Wasps must begin rebuilding from the bottom of the league pyramid after the Rugby Football Union revoked their licence to play in next season’s Championship.

Hopes that new owners HALO22 Limited could relaunch Wasps in the second tier have been dashed due to their failure to meet an RFU deadline for proving the club could still operate at the required level.

Among the commitments that have not been kept are the provision of evidence that creditors have been paid and the creation of a suitable governance structure.

The RFU has also been told by Wasps that they are unable to recruit staff or players until additional finance has been secured and cannot recommit to playing in the Championship.

Mako Vunipola feels that Saracens have not allowed themselves to be affected by external noise this season ahead of their ninth Gallagher Premiership final appearance.

Saracens return to Twickenham next week, where Sale will stand between them and a sixth title of the Premiership era.

Saracens were last crowned English champions in 2019, since when they spent a season in the Championship after being relegated for persistent salary cap breaches.

They teed up a dream finale to their first campaign back in the top flight last term by contesting domestic silverware with Leicester.

But the Tigers bit them, winning 15-12 thanks to a Freddie Burns drop goal during the nerve-shredding closing stages of a gripping final.

“Last year we probably focused too much on the things outside, worrying about what people were saying and wanting to prove them wrong,” Saracens and England prop Vunipola said.

“It probably got to that we didn’t actually enjoy the occasion. We didn’t throw a punch in the final, and that’s credit to Leicester – they didn’t let us throw a punch.

“This year, we have just been trying to improve game by game, probably a little bit more focused on ourselves and what we can control, rather than worry (about) outside.

“You get emotion spikes in big games, and we have to be able to control that, make sure we channel it in the right way and put it towards our rugby.

“Last year, we didn’t really fire a shot, and that was down to Leicester being able to dictate the way the game went.

“We weren’t able to attack because we didn’t work hard enough or we didn’t adjust well enough. Hopefully, we can do that this time.”

While Saracens have been regular Twickenham visitors over the past dozen seasons, Sale are through to their first Premiership final since 2006 when players like Jason Robinson, Charlie Hodgson and Sebastien Chabal ruled the roost.

And a pivotal part of Sale’s resurgence has been rugby director Alex Sanderson, who was previously key to Saracens’ success in a revered coaching team led by Mark McCall.

Vunipola added: “Me and Alex started working together when I was 16 or 17. He was the first one who kind of gave me a shot with the age-group stuff and gave me a bit of confidence that I could play at the highest level.

“To work with him at Saracens for so long was a privilege. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and you see that.

“We always knew here at the club how special he is as a coach and a person.

“And we knew if he did the same at Sale then success would come to them as a team, whether that was finishing higher in the league or the players enjoying what they are doing.

“Having been around a lot of them at England camps, they can’t speak highly enough of Al and what he has done.

“We know that Sale will be pumped for it, we know they will have a plan, and a lot of that will be down to the work he does with the leaders they have there at Sale.”

Domingo Miotti has won the race to start for Glasgow in the number 10 jersey in Friday’s EPCR Challenge Cup final against Toulon.

The 26-year-old Argentina international will make his ninth start for Warriors in Dublin as the replacement for the suspended Tom Jordan.

Stafford McDowall stepped back to deputise for Jordan following his red card in the BKT United Rugby Championship quarter-final defeat by Munster but the centre has had to make do with a place on the bench at the Aviva Stadium.

Miotti has been preferred to kicking specialist Duncan Weir in the vacant stand-off position.

Hooker Fraser Brown has been handed a start days after signing a new one-year contract, with Johnny Matthews dropping to the bench.

JP du Preez replaces Richie Gray in the second row, Sione Vailanu is in for Rory Darge in the back row while centre Huw Jones is also back in the starting line-up.

Head coach Franco Smith said: “This week’s training has been highly competitive, with every player putting their hand up for selection and pushing each other forward.”

Jamison Gibson-Park admits the lingering pain of last year’s agonising Heineken Champions Cup final defeat to La Rochelle has fuelled Leinster’s desire for a shot at redemption.

Leo Cullen’s men are preparing for Saturday’s showpiece rematch with the French club in Dublin – 12 months on from losing to a last-gasp try in Marseille.

Scrum-half Gibson-Park concedes the disappointment of the dramatic climax at Stade Velodrome was a bitter pill to swallow.

