With the new English domestic season kicking off on Friday, we take a look at the prospects of each of the 12 clubs competing for the Premiership title. Let’s get started.
The pioneers of modern English rugby, Saracens have established themselves as one of Europe’s leading teams over the last few years.
Making three Premiership Finals in the last five years along with contesting Europe’s showpiece last season underlines their rise to the top of the game. Unafraid to experiment off the field, 2013/2014 saw Saracens revolutionise their play on it by throwing off the shackles and producing attacking rugby that was hard to resist. More of the same please.
Alistair Hargreaves has been appointed as the new Saracens captain. The Springbok lock forward, 28, succeeds Steve Borthwick, who retired at the end of last season.
The former Sharks man has been with the Saracens since 2012, born and schooled in Durban he played for the Sharks from under-19 level.
He has been capped four times for the Springboks, the last of those coming in the 2011 Tri-Nations tournament.
The governing body of the English Premiership has prevented Schalk Brits from representing the South African Sevens team at the Commonwealth Games in Scotland later this month.
Brits’ club Saracens were happy for him play in the event, but the final say lies with the governing body of the English Premiership.
DHL Western Province and the Vodacom Blue Bulls have both announced that they will be playing against Saracens, at Allianz Park, London, England.
In the case of WP, they will play Saracens at the end of the Currie Cup season in 2014, whereas the Blue Bulls will play Saracens late January 2015.
Alex Waller’s try in the last minute of extra time won Northampton their first Premiership title with a dramatic victory over Saracens.
Saints led 7-6 at the break through Ben Foden’s converted try, with Owen Farrell replying with two penalties.
Farrell added a further penalty before George Pisi crossed for Northampton’s second converted try.
Marcelo Bosch’s try levelled the scores but Charlie Hodgson’s kick hit the post to send the game into extra time.
Northampton Saints have named captain Dylan Hartley among their replacements for Saturday’s Premiership final against Saracens at Twickenham.
But the hooker’s England team-mate Mako Vunipola is missing for Sarries having had surgery on a dislocated patella.
Saints are aiming for their first-ever Premiership title, after losing to rivals Leicester in last year’s final.
Tommy Seymour is determined to help the Warriors finish off the season in style by claiming their first-ever RaboDirect PRO12 league title.
It will be the perfect end after a season that has seen Tommy come to the fore with Glasgow and Scotland.
Retiring Saracens captain Steve Borthwick will take up a coaching role with Eddie Jones’ Japan at the conclusion of the Premiership this weekend.
Jones, who has coached Australia and was a part of Jake White’s 2007 Rugby World Cup winning coaching team, is also a former Saracens director of rugby.
Comic magnate Mourad Boudjellal’s Toulon retained the Heineken Cup trophy with a comprehensive victory, by seventeen points, over English club Saracens at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff yesterday. The final score was Saracens 6/23 Toulon.
This victory proved that in the modern era of sports it is most often the team who has the biggest pot of gold available to it who will win the trophy as on the same day Toulon’s football equivalent Real Madrid lifted the Champions League trophy just hours later in Lisbon. The final score of 4/1 to Real Madrid may make their victory seem as comprehensive as Toulon’s.
The build-up to one of Europe’s greatest sporting weekends is almost complete as the clock ticks towards the Cardiff 2014 finals kick-off.
With a galaxy of international stars ready to take the stage at the atmospheric Millennium Stadium for tomorrow’s Heineken Cup decider between RC Toulon and Saracens, and at Cardiff Arms Park for this evening’s all-English Amlin Challenge Cup confrontation featuring Bath Rugby and Northampton Saints, fans from all over Europe are flocking into the Welsh capital to savour a unique celebration of club rugby.
Both matches – which will feature players from as many as 15 nations including luminaries of the global game such as Jonny Wilkinson, George North, Matt Giteau, Schalk Brits and Bryan Habana – will be broadcast in more than 150 countries worldwide.
Saracens booked a place in the Aviva Premiership final at Twickenham when they beat Harlequins 31-17 in the Premiership Semi-final at Allianz Park.
Saracens gradually saw off Harlequins to keep their dreams of winning the double alive.
The lead was evenly shared up until the 60-minute mark, with the league’s best side stretching away in the late May sunshine as Harlequins faded in a bruising encounter. Saracens scored 20 unanswered points in the second half.
