Exeter and Saracens set for fitting Premiership finale

Thomas Waldrom is set to leave Exeter and return to New Zealand at the end of the season. David Rogers/Getty Images

If there was any doubt whether Exeter and Saracens had put some daylight between them and the chasing Aviva Premiership pack it was put to bed last weekend as the pair played to their strengths and sailed into Saturday season finale.

Saracens were clinically precise yet brutal in their approach to their semifinal against Wasps last week. It might have been set in motion by a sashay of Owen Farrell's hips in the second minute but from thereon in the north Londoners' forward pack took over, punching holes in a fragile Wasps defence to create space out wide.

It is the type of rugby that can leave an international outside back feeling superfluous, and former Saracen Chris Ashton -- in London with the Barbarians -- commented this week that sometimes his old club "don't really need a backline". There are few teams in world rugby whose forwards are as effective at grinding the opposition into submission.

Exeter will know what to expect as the curtain comes down on the domestic season at Twickenham, and they have become as adept as anyone at dealing with it. The Chiefs have won the last three meetings between the two sides -- including last year's Premiership semifinal -- and drew the match before that.

Rob Baxter's side like to dominate possession in opposition territory and are no strangers to sticking the ball up their collective jumper as they look to tie teams in. That is exactly what they did from the first whistle against Newcastle a week ago, finishing the first half of that match having enjoyed 92 percent of possession and an almost identical share of territory.

It is not always pleasing on the eye for the neutral but it is extremely effective. Teams work hardest when they do not have the ball, that effort intensifies when play is in the 'red zone' closest to your own try line and bodies are being sacrificed in order to stop the attacking team breaching your defence and sapping your resolve.

To be forced to do that for a whole 40-minute period in which Newcastle were supposed to have the infamous Sandy Park wind at their backs must have taken a considerable mental toll on Dean Richards' side. There will be no swirling wind at Twickenham, of course, and Saracens can be expected to give the Chiefs attack a more robust examination.

Certainly Schalk Brits and Chris Wyles will be doing their utmost to ensure that it is the north Londoners who come out on top of the physical battle. Brits and Wyles head into retirement following Saturday's final, and although they insist they will celebrate at Sunday's team social whatever the outcome each know that a fourth Premiership title is within reach.

It would be a fitting finale for two pillars of the club's rise to the summit of the European game, one that also included back-to-back Champions Cup triumphs in 2016 and 2017. "Chris just broke down in training but I was there to give him a good hug and console him," Brits, who received his latest offer to delay his retirement on Tuesday morning.

"We've been together for quite a long time, we're quite looking forward to a big match this weekend."

He added: "It's never been part of our make-up here. We never focus on winning, we try to make memories."

Exeter, defending champions, will want to put that adage to the test as they say goodbye to one of their own favourite sons. Thomas Waldrom is set to head back to New Zealand having become a firm fans' favourite in Devon over the past four years and provided the catalyst that helped the club lift its first league title last May.

Waldrom provided an assist on his final Sandy Park appearance last Saturday, seven days later a try-scoring cameo off the bench would put the seal on an impressive career in England that included Test recognition.

Whatever the result on Saturday afternoon, the final chapter will be closed on three storied associations. For Exeter and Saracens, as has been proved this season, much remains to be written.