5 key talking points ahead of Aviva Premiership final
Saracens will defend their Aviva Premiership title against maiden finalists Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham on Saturday.
Here, Press Association Sport examines five key talking points ahead of this term's league finale.
EXACTLY HOW FIT IS OWEN FARRELL?
Playmaker Farrell's tenacity and accuracy are crucial to Saracens' focused, frenzied approach. All the England inside back's chief qualities come to the fore more than anywhere at his club, albeit the 24-year-old enjoyed a fine Six Nations at centre. Throw in a renewed attacking appetite and it is little wonder rugby director Mark McCall gave him as much time as possible to patch up a rib problem to face Exeter. Farrell had hardly recovered from one hefty shot when Leicester's Ellis Genge whacked him in exactly the same spot in last weekend's semi-final. He has the ability and the heart to win the game at even 80 per cent fitness, but Saracens will hope there is no need to test that theory.
CONTINUITY IS KING
This season's two best teams have reached the Premiership final. This is Saracens' fifth final in seven seasons, while Exeter are in their first top-flight title showdown. When Saracens lost to Leicester in the 2010 final, there were those who criticised the Londoners' expensively-assembled squad, suggesting a lack of homegrown talent. How the meteoric rise since of Farrell, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Will Fraser, Jamie George and so many more besides now makes a mockery of such formerly-held notions. Exeter meanwhile only won promotion to the Premiership in 2010, and were installed as immediate favourites for relegation in their maiden campaign. From the moment they stunned Gloucester 22-10 at Sandy Park in their league debut however, the Chiefs have consistently defied expectation. Saracens and Exeter arrive at Twickenham via very different routes, but having adopted a similar approach: in the six years that have shaped both clubs, the two men at the coaching helm this weekend have been ever-present.
SARACENS POUND THE ROCK TO BUILD DYNASTY
When Saracens lost both the Premiership and Heineken Cup finals on consecutive weekends in 2014, coaches and players could easily have been crushed. Instead boss McCall talked again to his men of the mantra of "pounding the rock". The NBA's San Antonio Spurs had coined the phrase in a bid to shake off their own previous disappointments at the last, fighting back for glory in 2014 after a season as nearly men. That dogged spirit carried Saracens to the 2015 Premiership crown and the European title this term. Ghosts well and truly exorcised, Saracens could be in line for a dynasty of some repute.
WILL EXETER HAVE ENOUGH IN THE TANK WITHOUT THOMAS?
Thomas "Tank" Waldrom ended the regular season as the Aviva Premiership's top try-scorer. Some feat for a number eight. The 33-year-old suffered knee ligament damage in Exeter's semi-final victory over Wasps and will now miss the final. The former Leicester back-rower had been offering highly-effective cameos off the bench in recent weeks, handing the Chiefs a timely final-quarter boost. While Exeter have plenty of cover, the Chiefs are bound to miss their Kiwi try machine this weekend.
HODGSON RETIRES WITH ALMOST UNATTAINABLE RECORD
Charlie Hodgson will bring down the curtain on 16 stellar top-level years this weekend, lacing his record-breaking kicking boots for the final time at Twickenham. The 38-cap England man served Sale with distinction between 2000 and 2011, before heading south to Saracens. Allied to his evergreen game-breaking abilities, the 35-year-old still remains one of the most accurate goal-kickers in the sport. His record Premiership points tally of 2,623 dwarfs all other contributions. Andy Goode's 2,285 comes next with Olly Barkley third on the Premiership all-time list with 1,605. With ultra-professionalism, squad rotation and ever more frequent injuries, Hodgson's handsome haul may never be bettered.