Saturday, May 17, 2014

Aviva Premiership: Americas Exports Semi Finals Wrap

Photo Daily Mail
England is to have a different club champion this year. The 2013 championship winning Leicester Tigers will not be in the final and nor will the 2012 championship winning Harlequins. Instead the 2014 champion will either be the 2011 champions Saracens or last seasons losing finalists the Northampton Saints who are yet to be crowned Aviva Premiership champions. Involved in the Semi Finals were test stars from both Argentina and the USA, member unions of CONSUR and NACRA which the IRB combines for Rugby World Cup Qualification. The Americas is the only region never to have been allocated a World Cup. 

Northampton Saints 21-20 Leicester Tigers
The first Semi Final, played on Friday evening, was a contender for match of the year. In a match of two halves the Northampton Saints overturned a nine match won of no wins over the Leicester Tigers to deny Leicester an appearance in the Premiership Final for the first time since 2004 when the London Wasps defeated Bath 10-6. Northampton is now to have an opportunity to overturn last season's Premiership Final loss against Leicester. 

The memorable Semi Final encounter was played at Franklin's Gardens and was strongly attended with a crowd of 13,491 on hand. It was, nonetheless, smaller than the 48,982 in attendance for Toulon v Racing Métro played at the neutral venue of Lille at the same time. The lack of vision from authorities in English rugby has the 2015 Rugby World Cup host nation having venues scheduled for matches with zero exxperience in hosting top flight professional or test match rugby whatsoever. 

There is still time to act with the possibility raised in the book existing for authorities to do the right thing and have a Rugby World Cup 2015 venue outside of London selected for one or both Semi Finals in 2015. Of the home venues from the 2013-2014 Aviva Premiership only Gloucester and Exeter's venues are to be used for the World Cup. 

Starting for the winning club on Friday was USA Eagles forward Samu Manoa who played 80 minutes in the second-row. His Eagles colleague Blaine Scully did not feature for Leicester and neither did Argentine winger Gonzalo Camacho. With Camacho missing the final he remains uncapped by Leicester who signed him to join the club after the 2013 Rugby Championship. Pablo Matera, who also joined Leicester after the Rugby Championship, did not feature but veteran Marcos Ayerza played the full match at loosehead prop.

Saracens 31-17 Harlequins
The Northampton Saints will face Saracens in the final after Saracens defeated London rivals the Harlequins in the second Semi Final, played earlier this afternoon. It is to be a rematch of the 2013 Semi Final in which the Saints upset Saracens in an away match at Allianz Park. The same venue played host to the Semi Final earlier today with, like at Franklin's Gardens,  a strong crowd in attendance but in a small stadium. 

The crowd of 9,962 was not only smaller than both Semi Finals in Lille this weekend but also smaller than the Rabo Direct Pro 12 Semi Finals played in Glasgow and Dublin. With the English Premier League soccer having been completed last weekend authorities could have replicated the LNR who utilized Lille. It would have enabled a Rugby World Cup 2015 venue the opportunity of preparing its local community. 

Featuring for the winning club was Pumas Marcelo Bosch. Playing outside centre the utility back received seventy minutes of game time. It would have been 80 had he not been yellow cared in the first half. USA Eagles fullback Chris Wyles was a second half replacement for former English international winger David Strettle. Both players are likely to be involved in the final while Hayden Smith is also a possibility. The USA international second-rower did not feature in the Semi Final. 

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