Why all our experts expect Northampton to beat Bath in the Premiership final

Sam Matavesi and Alex Waller will be seen at Twickenham on Saturday – Getty Images/David Rogers

The Premier League final is expected to be a hard-fought encounter between Northampton and Bath, with little in it.

Telegraph Sport’s experts predict how they think Saturday’s match will go, and the key areas that will decide the final.

Northampton Saints 17 Bad 15

Northampton to get around it. Bath will rely on the magic of Finn Russell and their set-piece aggression, and fearsome carrying options, and so I expect it to be a tense, nervous match. But Northampton are further along in their journey and now have a pack and defense to support their attacking instincts, making them a more complete team and also benefiting from big match experience by taking on Leinster. the semi-final of the Champions Cup.

Northampton Saints 35 Bad 25

This is a bold prediction with a much larger margin than the bookmakers’ handicap, which appears to be around three or four points. And Bath could make me look very foolish, because there is a plausible path to victory for them. With Ben Spencer and Finn Russell tormenting Northampton on the pitch and Sam Underhill and Alfie Barbeary ruling the ruck area, Phil Dowson’s side will struggle. Bath have a set piece that can last the entire 80 minutes and have the creativity and dynamism to score tries in a variety of ways.

That said, saints just seem ready to take the next step. There’s a significant emotional boost from major character departures, yes. Yet they are also a versatile team that has learned from difficult situations. I would expect Northampton to be freer and more accurate than in each of their semi-finals this season, against Leinster and Saracens. They could have won the first, but with a terrible start, and should have come away in the second. The domestic play-off will also have given them valuable insight into Christophe Ridley’s ruck interpretations.

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A thankless task, because in a way it’s sad that there has to be a loser. Both fully deserve their place in the finals and finish as the top two teams in the competition (in the rankings they are only split based on points difference). This weekend promises to be a blast, with the fifth different winner guaranteed in as many years. But there’s a reason why Northampton finished top: their skills on both sides of the ball were superb. It will be a one-score game and Bath shouldn’t be left out – certainly, if they can turn the screw at the scrum and maul then there’s every chance Ben Spencer will lift the trophy – but it all -court play from the Saints, alongside that dashing, dazzling back line should see them march into the history books.

Northampton 28 Bath 23

Something tells me this is all going to be a bit coy eventually. Fascinated by the scrum and whether Northampton can follow up last week’s demolition of Saracens by hurting Bath in that area too, although given the presence of the in-form Beno Obano and Thomas du Toit, Saints are not such will get an easy ride. It was a famous day for Bath last week, but actually in the patches they were a bit sloppy with ball in hand – that can’t happen at Twickenham. Northampton barely gave Saracens a sniff of their try line until that late Owen Farrell grubber to set up Lucio Cinti, so Bath must be ruthless to stay in the game.

Speaking to Charlie Ewels after Saturday’s semi-final, the Bath lock went through every part of Northampton’s match and struggled to find a weak point. It doesn’t really seem to be there. Add to that the emotional factor of saying goodbye to Courtney Lawes and Lewis Ludlam and it all feels like Northampton’s day. And if we’re honest, Bath are feeling slightly ahead of schedule in their incredible rebuild. They’ve been a welcome surprise all season. This may be a step too far.

Where the game will be won and lost

By Charlie Morgan

Dictate the rhythm of the contact area

Clearly the Premiership decider pits two fearless and stylish attacking sides against each other. Taking advantage of opportunities – whether overlaps, loss of concentration or fixed platforms – will go a long way in determining the title. However, as the Champions Cup final underlined, defense is crucial when the stakes are highest. Toulouse restricted Leinster to 22 points across 100 minutes in that match. They ran into the collapse and desperately scrambled to their feet as their opponents found space.