A total of 14 possible points went begging as kickers Owen Farrell and Marcelo Bosch toiled with the conditions and their accuracy, but they were not made to pay in the end.
Heineken Cup organisers have announced that the roof of the Millennium Stadium will be closed for next Saturday’s Heineken Cup final between holders, RC Toulon, and Saracens.
The decision is in keeping with previous European club rugby deciders at the famous Cardiff venue. While the atmosphere surrounding a Heineken Cup final is inevitably a special one, the sheer sense of occasion generated when the Millennium Stadium roof is shut adds an extra dimension for players and supporters alike.
Premiership Rugby have confirmed that four Semi-finalists for the 2013 /2014 Aviva Premiership Semi-finals later this month.
Now that the final Round of Premiership league matches have been completed the Semi-finalists have been determined.
Saracens will contest the red card shown to flanker Justin Melck during their 31-27 Premiership defeat by Leicester Tigers on Saturday.
The 31-year-old South African was dismissed on 44 minutes by referee Greg Garner for appearing to eye-gouge Tigers hooker Neil Briggs, who said the official had made a mistake.
“We are hugely disappointed,” said Sarries director of rugby Mark McCall. “We will look to have it overturned. It was a dreadful decision.”
Springbok and Saracens hooker Schalk Brits has been shortlisted for the 2014 European Player of the Year award.
Reigning champions Toulon will have a shot at becoming only the third team in Heineken Cup history to defend their title after they overcame Munster 24-16 in the second semi-final at Stade Velodrome, Marseille.
The only try of the game may have come in the second half from Munster wing Simon Zebo, but Toulon were never behind in a game which saw Jonny Wilkinson end with 21 points and Delon Armitage smash over a 55 metre penalty.
Saracens boss Mark McCall said “it does not really matter” who they face in the Heineken Cup final after a record-breaking win against Clermont Auvergne.
They set new semi-final marks for most points scored (46), most tries scored (six) and biggest winning margin (40), as they romped home 46-6 on Saturday.
The European Cup draws towards the Final with two french giants battling against the cream of the Irish and English leagues in the semifinals.
Reigning European Cup champions, Toulon, are aiming for a fourth European final in five seasons.
And although they are on the opposite side of the semifinal draw from French compatriots Clermont, successes for both of these teams could see a repeat of last years Final.
Last year’s Final saw Toulon just pip Clermont by a solitary point.
Making an international debut in your 30s is rare, but South African-born Saracens flank Justin Melck is relishing his chance to help minnows Germany qualify for the Rugby World Cup.
When his Saracens team-mates take on Clermont Auvergne in Saturday’s European Cup semi-final, Melck has been released to pull on the jersey of his ancestors in a test against Sweden in the unlikely rugby outpost of Stockholm.
Cape Town-born Melck, 31, who has a German passport and whose mother hails from Gondelsheim, near Karlsruhe, admits he knows little about his new team-mates and has taken some teasing from within the Saracens squad.
England and Saracens flyhalf Owen Farrell is in doubt for the rest of season after he was forced to leave the field at half time in the Premiership leaders 28-24 win over second-placed Northampton on Sunday.
Farrell had to be relieved of kicking duties by Argentina’s Marcelo Bosch and didn’t take the field in the second half at Saracens’ home ground in Hendon, north-west London.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster will be hoping that Farrell is fit enough for their end of season tour of New Zealand.
The tug of war regarding the premier club competition in European rugby has been conducted very publicly for a long time and a week ago it was reported that an announcement on the structure of future competitions was imminent. However, it all seems to have gone quiet and no final announcement has been forthcoming.
There are rumours that the Italian clubs and their representative bodies were needing to discuss a few details of what should otherwise be a done deal. Furthermore there is the question of the broadcasting battle between Sky and BT Sport which is apparently in the process of being sorted out with a joint broadcast agreement likely for next season. The final rumour is that the parties involved may not have wanted to make any announcements this week in the lead up to the quarter finals of the current Heineken Cup competition.
Former Springbok scrumhalf Neil de Kock is set to play his 200th match for Saracens, the English club’s official website reports.
De Kock, 35, is on the bench for their Heineken Cup quarter-final away to Irish club Ulster on Saturday and will reach the milestone if he makes an appearance.
Connacht Loosehead prop Brett Wilkinson has been forced into retirement due to a serious neck injury sustained in the last game he played for the club.
The 30-year-old South African has been with Connacht since 2006 and has played 183 times for the province.
