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Croft and Tait lead the way for Tigers as Saints shock Sarries

Over the last week there have been more column inches in the sports sections about Sir Alex Ferguson than almost everything else combined. With that in mind, it would be interesting to hear what the architect of Manchester United’s dominance of the Barclays Premier League would make of Leicester Tigers.

In beating Harlequins 33-16 on Saturday the Tigers are now into their ninth Aviva Premiership Final in a row, a feat that even the retiring Knight of the Realm would admit is impressive.

Their sheer will to win shines through year after year and their ‘old school’ training ethos of full blooded and full contact brutality ensures that they remain true to the clubs core values.

Nine finals in a row speaks of more than just heart and soul though, it shows a depth of skill and talent that over the last decade has been consistently better than their rivals. That skill and talent shone through in the latter stages against Quins, who had been very impressive for the fist 55 minutes or so.

Tom Croft in particular was magnificent for Leicester, he made two huge impacts on the game; the first a thunderous try saving tackle on Danny Care that will have tested his recovery from a broken neck to the extreme, the second a magnificent try. He scorched over to score from about 50m out, showing the sort of pace that would be the envy of most wingers, let alone giant back row players. It was a perfect example of why he is in Warren Gatland’s Lions squad, he is truly unique in the back row.

Matthew Tait at full back must also be singled out for praise, at this time last year many followers of Rugby Union could have been forgiven for thinking that Tait no longer played rugby, such had been his terrible run of injuries since his move to Leicester in 2011.

Since his comeback in the early part of this season though he has been slowly coming back into the sort of form that saw him star for England in the 2007 World Cup. Playing at full back now rather than his original position of outside centre, he was magnificent at the weekend.

Such has been his form that he must be feeling rather unlucky to have missed out on England’s tour to Argentina, though the Tigers management are probably relieved, but he will have sights set now on ousting one of England’s full back trio, Ben Foden, Alex Goode and Mike Brown, from future squads.

It was not only Leicester that turned on the style this weekend though, Northampton Saints stunned Saracens at Allianz Park on Sunday to reach their first ever Premiership final.

Saracens went into the game as overwhelming favourites but the Northampton forwards, and their front row of Tonga’uhia, Mujati, anad Hartley, comprehensively outplayed the 2011 champions, going in at half time 17-0 up.

It was bad new for the Lions props Mako Vunipola and Matt Stevens, while Owen Farrell was also slightly off colour, however Saints were simply too powerful for the North London outfit, who seemed bereft of a ‘plan B’.

Saracens came back into the game in the second half, but Northampton had spoken at half time about avoiding the sort of collapse that saw them lose the 2011 Heineken Cup final to Leinster after leading 22-6 at the break.

The East Midlands side overcame those demons though to win by a comfortable 27 points to 13, setting up an East Midlands derby of epic proportions at Twickenham on the 25th May in the final.

Saints will be buoyed by the experience of this weekend but Leicester, with their six British and Irish Lions, ought to have too much for them. However despite being in the previous eight Premiership finals, Leicester have lost both the 2011 and 2012 finals so will be seeking to avoid the pain of three defeats in a row.

If they are to impress that old footballing grandmaster, nothing short of a win will do. In Croft and Tait they have men in form, what they must hope for though is that their own Lions front rows, Dan Cole and Tom Youngs, can withstand the pressure from the soon to be ex Northampton Saints front row.

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