Premier 15s final: Exeter Chiefs bid to upset two-time winners Saracens

Premier 15s final: Exeter Chiefs bid to upset two-time winners Saracens

Exeter, who finished sixth last season in their maiden Premier 15s campaign, beat Bristol 28-24 to reach the final
Venue: Sixways Stadium, Worcester Date: Friday, 3 June Kick-off: 15:00 BST
Coverage: Watch live on BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website and app from 14:45 BST.

A brand-new Premier 15s final awaits rugby union fans as Exeter Chiefs take their place in the league’s showpiece event for the first time, taking on the two-time winners Saracens.

Saracens and Harlequins have contested all three previous finals, with Sarries seeking to regain the title after losing to Quins last year.

Here’s a snapshot of the key players and themes for Friday’s match at Worcester’s Sixways Stadium.

Saracens favourites but don’t rule out Exeter

These sides finished first and second in the regular season, with table-topping Saracens finishing 11 points above Exeter and only losing two fixtures.

However, one of those defeats was a big one, going down 54-12 to Exeter at Sandy Park in early May.

The Saracens team that day was missing some of their key English stars in Poppy Cleall, Marlie Packer and Zoe Harrison, but head coach Alex Austerberry refused to use that as an excuse.

“We fell short of the standards we set ourselves,” he said, describing it as a “one-off game”.

Despite this, Saracens will be favourites on Friday based on their overall season’s performances and final experience, although the statistics give Exeter more than a fighting chance.

Chiefs have scored more points and more tries than Saracens during the season, and conceded fewer points and tries too.

North American muscle

The Saracens team is stuffed with English talent but a big headline grabber this season has been American import Alev Kelter.

Only arriving in January, the centre quickly settled into Saracens life, with Austerberry describing her as “an exceptional person and character.”

Meanwhile, the USA captain Kate Zackary has been the cornerstone of the Exeter Chiefs since their inception, and the mid-season arrival of her Eagles team-mate Hope Rogers has added further quality to the pack.

There are numerous Americans and Canadians across the squads, and it could prove an interesting Saturday morning after the final when the various North American internationals meet at Heathrow airport to travel to New Zealand to play for their countries in the Pacific Four Series.

Wolf pack DNA

Saracens celebrate victory in 2019
Saracens won the title in 2018 and 2019 and were runners-up in 2021. There was no tournament in 2020 because of Covid-19

The winning culture at Saracens is summed up by co-captain Lotte Clapp ,who says that “once you get a taste for it, it’s hard to lose that.”

However, the club isn’t a place for the quiet or shy player.

England and Saracens flanker Packer uses the same “wolf pack” analogy adopted by their male counterparts.

“The mentality, the drive, the desire to be the best, people check and challenge all the time at Saracens,” she said.

“We’re quite harsh on each other; that’s how we get to finals.”

Another Exeter fairy tale?

Exeter’s men were long the darlings of rugby union in England, rising from the Championship to become Premiership and European champions in just 10 years.

Susie Appleby’s women appear to be keen to play out another West County fairy tale in double quick time.

After forming in 2019, the Chiefs only joined the Premier 15s in the 2020-21 season.

They claimed their first silverware by winning the Allianz Cup in April and the momentum behind the team is growing.

Appleby has praised the “coach loads” of “super fans” who are making their way to Sixways for the final.

She describes the team and club as part of the “Chiefs family” adding that in all her years as an international rugby player and coach around the world, she has “never felt anything like this before.”

League’s bright future

Three of the 10 Premier 15s clubs now have an average matchday attendance of more than 1,000.

Exeter, Bristol and Harlequins all targeted specific fixtures for fan promotion throughout the season and their efforts are paying off with other sides copying the format.

While the league does have issues around distribution of Red Roses talent, international quotas and any firm salary cap regulation, interest is still growing.

BT Sport and BBC Sport both broadcast the Premier 15s this season and the next three-year cycle to bid for places in the league is expected to be fierce with Bath, London Irish and Leicester all likely to apply.

Whoever wins the Premier 15s final, the league itself is on the up – with more people wanting a piece of a competition that is the envy of unions across the world.

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