And the Ireland international is determined to help secure a different outcome against Ronan O’Gara’s side this time around as Leinster bid to equal Toulouse’s record of five Champions Cup titles.

“It’s one of those things that’s mentioned all the time with great teams over the years, the way they use defeats and having it spur you on for the next year,” said Gibson-Park, who won the competition with his province in 2018.

“There’s probably no doubt that it has for us in getting to this point.

“When you work with a collective group to try and get somewhere and you fall at the last hurdle, it’s hard, especially when it’s like that, a few minutes from the end of the game.

“It’s tough moments in the dressing room and on the pitch afterwards.

“You live for those moments where you get to lift trophies and you enjoy those moments in the dressing room with your brothers.

“But the sombre feelings after a defeat stick with you as well.”

Leinster led for most of the 2022 final before replacement scrum-half Arthur Retiere crossed a minute from time in a 24-21 victory for La Rochelle.

A year on from a gut-wrenching trip to the south of France, the Irish club have the luxury of home advantage on this occasion.

New Zealand-born Gibson-Park says the prospect of competing for silverware at a sold-out Aviva Stadium has been a motivating factor throughout the campaign.

“Last year was obviously tough, having to go away to France and play a French team,” said the 31-year-old.

“The La Rochelle fans were out in force that day, like they always are, so I’m sure there will be a few of them that show up to the Aviva Stadium no doubt.

“It was a pretty big carrot for us at the start of the year, the fact it was going to be here in the Aviva.

“We’re looking forward to it, we’ve got the chance to be in front of our friends and family and hopefully a few home supporters.”

Leinster failed to score a try against La Rochelle last year as captain Johnny Sexton slotted six penalties before deputy Ross Byrne added another.

With talisman Sexton sidelined due to a groin injury suffered helping Ireland win the Six Nations Grand Slam, Byrne will partner Gibson-Park in the half-back positions from the start.

“Ross has played all of our games this year in the Champions Cup so I suppose we’ve adjusted a little bit to life without him (Sexton),” said Gibson-Park.

“He’s been such a big part of Leinster over the last however long it is and he’s an unbelievable player so we miss him massively.

“But I think Ross has done a pretty good job up until this point.”

Scientists are hoping to move a step closer to cracking the concussion code for female athletes before the end of the year.

Marker Diagnostics has developed a tool which can identify the “unique signature” for concussion in a male player’s saliva.

In 2021, a University of Birmingham study found the tool was able to accurately predict the outcome of 94 per cent of head injury assessments (HIAs) conducted on elite male rugby players.

Marker researchers are now working to establish whether the same test can also accurately and objectively diagnose concussion in female players, or if a female-specific test is required.

Testing has been going on in the English women’s top flight since 2018, at the Women’s World Cup and the Farah Palmer Cup in New Zealand last year and at the TikTok Six Nations last year and this year.

The study, jointly funded by World Rugby and Marker, is set to continue in the English elite game and in this summer’s Farah Palmer Cup, and potentially in other women’s competitions where HIAs are conducted.

All players who consent to participate are given a ‘baseline’ saliva swab and fill out a health questionnaire prior to competing. They are then retested if they undergo an HIA at any point during competition.

These tests are taken at each stage of the HIA – immediately after an impact during a match, immediately after the match and between 36 and 48 hours after the match.

Patrick O’Halloran, a senior medical adviser at Marker, told the PA news agency: “We’ve seen differences between men and women at baseline, the thing we should be able to uncover by the end of this year will be whether concussion expression is different in women or is it just diagnosed differently, and what happens after that concussion.

“It could be ‘OK, men and women look a bit different on the basis of these markers, but actually those differences are proportional and after a concussion, the test is still positive when we expect it to be.

“Or actually it could be that you need a different panel of biomarkers in women altogether.”

Asked why this study is so important, O’Halloran added: “This is a group of athletes playing at a unique time, when women’s sport is really exploding in terms of its popularity.

“The opportunities for women’s sports at the moment are really, really huge. Unfortunately, at the same time, there isn’t the same resource in women’s sport as there is in men’s. But women still get concussed.

“Medics in women’s sports still have that challenge of trying to objectively diagnose concussion in female athletes. So putting something in place that can bridge that gap in resource is going to be really powerful as women’s sport continues to expand and develop.

“This is providing additional information, unique information that wasn’t available before to make players safer.

