Premiership semi-finals: Saracens, Gloucester, Exeter and Northampton in last four – BBC Sport

Premiership semi-finals: Saracens, Gloucester, Exeter and Northampton in last four - BBC Sport

How underdogs Northampton and Gloucester can upset the odds against Exeter and Saracens

Twelve teams kicked off with dreams of Premiership success and silverware in September. Now, in late May, just four remain as we reach the semi-finals.

Defending champions Saracens and last seasons runners-up Exeter Chiefs appear favourites to book a repeat of their 2018 final after finishing in the top two.

But Gloucester and Northampton Saints stand in their way and will hope to spring a surprise (or two).

Even though Saints only just squeezed into the play-offs – a full 30 points behind Exeter – and got thumped 40-21 by the Chiefs last week, I think they have the better chance of pulling off an upset. 

BBC Sport looks ahead to both matches on Saturday with the help of BBC Radio 5 Lives Rugby Union Weekly podcast pundits Ugo Monye and Danny Care.

Second against third from the regular season go head-to-head first up on Saturday as Saracens host Gloucester in what will be the 3,000th game of Premiership rugby since the competition began in 1987.

Saracens have lost just once in their past five semi-final appearances while Gloucester find themselves paired against Sarries for the third time in the last four.

“Gloucester beat Saracens at Kingsholm earlier in the season, but they were well beaten at Saracens. They had 50-odd points put on them.

“But Gloucester stand a much better chance than Northampton of causing an upset this Saturday as they and Saracens are the two fresher sides going into the semi-finals.

“You just wonder what lessons Gloucester have learned from that heavy defeat. But theyve got to take care of their own game and theyve got to take it to an extraordinary level to beat Saracens.

“If we look at what this Saracens team have done, especially in the European Champions Cup final, youve got to be better than anything youve ever put together this season – set-piece, defence, attack, kick-chase, work-rate.

“Thats where youve got to be to beat the best team in Europe. Gloucester have got one key operating cog in their system in Premiership player of the season Danny Cipriani.

“For Cipriani to have a blinder, it means his pack have got to play well. If he doesnt have a blinder, its because the guys in front of him havent played well.

“But you cant rely on Cipriani throwing 50-yard passes and pulling rabbits out of hats for 80 minutes to beat Saracens.”

“Gloucester need their best performance of the year and I think they also need Saracens to have an off-day.

“From watching Saracens first-hand in that Champions Cup final, if they defend anything like they did that day, theyll be impossible to shift.

“Cipriani cannot do what he does without his pack giving him the ball, without centres Mark Atkinson and Billy Twelvetrees on his outside running those lines for him.”

Once the first semi-final is over, attention shifts to Devon where first-placed Exeter and fourth-placed Northampton will have a definite feeling of deja vu.

These two met each other just last Saturday at the same venue in the last game of the regular season with Chiefs eventually powering through to win 40-21.

But will that dress rehearsal tell us anything about what to expect now that its a winner-takes-all affair?

Exeter are in their fourth Premiership semi-final in as many years, all of which have been at home, while Northampton are in the last four for the first time since 2015.

Ugo Monye: “How are Northampton going to be able to overturn that 19-point deficit from last weekend?

“Exeter werent at their very best, but what I was impressed with was how Northampton really went at it in the first 20 minutes. But they couldnt sustain it for 80 minutes.

“I dont think Exeters scrum is anywhere near where it could be. If Northampton are to get a foothold in the game, then its the scrum.

“If Exeter get 60% possession, theyll tear you apart like they did last Saturday. If you can keep hold of it, then youve got every chance.”

“It mustve been tough mentally those last few games, where you know youve got a home semi-final, getting up for games when you dont want to get injured, you just want to get through and get to the meaningful games.

“It was massively important for them that they got back to winning ways and theyve put a massive marker down against the team theyre facing in the semi-final.

“Theyll be full of confidence now and I think theyll be in the final. But its a one-off game – youve got every chance and anything can happen.

“If Northampton can keep hold of the ball for long enough, theyve got some unbelievable players. Taqele Naiyaravoro on the wing is a freak, it takes two or three people to tackle him.

“If they can keep hold of the ball for longer and be more clinical with it, theyll be in with a shout.

“When Exeter get the ball, they keep it for minutes and minutes and minutes – and just grind you down and score tries.”

“I think theyll be two great games and the stats would dictate that the home sides will be favourites, but throw stats out of the window for an emotional, one-off game.

“Its been a crazy year and Im not saying its going to be a Gloucester-Northampton final, but if youre in the top four, I just dont think at this point its fair to write those teams off.”

“Id be surprised if Northampton can overturn that 19-point deficit in a week, so Exeter will be in the final.

More news:

Distraught Henry Slade can take words of comfort from Saracens boss Mark McCall to help Exeter Chiefs make next step – The Independent
Distraught Henry Slade can take words of comfort from Saracens boss Mark McCall to help Exeter Chiefs make next step – The Independent
Jack Yeandle proud of Exeter Chiefs improvement in wake of Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final defeat – Premiership Rugby
Jack Yeandle proud of Exeter Chiefs improvement in wake of Gallagher Premiership Rugby Final defeat – Premiership Rugby
Exeter Chiefs v Saracens player ratings | Sport – The Times
Exeter Chiefs v Saracens player ratings | Sport – The Times
Exeter have moved on tactically and technically but Saracens just dont know when they are beaten – Telegraph.co.uk
Exeter have moved on tactically and technically but Saracens just dont know when they are beaten – Telegraph.co.uk
Saracens rally to beat Exeter Chiefs in epic, 10-try Premiership final – The Telegraph
Saracens rally to beat Exeter Chiefs in epic, 10-try Premiership final – The Telegraph
Match Report: Exeter Chiefs 34-37 Saracens – Premiership Rugby
Match Report: Exeter Chiefs 34-37 Saracens – Premiership Rugby
Exeter Chiefs revenge mission reaches final frontier with Twickenham final – Mirror Online
Exeter Chiefs revenge mission reaches final frontier with Twickenham final – Mirror Online
Exeter Chiefs name side to face Saracens – Premiership Rugby
Exeter Chiefs name side to face Saracens – Premiership Rugby
Exeter are not boring, their Premiership final against Saracens will be a cracking match – Telegraph.co.uk
Exeter are not boring, their Premiership final against Saracens will be a cracking match – Telegraph.co.uk
Premiership final: Exeter Chiefs & Saracens meet again in inevitable final – BBC Sport
Premiership final: Exeter Chiefs & Saracens meet again in inevitable final – BBC Sport
Alex Cuthbert: Exeter wing dreams of Premiership title success – BBC Sport
Alex Cuthbert: Exeter wing dreams of Premiership title success – BBC Sport
Throwback Thursday: Seismic Saracens versus Exeter Chiefs clashes – Premiership Rugby
Throwback Thursday: Seismic Saracens versus Exeter Chiefs clashes – Premiership Rugby