Saracens beat the world record attendance of a club match in their 39-17 Aviva Premiership clash at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.
A clinical first-half display from Saracens saw them go in at half time 27-10 up, through tries from Chris Ashton, George Kruis and Owen Farrell, with Karl Dickson’s try and Nick Evans’s penalty keeping Quins within touching distance.
The second half was a more low-key affair, with Sam Smith’s converted try putting Harlequins within 10, but Jacques Burger and Marcelo Bosch sealed the victory for Saracens.
The game had a staggered start as David Strettle was on the receiving end of a swinging arm from Maurie Fa’asavalu, leaving the winger unconscious for a lengthy period of time, forcing him to be carried off on a stretcher.
Soon after, Nick Easter tried to make the most of a poor pass, but could only palm it into the path of Ashton who, after fending off Ugo Monye, dived over to score a 70-metre try, with Farrell converting.
Former England and British & Irish Lions prop Matt Stevens has agreed to return home to Durban and play Super Rugby for the Sharks at the end of this season.
Saracens lock Mouritz Botha praised his side’s “brilliant performance” after his man of the match performance in the 23-15 win over the Sharks in atrocious conditions at Allianz Stadium on Saturday.
Sharks Director of Rugby Jake White says matches between South African provinces and English clubs could be the way forward.
Saracens (20) 23 / 15 (3) Sharks (Final Score)
Saracens and the South African Cell C Sharks did battle in a friendly match which doubles up as a warm-up
game in preparation of Super Rugby, at Allianz Stadium, London at 16:30 SA Time (14:30 GMT).
This was the live match discussion Article.
The match was broadcast LIVE on SuperSport 1 & SHD on TV in SA.
Natal Sharks director of rugby Jake White thinks his team’s game against Saracens could lead to regular club matches between English and South African sides.
Saracens have named their side to face the Cell C Sharks in Saturday’s Sanlam Private Investments Shield match at Allianz Park, London, with kick-off at 16:30 SA Time (14:30 GMT).
Steve Borthwick will captain the side from lock, and is partnered by England second-rower Mouritz Botha.
The Cell C Sharks have named their team to take on Saracens in the friendly Sharks pre-season encounter at Allianz Park, London, England on Saturday 25 January at 16:30 SA Time (14:30 GMT).
Quotes from Director of Rugby, Jake White
“What I enjoy about this game is that it mimics a little bit of what we can expect from the Bulls.
“Saracens play a little bit like the Bulls, they have a big pack of forwards, their set-piece is strong and they kick a lot. It gives me and the coaching staff an opportunity to see the things we want to do against the Bulls and to have an idea of whether or not we can play against the Bulls in a certain way.”
New Sharks captain Bismarck du Plessis will be counting on the support of his predecessor Keegan Daniel in the pre-season friendly against English club Saracens in London on Saturday.
The Springbok hooker, who was the natural choice by incoming director of rugby Jake White, said he had the full backing of the former skipper following the change of leadership last week.
One can feel that South African rugby supporters are chomping at the bit for their season to start and the good news is that the weekend’s pre-season friendly match between the Cell C Sharks and Saracens at Allianz Park in London on Saturday 25 January will be televised live on SuperSport 1, SHD and CSN.
Edinburgh loose forward Cornell du Preez and Connacht duo Kieran Marmion and Nathan White have been cited after the weekend’s final round of the European Cup pool stages.
Round 6 of the European Cup, which includes the Heineken Cup (Premier Competition) and Amlin Challenge Cup (secondary Qualification Competition) happened this past weekend and there was high drama and lots of action!
Sunday evening the full puzzle of who plays where in the Play-Off’s of both the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge cup was revealed.
In the Heineken Cup, Ulster will host Saracens, ASM Clermont Auvergne will host Leicester Tigers, whilst the defending champions Toulon will host Leinster and Munster will host Toulouse at Thomond Park. The Quarter-finals will take place on the weekend of 4 to 6 April.
In the Amlin Challenge Cup Northampton Saints, Harlequins and Gloucester have booked their spots in the Quarter-finals along with the amlin Challenge Cup Pool winners Bath, London Wasps, Stade Francais, Sale Sharks and Brive.
Bath will host Brive, London Wasps will host Gloucester, Stade Francais host Harlequins and Sale Sharks will host Northampton Saints.
The race to these Cup winners will be interrupted by the Six Nations tournament, which takes place from 1 February 2014.