“That’s what everyone wants – players, players’ representatives, coaches want more clarity and objectivity, and what leagues want is a more consistent standard of care and a consistency and objectivity to that too.

“What we’re looking for is that signature that is unique to concussion to enable medically informed treatment.”

Published research suggests female athletes suffer a higher rate of concussion, which may be accompanied by a wider range of more severe and prolonged symptoms compared to their male counterparts.

Dr Valentina Di Pietro, from the University of Birmingham, said: “Concussion can be difficult to diagnose, particularly in settings such as grassroots sports where evaluation by a specialist clinician is not possible.

“Consequently, some concussions may go undiagnosed. A non-invasive and accurate diagnostic test using saliva is a real game-changer and will provide an invaluable tool to help doctors diagnose concussions more consistently and accurately.”

Saracens and Sale will wear their away kits in the Gallagher Premiership final to avoid a clash for colour-blind supporters.

As top seeds, Saracens would have worn their black home strip, with Sale in their away attire of red and maroon.

But a colour combination of black and red is among those highlighted by Colour Blind Awareness as a kit clash to avoid.

Saracens will now wear white, with Sale in maroon, offering a clear colour contrast for spectators at Twickenham on May 27 and the television audience.

“We are delighted that Premiership Rugby and the clubs have taken positive steps to avoid kit clash situations for colour-blind fans and players,” Kathryn Albany-Ward, chief executive of Colour Blind Awareness, said.

“Bearing in mind the significant number of colour-blind people (one in 12 men and one in 200 women) who watch and play rugby, it is important that the accessibility needs of these groups are recognised to enable all fans of the sport to have a positive viewing experience that isn’t limited by avoidable colour clashes.”

Premiership Rugby’s head of broadcast Ollie Lewis added: “Our clubs have been overwhelmingly supportive of our ambition to eliminate kit clashes, with a collective desire to increase inclusivity of our sport to all audiences.

“There is no better example than the Gallagher Premiership Rugby final to highlight the importance of this issue, and we look forward to continuing to work with Colour Blind Awareness to ensure that we continue to make our league as inclusive and accessible as it can be.”

Smart ball technology will be used for the first time in a live match officiating capacity during the World Rugby Under-20 Championship next month.

Developed by Sportable and Gilbert, the ball is tracked in 3D and real-time with beacons positioned around the pitch to determine the exact position of the ball up to 20 times per second.

This enables officials to be provided with immediate feedback on every kick, pass and throw, World Rugby said.

Areas it will cover at the tournament trial in South Africa include whether a ball has been passed forward, whether the ball is over the try-line, whether the ball has been touched in flight, where touch has been found and whether a lineout throw was straight.

A direct feed will be made available to the television match official, who will use information to inform the referee.

It is not anticipated, though, that the smart ball will feature at Rugby World Cup in France later this year in terms of supporting officials.

This is due to “the emerging nature of the technology and the need to undertake a full review of outcomes before determining next steps,” World Rugby added.

World Rugby’s director of rugby Phil Davies said: “A fast game is a good game, and it is right that we explore technology that has the potential to help aid the flow of the game, reduce stoppage time and speed up match official decision-making.

“Rugby refereeing is perhaps the most difficult officiating job in sport.

“There are multiple decisions or non-decisions that are made at any given moment, and the advancement of broadcast and social media means that such decisions are poured over long after the event.

“The evolution of smart ball technology opens the door to assist match officials in reaching accurate decisions more quickly, removing subjectivity and reducing the chance of error.”

London Irish could be suspended from the Gallagher Premiership as speculation continues to rage about their future amid a possible takeover by an American consortium.

The Rugby Football Union says that, along with Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players’ Association, it is “seeking to take action to obtain greater clarity on the future of London Irish”.

The RFU said: “The proposed takeover of London Irish by an American consortium has led to a significant amount of uncertainty and speculation about the future of the club, which is having an impact on players, staff and fans of the club.

“It is imperative that the club will be in a position to take its place in the Gallagher Premiership in season 2023-24 and to complete that season.”

A deadline of May 30 has now been set by the RFU in what is an increasingly grim saga, with Irish having reported debts of £30milliom.

By that time, a takeover of the club must have been completed and approved by the RFU, with the buyers undertaking to provide all required working capital to meet the club’s obligations for at least next season, or the club showing that it will continue to be funded to operate throughout next season.

