The 2015/16 season drew to a close, 126 matches have decided the final four teams and these teams will now play knockout rugby to decide the champion. Saracens will be looking to defend their title, Tigers will want to follow in Leicester City’s footsteps, Chiefs are aiming to make good their first postseason appearance meanwhile victory for Wasps will be the perfect way to finish off their first season in Coventry. Here is how the semi-finals matchup:
May 21st 12.30pm Saracens v Leicester Tigers
Saracens, the defending champions finished top of the table for the third time in four years. They are definitely one of Europe’s finest, going unbeaten in their domestic and European campaigns for most of the first half of the season. With the likes of Andy Goode in outstanding form, who regularly finds Chris Ashton to link up with to go over the whitewash Sarries certainly have the skill. Also Goode is definitely turning some heads for contention at stealing the English 15 shirt from under Mike Brown’s nose giving him further incentive to perform on the big stage.
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) 7 May 2016
However, it’s the forwards pack that will be the greatest worry for Dai Young and his Leicester squad. Having been branded as the “most boring side in Europe” by most spectators due to their patient forwards mauling over the line, there seems little incentive to change things up if it’s producing the results. And with the returning England Grand Slam winning second row in the form of Itoje and Kruis, there certainly is the dominance in the lineout that they need to create a stable maul. The Tigers will have to bring something special to the table to cause an upset here but it’s certainly not impossible, let’s not forget the record breaking 64-23 defeat Sarries suffered to Wasps in round 12. With the likes of Peter Betham and Verekiki Goneva on each wing gives some powerful offensive power, if they can produce a mismatch these two can make teams pay. They also have the rising star that is Harry Thacker, a hooker, who competes at the breakdown like a 7, has hands like a 10 and can run like a 12. He certainly will contribute massively to the team in all aspects of the match and is likely to be one of the key leaders for the Tigers. However, the history books are against Leicester to carry on the sporting success the city is experiencing, of the last 23 semi-finals, 18 have been won by the home side. And for this reason and the incredibly consistent form they have shown all season, I’m going to have to back Saracens.
My Prediction: Saracens 27 – 15 Leicester Tigers
May 21st 15.15pm Exeter Chiefs v Wasps
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) 9 May 2016
In my opinion this semi-final is definitely going to be the more exciting of the two encounters, with these two teams show casing their open expansive playing styles in the last week of the regular season. Exeter gave Harlequins a drubbing ending 62-24, while Wasps trounced London Irish 38-12. Both sides have had unexpected success this season, with the Chiefs making the playoffs for the first time in their team’s history and Wasps finishing 3rd when they were anticipating to be involved in the battle for 6th. The 2015/16 has seen a fierce rivalry develop between these two sides, with Exeter winning the matchup 2-1 but with Wasps getting the vital last minute victory that saw them knock the Chiefs out of European contention. The rivalry goes deeper than just the teams though, as arguably the two in form number 8s, Nathan Hughes and Thomas Waldrom, will go head to head again, effectively a try-out to force their way into the English national squad. Waldrom, the Chiefs number 8, leads the way for most tries in the Premiership with a total of 13 but Hughes isn’t to be scoffed at, gaining metres he has no right to make over the full 80 minutes. The personal battle between these two will be intense and the winner will likely also will be on the team advancing to the final. Both sides are stacked with talent with the likes of Daley, Halai and the Piutau brothers among the Wasps ranks while Exeter boast a squad list including Steenson, Nowell and Slade. The matchup should be one laden with creativity, bravado and tries if both offensives are firing on all cylinders. Once again I’m going to have to back the home side for this one. I expect the Chiefs to edge this one out in a real nail biter of a game.
My Prediction: Exeter Chiefs 32 – 30 Wasps