Saracens head to Sale Sharks on Sunday in the semi-final of the LV=Cup looking to make it third time lucky in the competition.
It’s the third time that the north London club has reached the last four of the competition having previously make the knockout stages in 2008 and 2010.
But what is certain is that a new name will be added to the LV= Cup trophy with none of this weekend’s four semi-finalists having previously won the competition since the cross-border format was adopted for the 2005/06 campaign.
Both Harlequins and Bath, opponents in the first semi-final on Saturday, will be looking to put the agony of recent near-misses behind them and reach their first final. Last season Bath missed out by the narrowest of margins, losing 16-17 to eventual champions Leicester at the Rec, while an injury-time try from Newcastle’s Tane Tu’ipulotu at the Twickenham Stoop denied Harlequins at the same stage the year before.
Prior to that semi-final in March 2011, Harlequins had never made it past the pool stages. Bath had qualified for the last four once before, losing 26-27 in 2007 to Llanelli Scarlets in the old Powergen Cup in front of a crowd of over 50,000 at the Millennium Stadium.
Of the two sides Bath are in the best form. Gary Gold’s men have won six out of their last seven matches, while defending Premiership champions Harlequins have lost twice at home in their last three appearances.
Harlequins qualified with the best record of all the semi-finalists, winning all four games to top Pool 1 including a 21-12 success over Bath in Round 2. All the points came from kicks at goal that day, with LV= Cup Breakthrough Player Award nominee, Bath fly-half Tom Heathcote, amongst the scorers.
Sunday’s semi-finalists, Sale Sharks and Saracens, are both represented in the list of nominees in the form of hooker Tommy Taylor (Sharks) and Ben Spencer (Saracens). Taylor, 21, has put in a number of commanding shifts in the front row to help the Sharks put their league worries behind them to reach their second semi-final, while 20-year-old Spencer’s assured kicking performance in the Round 4 win over Worcester booked Saracens’ passage through to the last four.
Saracens became the third side in a row to be beaten by Sale at the Salford City Stadium, when they lost 25-23 to the Sharks in this competition in mid-November. However Saracens won convincingly the season before in the LV= Cup: 50-7 at Vicarage Road on February 6, 2011.
Sale’s only other semi-final appearance came in the second season of the Anglo-Welsh Cup, then under the guise of the EDF Energy Cup, when they lost 29-19 to eventual winners Leicester at the Millennium Stadium in March 2007. Saracens, meanwhile, are through to their third semi-final having reached this stage in 2008 (3-30 v Ospreys) and 2010 (20-31 v Northampton).
LV= Cup Semi-Finals
Harlequins vs Bath Rugby, March 9, KO 1215pm
Sale Sharks v Saracens, March 10, KO 1pm