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Gallagher Premiership semi-finals: Four key head-to-heads as Northampton take on Saracens

The Gallagher Premiership semi-finals are now firmly upon us, and things get underway with a bang on Friday night at Franklin’s Gardens. 

Both teams have named incredibly strong 23-man-squads for the clash, with Northampton Saints returning to their full-strength team.

George Furbank starts at fullback, with Tommy Freeman and Ollie Sleightholme named on the wings. Burger Odendaal and Fraser Dingwall reunite in midfield, with Alex Mitchell and Fin Smith named at 9 and 10.

Up front, Alex Waller, Curtis Langdon and Trevor Davison are all named in the front-row. Alex’s Coles and Moon again link-up in the second row, with Courtney Lawes leading the side from flanker. Tom Pearson returns to the starting XV for the first time since the Six Nations, and Juarno Augustus rounds off a powerful pack.

On the bench, Sam Matavesi, Lewis Ludlam and George Hendy are the headline names.

Saracens have met fire with fire this weekend, naming a whopping 20 internationals in their 23-man-squad.

Elliot Daly starts at fullback, with the retiring Alex Lewington and Tom Parton named on the wings. Lucio Cinti and Nick Tompkins again line-up in the centres. Owen Farrell leads the side from fly-half, with Ivan van Zyl named at scrum-half.

Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Marco Riccioni start in the front-row. Maro Itoje and former Saint Nick Isiekwe start in the second-row. Juan Martin Gonzalez and Ben Earl retain their spot in the back-row, but they are joined by Billy Vunipola at eight.

On the bench, Theo’s Dan and McFarland Tom Willis and Alex Lozowski are the headline names.

But with so many talented players on display, who will determine the outcome of the game? Here are four key head-to-heads to look out for.

Four key head-to-heads as Northampton take on Saracens

Credit: IMAGO

Curtis Langdon vs Jamie George 

This is a huge test of Langdon’s international credentials. The Northampton hooker has been so good this season since arriving from Montpellier, and his form has earned warranted calls for an England return, however coming up against the man who has nailed down the England hooker shirt since 2016, and the current captain too, is a huge test. The pair are both similar styles of player too, as both provide a solid ball-carrying option, as well as mobility and solid set-piece platform.

Courtney Lawes vs Juan Martin Gonzalez

This was most people’s head-to-heads for the number six shirt in the Gallagher Premiership Team of the Season debates (it certainly was for us anyway!). Both players are the perfect modern day blindside flanker. They both tackle hard, carry hard, jump in the lineout and provide a consistent jackal threat in the breakdown. Both players are also in red-hot form too, but whoever wins this contest could swing the match.

Fin Smith vs Owen Farrell

This head-to-head always dominates the column inches when these teams face off, but there’s a very good reason for that. Farrell delivered a masterclass in last season’s semi-final win over the Saints, but that has seemingly brought the best out in Fin Smith too. The young Saints half-back now plays a much more mature game, and operates in a similar style to Farrell too. Both players will be keen to prove a point this weekend.

George Furbank vs Elliot Daly

Another potential England head-to-head. Both players are solid in the back-field, however they offer very different attacking threats which bring their side to life. Furbank’s ability to act as the extra ball-player brings the likes of Tommy Freeman and Ollie Sleightholme into the game, but being so deep in the pocket also makes him a decent running threat too. Daly is also a very intelligent player in that 15 position, being able to attack holes late. He has also developed an incredible kicking game which compliments Owen Farrell nicely. Much has been made of Daly’s desire to wear the 15 shirt for England too, but he will need to get one over the man currently in that shirt on Friday night to do so.

Gallagher Premiership semi-finals in full

Credit: IMAGOFriday 31st May

Northampton Saints vs Saracens

Venue: Franklin’s Gardens

Kick-off: 7:45pm

Saturday 1st June 

Bath Rugby vs Sale Sharks

Venue: The Rec

Kick-off: 3:30pm