The RFU added: “If the club fails to meet these conditions, it will be suspended from participating in the Premiership (and other competitions) in season 2023-24 to avoid a scenario where the club enters insolvency mid-season, with the corresponding and substantial impact that has on players, staff and fans, as well as on the remainder of the league.

“This deadline was set to give enough time for the buyers to provide the information needed and for the transaction to complete.”

Wasps and Worcester entered administration earlier this season, resulting in their expulsion from the Premiership.

It meant the Premiership dropping to 11 clubs, with the most fraught campaign in English domestic rugby history reaching its conclusion on May 27 when Saracens and Sale Sharks contest the final at Twickenham.

Irish, meanwhile, narrowly missed out on a place in the title play-offs, finishing fifth, three points behind Northampton.

Sale Sharks boss Alex Sanderson says he is “super proud” that his Gallagher Premiership finalists are flying the flag for rugby union in the north of England.

And Sanderson believes a sold-out AJ Bell Stadium that provided an inspired soundtrack to Sale’s pulsating play-off victory over Leicester must be viewed as just the start of their journey.

Sale play within 23 miles of five Super League clubs – Salford, Leigh, St Helens, Warrington and Wigan – while Old Trafford is just four miles down the road and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium only a further five miles away.

It represents a congested sporting picture, but Sale have put themselves firmly on the map by reaching a first Premiership final for 17 years, with Saracens awaiting them at Twickenham on May 27.

“My job is to get them (players) to perform and play well at the weekend – that is my first priority – but there are many different hats to wear,” Sanderson said.

“And I am so proud of the fact that, potentially, our reach in the north is expanding.

“There are bigger crowds coming and the buzz is better. It’s busier, it’s a ‘Brucie bonus’. It is a humbling addition to the role in that you might be inspiring some kid to pick up a ball.

“I remember The North playing New Zealand when I was a kid. You know what I mean? Right now, we are flying the flag, and yes, I am super proud of that.

“I can’t talk too much about it because I start to cry and get too emotional.

“To come home, to this team – the team I played for and captained, that my brother played for, that my dad played against – it’s a bit of a dream.

“It feels like the start. I’m pumped, but I will think about the future in two weeks’ time. We have got a job to do before then.”

Sale fly-half George Ford, who played for Leicester when they defeated Saracens in the final a year ago, mirrors Sanderson’s view on building a northern stronghold.

Oldham-born Ford has won more than 80 England caps, playing on many of the sport’s biggest stages, and he is enthused by Sale’s future – on and off the pitch.

Ford said: “We speak about it all the time in that one of our reasons why is to make the people up here proud and interested in rugby union.

“To come out and support us, but more importantly for the kids to come out and pick up a rugby ball and start playing up here.

“It is obviously challenging with football and rugby league, but we are doing our utmost to have an effect on these young kids.

“Rugby union up here has got its challenges, as we all know. All we can do as a club is perform well, try to win games, fill the place out and try to entertain these people, give them a winning team that care and compete.

“We want to inspire the kids as well. The amount of kids you saw out there with smiles on their faces – ultimately, that’s what it is about.

“When we have finished and are long gone from the game, they are the people that will come in and take the game forward.

“If we can inspire kids to come and play up here – northern lads playing for Sale – that is what we want.”

International rugby league is facing an uncertain future after France announced its decision to withdraw from hosting the 2025 World Cup, citing its inability to meet financial guarantees required by the French government.

The move, which affects the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments, has left the international game’s governing body, the IRL, scrabbling to consider other “contingency options” in order to ensure the continuation of the event.

However, those options do not include England, as following up its successful staging of the delayed 2021 tournament last year is seen as unfeasible given the short notice and level of finance required, the PA news agency understands.

IRL chief Troy Grant described the move as “very disappointing”, adding: “I respect the French Government’s decision amid the challenges they are facing but I can’t hide my disappointment, that I conveyed clearly to them in person.

“Despite our focus having been on France, we will now accelerate our consideration of other contingency options.”

The most obvious – and perhaps only remaining – option is to stage the tournament in Australia or New Zealand, although even this would be likely to require at least a one-year delay for logistical reasons.

RFL chairman Simon Johnson, who is also an IRL board member, said: “After the success of last autumn’s Rugby League World Cup in England, it is imperative that all in the sport now work with International Rugby League to rebuild the international calendar, for men’s, women’s and wheelchair rugby league.

