The climax of the Premier 15s season is like no other and after seven months, 92 games and 4,314 points it will come to a close when the reigning champions, Saracens, play Harlequins on Sunday. The final is being broadcast on BT Sport, the first time a Premier 15s game has been shown live on television.
After the most competitive season yet, Poppy Cleall, the Saracens and England No 8, believes it is what the competition deserves. “All the league has built up to this one game and if it wasn’t [on TV] it would be such a missed opportunity,” she says. “To get it live on TV is exciting. It is an opportunity that couldn’t be missed, because the top two teams in the country are going head-to-head on a Sunday afternoon.”
While the final can be viewed from home, a crowd of up to 3,276 will be at Gloucester’s Kingsholm. Fans were allowed back for the semi-finals last Saturday when Saracens defeated Loughborough 28-24 and Quins beat Wasps 25-14.
The return of supporters is something Cleall says adds to her own rugby experience. “The sound that erupted at full time was amazing,” she says. “We couldn’t wait to have the fans back. I’m hoping we get close to sell-out again because they do make the difference. Even if they are Quins supporters. The noise they bring and the atmosphere, it is palpable. You can really feel it. Those are the games you want to play in.”
Saracens have won the past two finals, beating Quins on both occasions. While such familiarity may aid both teams, Cleall plays down that element. “We have experience from being in the final and being in knockout games, so that definitely helps us. Who we’re playing doesn’t matter. Quins, Loughborough, Wasps, Exeter, they are all massive games with so many internationals in.
“You have to be on your A-game to win those sorts of games and you have to work hard on analysis to see what they’re doing.”
Quins are taking a similar approach as they aim to lift the trophy for the first time. Their England scrum-half Leanne Riley is convinced that it is her club’s year. “Saracens are a tough team and previous finals we put our hands up and say we haven’t had our best games. We haven’t performed,” she says.
“As much as Sarries have done well in those finals and been able to punish us as such, it’s been all down to us.
“We have been building well over the last couple of weeks. We are really excited It definitely feels like we are in a good position.
“It is only down to us to go and put that performance out there. We can either win it or lose it for ourselves.”
The Breakdown: sign up and get our weekly rugby union email.
The final is likely to be a tense and tight affair, as it always is between the two. When they met this season, the game ended 17-17 and Riley is aware that predicting the outcome of the final would be a difficult call. “The game is not going to be won in the first five or 10 minutes, it is going to be won in the last five or 10 minutes,” she says. “It is going to be a tough game.
“There will be decisions that do and don’t go our way. But rugby is about being competitive and it’s a competitive sport.
“It is definitely going to be a game on Sunday that no one can call at the moment. It’ll be down to the individual teams to put in the performances to get the result.”