- Quins and Sale to battle it out for LV= Cup crown
- Thrilling encounter in store at Worcester's Sixways Stadium
Photo: Getty Images
Harlequins have reached the final of the LV= Cup by winning all five of their games in the competition to date, a feat last achieved by 2010 champions Northampton Saints. In the previous two years eventual winners Leicester and Gloucester both lost their opening fixture before going on to claim the silverware.
That was so nearly the case for Harlequins when their journey to Sixways Stadium began against Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens back in mid-November. Having let a 21-9 interval lead slip to trail by six points going into stoppage time, Harlequins showed the style and self-belief that has been the hallmark of their cup campaign to play their way out of trouble and work a try for young fly half Ben Botica. Botica, the competition’s leading points-scorer, coolly converted his own score to get Harlequins off to the perfect start.
Bath, Harlequins’ semi-final opponents last Saturday, were then undone in the battle of the boot at the Twickenham Stoop, with Botica, the son of All Blacks and Wigan RL legend Frano, kicking five of his side’s seven penalty goals in a 21-12 win.
Tries from front row duo Dave Ward and Mark Lambert and 13 points from Botica made it three wins from three at the expense of London Welsh, before Harlequins negotiated a tricky trip to Bridgend to beat Ospreys 16-12 and finish the pool stages unbeaten.
Given top seed status for the semi-final, Harlequins took on Bath in an enthralling game that bore little resemblance to the kicking duel played out four months earlier. Swashbuckling captain Luke Wallace’s sublime offload to set up Tom Williams for his second try was a magical moment fit to win any game on its own. As well as Williams’ brace, Harlequins managed tries from Tom Guest and Karl Dickson in a 31-23 win.
Sharks out for a Southern scalp
Sale will be looking to take another capital scalp following wins over Saracens (twice) and London Wasps, although the Sharks did kick off their LV campaign with defeat to London Irish.
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The mid-November win over Saracens in their second pool game came as a timely boost to the Sharks who, at that stage of the season, had only two victories to their name in all competitions. A topsy-turvy cup tie, in which the lead changed hands six times, was ultimately settled by a late penalty kick from Rob Miller, as the Sharks won 25-23.
In Round 3, Sale showed great character to come back from 14-3 down against Scarlets to record a bonus-point win. Danny Cipriani excelled with a 21-point haul via a try and six kicks at goal.
If victory over Saracens had been good for morale, the Round 4 win at London Wasps provided a major confidence boost. Cipriani returned to Adams Park to haunt his former club and end their unbeaten home record with another fine display. The fly half scored his second try in as many rounds, with further scores in a memorable 33-30 victory coming from Kearnan Myall, Sam Tuitupou, Tommy Taylor and a penalty try.
Through to their first semi-final in six years, Sale showed superb defensive qualities to keep their line intact against Saracens in last Sunday’s re-match at the Salford City Stadium. Sale won through 21-15 thanks to tries from local, homegrown players Tom Holmes and Nathan Fowles, while No.8 Andy Powell turned in a man-of-the-match display to ensure there is some Welsh representation in Sunday’s showpiece occasion.
The LV= Cup Final, 3pm, Sunday, March 17, Sixways Stadium, Worcester.
Tickets are on sale now from £20 each at Ticketmaster.co.uk or by calling 0844 844 0444. (Tickets on sale 24 hours a day.)