“We are excited about the prospect of England men hosting Tonga in a three-Test series this autumn, with announcements to follow soon of fixtures for our women’s and wheelchair teams, and discussions already advanced regarding another home series in 2024.”

Rumours of French financial difficulties surfaced earlier this year, and enthusiasm for seeing through the project was hardly bolstered by last month’s double international in Warrington, in which both the French men’s and women’s teams were beaten 64-0 by England in back-to-back landslides.

The move also comes at an embarrassing time for the sport, whose “strategic partner” IMG has underscored the importance of the international fixture list as a cornerstone of its vision to “reimagine” the sport worldwide.

England are close to confirming a series against Samoa, who inflicted an agonising semi-final defeat at the Emirates Stadium last year, in 2024, but the women’s squad have fewer options with only a prospective Test against Wales on the agenda for later in 2023.

And the news will come as a particular blow to the wheelchair game, given France’s record of reaching the last three finals, including their narrow defeat to England last year.

Sale Sharks boss Alex Sanderson hailed George Ford as “a little pocket of calm amid the chaos” after his team reached a first Gallagher Premiership final for 17 years.

England international fly-half Ford was a dominant presence, guiding Sale home against his former club Leicester in an absorbing play-off clash at a sold-out AJ Bell Stadium.

Ford, who went off injured in last season’s Premiership final when Leicester beat Saracens – Sale’s opponents at Twickenham on May 27 – kicked three penalties and a conversion.

But he also epitomised Sale’s resilient attitude against a Tigers team that pushed them all the way before going down to a 21-13 defeat.

“They are a special group, these boys. They had to drink deep from the well today,” Sale rugby director Sanderson said.

“They stuck to the task, and George Ford drove that – a little pocket of calm amid the chaos.

“You need to be physically up to the task, you need a heart, you have really got to want it. What more can you ask for?

“I am proud of how they stuck at it and just got better at the basics as the game went on.”

Sale now face Saracens in pursuit of a Premiership crown that they last claimed when players like Jason Robinson, Charlie Hodgson and Sebastien Chabal ruled the roost.

And for Sanderson that means preparing a team to try and beat a club he spent several successful seasons with as an integral part of Mark McCall’s coaching staff.

Sale, though, look set to be without captain Ben Curry, who was carried off during the first half after suffering a hamstring injury.

Sanderson added: “He will get a scan tomorrow. He is on crutches and he got carried off. We will see tomorrow, but I doubt if he will make the final.

“I spent the major part of my life down there with those guys (at Saracens), but I am so engrained in this here that it feels like I have been here forever. It adds a little bit more spice.”

Wings Tom Roebuck and Arron Reed scored tries for Sale, but Leicester held a 13-10 lead with 24 minutes left before the Ford-inspired Sharks turned things their way.

A battling Leicester performance delivered a second-half try for wing Harry Potter, plus eight points from the boot of 39-year-old Jimmy Gopperth, who was a late replacement for World Cup-winning South African fly-half Handre Pollard.

Tigers’ interim head coach Richard Wigglesworth will join the England set-up of his former Leicester boss Steve Borthwick this summer, and a second successive Premiership final appearance proved just beyond the east Midlanders.

Wigglesworth said: “It was a close game, small margins. We just couldn’t find the advantage to tip it in our favour.

“We stuck in the contest, and we can’t fault the spirit and fight in the group.

“I am incredibly proud to have been asked to lead this group. I am so grateful for how they (Leicester) have treated me.”

And on Pollard’s absence, he added: “We only made that call this morning.

“Handre hadn’t trained for the last couple of training days. It was a calf issue, which is incredibly painful, but it can also clear up at a moment’s notice.”

Saracens may have broadened their horizons in attack this season but Owen Farrell insists they have always played with greater adventure than given credit for.

One victory separates Saracens from a sixth Gallagher Premiership title after they crushed Northampton 38-15 in Saturday’s semi-final at StoneX Stadium.

Director of rugby Mark McCall described it as “our strongest defensive performance for years”, but it is in their willingness to attack that the club have evolved most significantly.

Frustrated by last season’s defeat to Leicester in the Premiership final, they resolved to show more ambition for 2022-23 and have flourished as a consequence with only Saints scoring more tries in the regular season.

Farrell has been at the heart of the buccaneering with assistance from Alex Goode and Elliot Daly, but England’s captain denies that it is a radical change in direction for Saracens.

