The Aviva Premiership final remains a controversial thing. There are plenty of people who still say that the champions should simply be the team who win the league and that the four team play-off at the end of the season is a superfluous Americanism. Whilst there’s some force in that argument, it is also fair to say that a good number of those offering such a view are Leicester Tigers supporters. Over the years since the play-off was introduced, the Tigers have made it almost a party piece to qualify for them and then lose in the final. Sometimes, for variation, they win the league and then don’t make the final. They are, however, pretty consistent when it comes to reaching that stage that their fans dislike.
And so it is this season. On Saturday, Leicester will take on Northampton Saints at Twickenham for the right to lift the Premiership trophy. Neither side was the best in the league this year. Leicester finished second, Northampton fourth. But they were the two sides in the best form coming into the final weeks and indeed would have met in the semi-finals had Northampton not turned in their worst performance for some weeks against Harlequins to lose third place in the final game of the regular season.
Harlequins, in turn, were no match for the Tigers whilst Saints pulled off one of the upsets of the year in not only beating runaway league winners Saracens, but doing so on the road and thus ending Saracens’ season-long unbeaten record at home.
The match itself offers some fascinating individual match-ups. There are the two lineout geniuses, Geoff Parling of Leicester and Christian Day of Northampton in direct opposition. Up front, both Tigers’ Martin Castrogiovanni and Saints’ Soane Tonga’uiha will be playing their final game for their respective clubs after long and distinguished service. Meanwhile, in the very middle of those front rows, England hookers Tom Youngs and Dylan Hartley will be having their own little battle for supremacy before they both set off as teammates on the Lions tour.
And that’s just the forwards. The backs offer an equally tantalising range of contests. It does promise to be a very fine game indeed. At present, the best betting odds you will get on a Leicester win is 4/9 (Totesport and others), which is understandable. Only Saracens had a better defensive record than them this season and the Tigers scored far more points than Sarries did. They also beat Northampton heavily away from home during the season. However, the Saints were a team who only really played their best rugby at the end of the season and at 2/1 with Bet365 look well priced.
If you are looking to make some money in other markets, then the half time/full time one is an interesting one, as both teams have a propensity to win games from behind and neither will be at all phased by not being ahead at the interval. By looking around carefully for the best odds you could potentially make money on all four possible combinations of one or other leading at the break, the only risk being of a loss if the half-time or full time score is a draw.
Otherwise, there’s almost always money to be made on the first scoring play in a final. Both teams are proven try scorers, but don’t ignore the penalty market. Leicester, in particular, had one of the highest penalty counts against them this year and there’s almost certainly going to be sports betting value in backing a Northampton penalty as the first scoring play of the match.
Rugby fans should check out our British & Irish Lions Rugby Preview