Those at Twickenham will recognize the importance of disrupting the flow of their rivals. In a groundbreaking away win over Exeter Chiefs in April, who maintained their play-off push while Finn Russell was injured, Bath coped brilliantly. Sam Underhill and Alfie Barbeary wreaked havoc and plundered crucial turnovers. Saints are devastating due to fast rucks. Burger Odendaal, a tough midfielder, can be a prominent spearhead. Scrapping on the floor and slowing them down will be crucial for Bath.

Northampton’s defence, overseen by Lee Radford, was a huge success story. But Bath boasts a phalanx of terrifyingly powerful porters, from Thomas du Toit to Ted Hill and Barbeary via Ollie Lawrence. Normally, Saints have looked to undermine the speed of attacks with grapple tackles and referee Christophe Ridley was not always happy with their extortion during the semi-final against Saracens. They will have to stay steadfast on the win line and maintain their discipline to suppress Russell, Cameron Redpath and co.

Teasing opponents in the territorial battle

For all the talk about mispasses, hypnotic sidesteps and athleticism, these two teams kick a lot. Ben Spencer has racked up the most impressive meters during the Premiership season with 4,938, according to Stats Perform. Finn Russell (3,587m) is the highest-ranked fly-half, while Saints have three players in the top 10: Alex Mitchell (3,834m), Tom James (3,420m) and Fin Smith (3,224m).

All this emphasizes two things. Firstly, both Bath and Saints are patient teams who covet territory. Secondly, their respective halfbacks cleverly share the kicking load as duos. Spencer is particularly important here as a means of easing the pressure on Russell – think of the work Ben White is doing for Scotland. The former Saracens scrum-half has registered four 50:22s this Premiership season, twice as many as any other player. Russell’s ability to disrupt defenses in the backfield needs no explanation.

Ben Spencer of Bath makes a break to score his side's fourth try during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bath Rugby and Northampton Saints at The Recreation Ground on May 18, 2024 in Bath, EnglandBen Spencer of Bath makes a break to score his side's fourth try during the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Bath Rugby and Northampton Saints at The Recreation Ground on May 18, 2024 in Bath, England

Ben Spencer’s kicking game will be crucial for Bath – Getty Images/Dan Mullan

Meanwhile, Mitchell’s balance with the shoe has improved tremendously over the past year. Smith is getting smarter. Northampton can lean on kicks when games get rough. In Tommy Freeman, they have a wing that will become an elite operator in the air. Will Muir, his counterpart, was similarly impressive. Bath’s superiority in kick exchanges saw Sale Sharks win last weekend. Getting up to recover or tip back a high ball can create huge moments, especially when a team is dangerous in broken-field scenarios.

Use of the banks

Selection is under the microscope on the business side. In addition to the montage of matchday 23, a huge amount of attention will be paid to how teams use their benches in the heat of battle. The past two finals have been heavily influenced by supersubs. In 2022, Freddie Burns replaced George Ford and became the hero of Leicester Tigers. A year later, Theo Dan took over from Jamie George after eleven minutes and delivered a stormy performance.

Saints have opted for a six-two split of forwards among their reserves for much of this term. Versatile backs like George Furbank, Freeman and Fraser Dingwall make this possible. And they arrived in June and the vast majority of their first-team squad were fit and firing. This allowed Phil Dowson to start Tom Pearson against Saracens for the first time since March before Lewis Ludlam was introduced in the 53rd minute. On the hour mark, Emmanuel Iyogun and Elliot Millar Mills were brought on for Alex Waller and Trevor Davison and promptly created a crushing lead.

Du Toit and Will Stuart represent a fearsome one-two punch of props for Bath. Johann van Graan’s own six-two bank was vindicated in the semi-finals. Stuart and Miles Reid, the latter to take Underhill’s place, came on just as Sale had built a 23-21 lead. Niall Annett and Elliot Stooke, two more replacements, joined the fray shortly afterwards, shunting Bath to Twickenham. It is inevitable that momentum will fluctuate in all facets of the match. At the lineout, for example, one team can endure a difficult period of ten minutes. Coaches must assess when and how to intervene.

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