“There was always a perception about us before – and at times rightly so – that we were this team that just strangled teams and kicked everything,” Farrell said.

“But if you look back, in some of the finals we had against Exeter and Clermont, we played rugby.

“People were talking as if we didn’t play rugby, as if we just kicked everything and used the driving maul. I don’t know how people thought we won games, but we played rugby.

“We would have patches of it during the season and then go back to fundamentals.

“We were trying to bring more of it out and the bits that we showed in the past before have showed us that we were ready for doing more of it. It felt like we were ready to do it, so that’s why we did.

“We’ve come from a place – and rightly so – that was built on solid foundations: a good kicking game and defence. And attack came off the back of that.

“That started a long time ago, even before I left school. That served us unbelievably well. I just feel we’ve been ready for a bigger jump this year.

“The key thing has been to take that into the bigger games and I’m glad we did that against Northampton.”

Farrell and Goode were the catalysts for Saracens’ dynamism against Saints, pulling the strings in a dazzling start to the play-off.

“It’s about picking our heads up and looking to see if it’s on. There’s obviously a percentage of how on it is. If it’s properly on we want to take it,” Farrell said.

“If we think we can take metres to score a try, get to halfway rather than kick it there, then that’s a chance that we want to take.

“We want to take obvious chances and we don’t want to be half in, half out. We don’t want to be indecisive. We want to be decisive.”

Sale Sharks reached their first Gallagher Premiership final for 17 years as they ended Leicester’s hopes of back-to-back titles with a 21-13 victory at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Alex Sanderson’s team will meet his former club Saracens at Twickenham on May 27 in pursuit of a Premiership crown that Sale last claimed when players like Jason Robinson, Charlie Hodgson and Sebastien Chabal ruled the roost.

After finishing 10 points above Leicester during the regular league season, Sale were pushed all the way by Tigers in an absorbing encounter.

Former Leicester fly-half George Ford played a key role in Leicester’s downfall, kicking three penalties and a conversion, while wings Tom Roebuck and Arron Reed claimed tries.

Sale overcame the sight of their captain Ben Curry being carried off injured, and they withstood a resilient Leicester effort that saw a try for wing Harry Potter, plus eight points from the boot of Jimmy Gopperth.

But Leicester will also curse themselves for twice ruining promising late attacking platforms through wayward kicks to touch that prevented attacking lineouts.

Sale showed five changes from their final regular season game against Newcastle, with Gus Warr, Simon McIntyre, Nick Schonert, Akker van der Merwe and Tom Curry all returning for the sold-out clash.

Leicester welcomed back the likes of Freddie Steward and Anthony Watson, but they suffered an injury blow when fly-half Handre Pollard was ruled out, being replaced by 39-year-old Gopperth.

The New Zealander missed a gilt-edged chance to put Leicester ahead when he drifted a close-range penalty wide, but he made amends three minutes later as Tigers moved in front.

Sale’s indiscipline surfaced early on, and Gopperth found his range again, this time from 48 metres to make it 6-0.

The game had a relentless pace to it, and it went up a gear when Sale found their rhythm, probing for gaps through adventurous running from Reed and full-back Joe Carpenter, while England centre Manu Tuilagi also made his presence felt.

Sale were a threat when they were able to put width on their possession, and Roebuck finished off a flowing move before Ford added a touchline conversion as Leicester fell behind.

The Sharks then suffered a major blow when Curry departed the action after suffering a suspected knee injury as Leicester attacked on Sale’s 22. He was replaced by Dan du Preez.

Curry received a standing ovation as he left the action, but he was soon able to watch from the sidelines, with Sharks exerting sustained pressure inside Tigers’ 22.

And Tigers’ cause was not helped when their England prop Dan Cole received a yellow card from Wayne Barnes following a high challenge on Van der Merwe.

Leicester then lost scrum-half Ben Youngs for a head injury assessment after he halted Sale centre Rob du Preez’s charge for the corner, and Tigers’ defence held firm, with Sale taking a 7-6 lead into half-time.

Youngs did not reappear for the second period – fellow England international Jack van Poortvliet took over from him – while Sanderson made early use of the replacements’ bench, sending on props Bevan Rodd and Coenie Oosthuizen.

