Billy Vunipola believes Saracens have already negotiated the toughest hurdle in their pursuit of the Aviva Premiership title and doubts Bath’s claim they will persist with their attacking game today.
Vunipola regards facing down champions Northampton in last weekend’s play-off at Franklin’s Gardens – Saracens prevailed 29-24 – as a greater obstacle to overcome than Bath.
And the England number eight greets with scepticism the west country club’s promise to dazzle Twickenham with the high-octane rugby that has served them so well this season.
“I’m not sure (if Bath are the biggest test). Northampton were probably the team to beat. They are very, very tough and they know how to play against us,” Vunipola said.
“Beating Northampton was very satisfying, especially after losing to them a few times throughout the season. To do it away from home was very special as well.
“We saw at the Recreation Ground that Bath beat us at our own game (Bath won 21-11 in October). A lot of teams have changed the way they play against us.
“Bath have already come out and said they are not going to stop playing their attacking style, but I think they are lying a little bit there.”
However, Vunipola’s England team-mate Jonathan Joseph believes Bath are ready to shine on the big stage.
The centre was just four-years-old when the west country club last left a showpiece Twickenham occasion as winners in 1996. Then, it was the English domestic knockout cup final, when a controversial late penalty try edged Bath home 16-15 against Leicester and Tigers flanker Neil Back subsequently received a six-month ban for pushing referee Steve Lander as the final whistle was blown.
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Bath, regular league and cup winners during a golden era in the 1980s and 1990s that also included them becoming England’s first European champion club, have never threatened to reattain such heights since then. Until now.
Saracens, though, are good enough to put a spanner in the works, having established themselves as consistent challengers for domestic and European silverware during Mark McCall’s impressive reign as rugby director.
“It’s a challenge, isn’t it?” Joseph said. “Saracens are a great side defensively, and in attack they bring a lot of firepower. For us, it’s about making good decisions on the day, and if they present us with an attacking opportunity then we are ultimately going to try and take that.
“Many of the players have played in big games before, so we are all prepared, we are all ready and it’s about dragging your team-mate along. We are a team, we are in it together and we will do what we can to help the boys that might not be as experienced and experienced Twickenham as much as others. We are a unit, we’re tight and we will go out there together and play as a team.
“There is massive belief in the squad. We want to be playing on the big stage, we want to be winning trophies and playing in the Premiership final. So for us, it has been a great season so far, but it doesn’t really make sense if we come away from Twickenham empty-handed.”
With England’s World Cup campaign less than four months away, a number of mouthwatering individual battles are on the menu, including George Ford against Owen Farrell at fly-half, centres Kyle Eastmond and Brad Barritt going head to head, plus an intriguing blindside flanker contest between Bath’s high-profile rugby league recruit Sam Burgess and Saracens’ brilliant young prospect Maro Itoje.
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