Hartley on the bench for Premiership final

AFP| Last Updated: May 30, 2014, 20:04 PM IST

London: Northampton`s Dylan Hartley has been named on the replacements` bench for Saturday`s English Premiership final against Saracens at Twickenham.

The England hooker, sent off in last season`s Premiership final defeat by Leicester, has been out of action since suffering a shoulder injury two months ago.

But the 28-year-old is now set to be involved as Northampton try to win their first Premiership title.

Hartley`s presence on the bench could strengthen the Rotorua-born front row`s chances of joining up with the England squad in New Zealand for their three-Test series with the world champion All Blacks.

Players involved in this weekend`s final have been ruled out of the first Test against New Zealand in Auckland on June 7 as they will have insufficient time to recover.

However, prop Mako Vunipola`s chances of making the tour appear to have receded after he was ruled out of the Saracens team, also announced Friday, with a knee injury.

The initial England squad flew to New Zealand earlier this week, with a second group from Northampton and Saracens setting off some 48 hours after the final. The second Test is on June 14.

Northampton, again captained by England flanker Tom Wood, have made just two changes to the side that started their European Challenge Cup final win over Premiership rivals Bath at Cardiff Arms Park last Friday.

Scrum-half Kahn Fotuali`i replaces Lee Dickson, while prop Salesi Ma`afu returns from a one-week suspension imposed after he was sent off for punching England hooker Tom Youngs in Northampton`s dramatic come from behind 21-20 semi-final win over bitter East Midlands rivals Leicester. 

Saracens, the 2011 Premiership winners, saw their hopes of a `double` this season scuppered by a 23-6 loss to defending champions Toulon in last Saturday`s European Cup final at Cardiff`s Millennium Stadium.

They will have even more motivation to finish the season on a `high` as Saturday`s match is club captain and former England skipper Steve Borthwick`s last before the lock retires.

Borthwick will be making his 265th Premiership appearance, thereby extending his own competition record.

Mako Vunipola has been replaced by Richard Barrington, who packs down in a front row where former England prop Matt Stevens will also be making his final Saracens appearance before he returns to his native South Africa to join the Sharks.

Saracens and Northampton have never previously met in a major final.

London club Saracens finished top of the table after the regular 22-game season, nine points clear of second-placed Northampton.

Honours were even in this term`s two league meetings between the clubs, Saints winning 41-20 at their Franklin`s Gardens ground in October before Saracens edged the Allianz Park return 28-24 in April.

Teams (15-1)

Saracens

Alex Goode; Chris Ashton, Marcelo Bosch, Brad Barritt, David Strettle; Owen Farrell, Neil de Kock; Billy Vunipola, Jacques Burger, Kelly Brown; Mouritz Botha, Steve Borthwick (capt); Matt Stevens, Schalk Brits, Richard Barrington

Replacements: Jamie George, Rhys Gill, James Johnston, Alistair Hargreaves, Jackson Wray, Richard Wigglesworth, Charlie Hodgson, Chris Wyles
Northampton

Ben Foden; Ken Pisi, George Pisi, Luther Burrell, George North; Stephen Myler, Kahn Fotuali`i; Sam Dickinson, Tom Wood (capt), Calum Clark; Courtney Lawes, Samu Manoa; Salesi Ma`afu, Mike Haywood, Alex Corbisiero

Replacements: Dylan Hartley, Alex Waller, Tom Mercey, Christian Day, Phil Dowson, Lee Dickson, James Wilson, Tom Stephenson

Referee: JP Doyle (ENG)