A successful Ford penalty from just inside’s Leicester’s half opened up a four-point gap, yet the Tigers went back in front seven minutes later when centre Dan Kelly’s long pass sent Potter scampering over, with Gopperth converting.

A Ford penalty then tied the contest at 13-13 with 22 minutes left, and then he turned provider, creating space in midfield, and although his pass to Reed hit the ground, the wing finished brilliantly.

Reed was quickly at it again, breaking clear from inside his own half before firing the ball to replacement scrum-half Raffi Quirke, but the pass was rightly adjudged forward by Barnes.

Ford, who was a dominant figure during the closing quarter, then kicked a long-range penalty that left Tigers eight points behind as their title grip was prised away.

Saracens triumphed 21-9 over Racing 92 to win the European Champions Cup final on this day in 2016.

Victory saw Saracens become the first English club to win the continent’s premier club competition since Wasps were crowned champions in 2007.

Saracens’ success came after they had lost twice in the semi-finals and once in the final during the previous three years.

They became the first team to win all of their nine games in the competition after Owen Farrell’s seven penalties steered them to a maiden title in Lyon.

Johan Goosen replied with three penalties for Racing, but the loss of New Zealand fly-half Dan Carter to injury early in the second half dealt a huge blow to the French side as he joined Maxime Machenaud on the sidelines.

The final proved an often ugly encounter, with neither side really threatening to score a try, but that would not worry Saracens as they ground out victory.

The teams traded penalties before Machenaud was forced off by a concussion in the 22nd minute, and Farrell kicked Saracens into a 9-3 half-time lead.

Carter, who had looked below his best, was then forced off early into the second half and Saracens continued to pull away.

“We have had big disappointments, but each time we have come back stronger and we are happy to have finally done it,” said man-of-the-match Maro Itoje.

“We knew this was a game we could win, we had the form coming into the game. We knew if we do what we do, dominate the gain line, then we could win. We will enjoy tonight and build on from there.”

Saracens lifted the trophy again 12 months later with a 28-17 victory over Clermont, then again in 2019 by beating Leinster 20-10.

Saracens surged into the Gallagher Premiership final but their 38-15 victory over Northampton was tinged with controversy after Sean Maitland plundered two tries having escaped an early card.

Last season’s runners-up were irresistible for long spells of a one-sided play-off at StoneX Stadium as they set up a Twickenham showdown with either champions Leicester or Sale, who meet on Sunday.

But Northampton will feel aggrieved that Maitland was not at least sin-binned for clattering into George Furbank with his elbows during an aerial collision that left the England back needing lengthy treatment.

Referee Karl Dickson issued only a penalty and in making a quick decision declined to consult the TMO with the game just 25 seconds old.

To rub salt into the wound, Maitland scored Saracens’ opening two tries as part of an unstoppable first half that produced a 21-3 lead which was only briefly threatened when Northampton fought back in the third quarter.

A penalty try and Max Malins’ touchdown shut the door on the possibility of an upset and Saints, who barely fired a shot before the break, were well beaten by opponents seeking a sixth Premiership title.

Scrum-half Ivan van Zyl was named man of the match but Alex Goode could easily have been chosen given his influence in the opening stages.

When Northampton attacked and were turned over, Goode launched a stunning counter-attack given pace by Maitland but Alex Lozowski lacked the speed to finish the move.

Goode’s vision was on display again in the seventh minute when he chipped through for Maitland to score, but it was a good afternoon to be pulling the strings with Saracens dominating the gainline.

Maitland was over again in the 23rd minute after sustained pressure ended with Farrell producing a precision grubber for the Scotland wing to touch down.

Any time Northampton got the ball they were hammered backwards in the tackle but they could only blame themselves for the next try as having conceded a penalty, they switched off to allow the quick-thinking Van Zyl to tap and go for an easy run-in.

Saracens led 21-3 on the half-hour mark and when faced with a rare assault on their line they rolled up their sleeves and sent Saints packing.

Nick Tompkins’ turnover shortly after the interval typified their resolve in defence and the third quarter was harder work, with Northampton showing the fire that had been missing in the first half.

Alex Mitchell skipped over in the 56th minute and Saints engineered a superb try soon after when stylish play ended with Courtney Lawes sending James Ramm over.

But the comeback was over when Saracens’ maul forced a penalty try that also saw Tom James sent to the sin-bin, before Malins completed the rout. Sarries’ Maro Itoje was yellow-carded late on.

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