number eight.

Gus Warr teams up with semi-final man of the match George Ford at half-back, and in the centres, Manu Tuilagi joins the ever-present Rob du Preez, who has started the last 36 games.

Fresh from their try-scoring heroics at the AJ Bell Stadium against the Tigers, top scorer Tom Roebuck and fellow academy graduate Arron Reed start on the wings, with Joe Carpenter at full-back.

Where the game will be won

The final is bound to be a real contest in all facets of the game, with the set-pieces, breakdown and gainline being paramount. However, we feel the aerial battle will be the most crucial.

Both sides have well-drilled defences, and the ability to win the ball back when hanging it high can go a long way in creating try-scoring opportunities and playing in the right areas of the pitch. The likes of Warr, Ford, Van Zyl, Farrell and Goode will all be crucial in this facet of the game, as will the chasing wingers and scavenging forwards.

Ford and Farrell will control the respective kicking games as they attempt to manipulate the backfield and play in the right areas of the pitch.

What they said

Saracens wing Malins says his side is eager to go one better than they did last season. After losing to Leicester Tigers in last year’s final, they tweaked their approach this season and have played a more expansive game, which they will attempt to replicate on Saturday.

“We changed our mindset to be more open to opportunity,” he said. “Looking back at the final [last year], we very much got sucked into Leicester’s game and closed ourselves off to anything. There was a big emphasis during pre-season to open ourselves up to opportunity.

“It will take massive bravery and massive courage to continue what we have done [in the final]. Not every decision might be the right one, and you’ve got to be able to take on that risk versus reward. We’ve got plenty of reward from it over the season. If it does go wrong, we’ve got to clean it up, and we’ve got the team that can do that.”

Meanwhile, Sale Sharks centre Tuilagi spoke of what a final success would mean to rugby in the north of England.

“After 17 years, for Sale to get this opportunity is huge for us as players,” Tuilagi, 32, told BBC Sport.

“We have the opportunity to do something great for the people of the north and the Sharks organisation.”

Sanderson echoed his centre’s sentiments: “When I turn around at games where we’ve had near sell-outs, then you start to get a feeling that you are having an impact.

“The better you do, the further you reach. I want to win. It’s my home town and home team. They’re selfish reasons, but the wider purpose is to win it for the region. If we do that, then how humbling is that?”

Last time they met

Players to watch

Both teams are choc-a-blocked with standout players capable of game-breaking moments in the crucial matches, but arguably none more so than Ben Earl. The flanker has been in a rich vein of form this season, again featuring in the top 15 for tackles made and made the joint-most turnovers in the competition. He also gained the second most metres from a forward and scored four tries.

On the topic of game breakers, Max Malins has enjoyed another stellar try-scoring season, dotting down 10 times in 14 games. The extremely skilled and versatile back has been crucial to Saracens’ new approach on attack, with his ability to pop up in various pockets on the pitch to influence the attack with his pace and playmaking talents  key. He is also superb under the high ball, an area of the game Sale will look to pressure Saracens.

Back into the pack and Maro Itoje will be looking to lay down a marker in an important match for his club. The England lock hasn’t quite lived up to his superstar status this season, and while he hasn’t been in bad form, he will be keen to use this game as a catapult to his best form with the World Cup looming. The great players all raise their game for the big occasions, and this is undoubtedly one of those times.

As mentioned, Ben Curry and Dan du Preez both miss the final through injury, which adds to the pressure on incoming openside flanker Sam Dugdale. What an opportunity this is on the big stage for the 23-year-old, who lines up alongside Tom Curry and Ross in the back-row.

Despite his diminutive figure, Faf de Klerk left a massive void in the Sale Sharks line-up when he departed at the end of last season, but 23-year-old Gus Warr has brilliantly filled it along with fellow youngster Raffi Quirke. The excellent scrum-half has thrived with the responsibility of starting for the Manchester-based side, especially with Quirke sidelined. Warr’s kicking game has been sublime, while Quirke is capable of ripping through the defence with a sharp snipe around the fringes. Sanderson has two well-rounded half-backs, with differing standout strengths, at his disposal, allowing him to flip the game on its head with a well-timed substitution or a shift in tactics.

Manu Tuilagi lasted just 55 minutes against Leicester Tigers in the semi-finals, and while it hasn’t been the best season from the powerhouse centre, he could make all the difference in the final. When on top of his game, he is near unstoppable, and if he can keep his discipline in check and play to his strengths, it could go a long way in sealing Sale’s second title.

Main head-to-head

It seems fitting that while the debate on who should be England’s starting fly-half for the Rugby World Cup, two of the leading candidates face off in the Premiership final as Owen Farrell and George Ford go toe-to-toe. It was the same situation last season, but Ford’s injury meant the head-to-head lasted just 23 minutes. The two playmakers are masters of their craft and are essential to their side’s success, and Saturday will be no different.

Ford missed a large chunk of the season through injury but returned in red-hot form, kicking at a 92 per cent success, scoring 57 points and assisting five tries in seven games.

Meanwhile, Farrell has played 12 matches for Saracens in the Premiership, scoring 140 points at a 79 per cent kicking success rate and has assisted eight tries.

So much of either side’s attacking patterns are centred around the two pivots as their respective kicking strategies. They are leaders on and off the pitch, and their value to their clubs cannot be understated.

It is bound to be a tight affair at Twickenham, and the fly-half that is able to get the best out of his side on attack and is the most accurate off the tee will surely be lifting the trophy. Who knows, it could even come down to a drop goal, a skill both players have in their arsenal ready to unleash.


Once again, it is an incredibly difficult final to call with the competition’s finest going head-to-head. Saracens are renowned for their powerhouse pack, but Sale seemingly have one that could match it. On paper, the respective backlines look relatively even too. Like last season and last weekend’s Champions Cup final, this could well come down to a match-winning score in the latter stages of the game. In a clash of such small margins, we believe Saracens’ experience in these tense matches will make the difference as they lift the title for a sixth time – Saracens by five.

Previous results

2023: Sale won 35-24 at AJ Bell Stadium
2022: Saracens won 33-22 at StoneX Stadium
2022: Sale won 12-8 at AJ Bell Stadium
2021: Saracens won 25-14 at StoneX Stadium
2020: Sale won 24-17 at AJ Bell Stadium

The teams

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Max Malins, 13 Alex Lozowski, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Ivan Van Zyl, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Ben Earl, 6 Nick Isiekwe, 5 Hugh Tizard, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Jamie George, 1 Eroni Mawi
Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Callum Hunter-Hill, 20 Toby Knight, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 Elliot Daly

Sale Sharks: 15 Joe Carpenter, 14 Tom Roebuck, 13 Rob du Preez, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Arron Reed, 10 George Ford, 9 Gus Warr, 8 Jono Ross (c), 7 Sam Dugdale, 6 Tom Curry, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Jean-Luc du Preez, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Simon McIntyre
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Bevan Rodd, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Josh Beaumont, 20 Tom Ellis, 21 Raffi Quirke, 22 Sam James, 23 Tom O’Flaherty

Date: Saturday, May 27
Venue: Twickenham Stadium
Kick-off: 15:00 BST (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Karl Dickson and Christophe Ridley
TMO: Tom Foley

READ MORE: Premiership final: Five key head-to-heads in Saracens v Sale Sharks clash

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