Amlin Challenge Cup final: Bath v Northampton Saints preview
Last Updated: 23/05/14 10:12am
Previous winners lock horns at Cardiff Arms Park on Friday night as Bath take on Northampton Saints in an all-English Amlin Challenge Cup final.
Bath will be eager to compensate for missing out on the last four in the league, while Northampton have next weekend's Premiership final against Saracens at Twickenham to look forward to.
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Both sides have won the tournament before, Bath in 2008 and Saints the following year, and whoever prevails will join Clermont and Sale on two victories, with Harlequins the stand-out with three triumphs.
Bath enter the final having won their last seven Challenge Cup games against English opposition with their last loss coming to London Wasps in 2003, although defeat on Friday would make them the first club to lose three finals.
Saints have won five of their seven Amlin Challenge Cup games against English clubs, losing to Worcester in the 2005/06 quarter-finals and to Bristol in the pool stage of the same edition of the competition.
Bath are boosted by the return of talismanic flanker Francois Louw as he comes back into the West Country side as they prepare to line-up against their Premiership rivals.
"I'm very excited to be in the side for this weekend," Louw told the club's official website.
"To play in a final with so much emotion involved, so much resting on the game, and so much pressure, that's what brings all the excitement. At the end of the day, we play to win."
Louw is joined in the back row by the combative duo of Carl Fearns and the club's Players' Player of the Year Leroy Houston.
Stuart Hooper continues to lead from the second row, alongside Dave Attwood, with academy hooker Tom Dunn selected alongside international duo Paul James and David Wilson.
Micky Young and George Ford continue their dynamic half-back partnership, while Anthony Watson and Semesa Rokoduguni occupy the wings with Ollie Devoto linking up with Jonathan Joseph in the midfield and Nick Abendanon makes his final appearances for the club in his familiar No 15.
Meanwhile, Saints head coach Jim Mallinder has made five changes to the Saints side ahead of the European final.
Three of those switches come in the pack, where Alex Corbisiero makes his first start since his return from injury, Tom Mercey comes in for the suspended Salesi Ma'afu and Calum Clark swaps places with Phil Dowson in the back row.
While Corbisiero returns, Dylan Hartley misses out with a shoulder injury and his absence raises further doubts over his fitness ahead of England's tour of New Zealand.
At half-back Lee Dickson wears the No 9 jersey, with Kahn Fotuali'i dropping to the replacements' bench, while Ken Pisi takes his place on the right wing.
The Arms Park showdown is the first of two finals in eight days for Northampton but fly-half Stephen Myler believes they have the experience to draw from.
"It's going to be very tough again, obviously playing against a high quality team in Bath, who have improved quite a lot this year," he told the club's official website.
"We know what to expect from them, it's going to be a massive occasion, we have very fond memories of the trophy winning season from 2009, and hopefully we can replicate that on Friday."
Bath: 15 Abendanon, 14 Rokoduguni, 13 Joseph, 12 Devoto, 11 Watson, 10 Ford, 9 Young; 1 James, 2 Dunn, 3 Wilson, 4 Hooper (capt), 5 Attwood, 6 Fearns, 7 Louw, 8 Houston
Replacements: 16 Guinazu, 17 Catt, 18 Perenise, 19 Day, 20 Mercer, 21 Stringer, 22 Henson, 23 Agulla
Northampton:15 Foden, 14 K Pisi, 13 G Pisi, 12 Burrell, 11 North, 10 Myler, 9 Dickson; 1 Corbisiero, 2 Haywood, 3 Mercey, 4 Manoa, 5 Lawes, 6 Clark, 7 Wood (capt), 8 Dickinson
Replacements: 16 McMillan, 17 Waller, 18 Denman, 19 Day, 20 Dowson, 21 Fotuali'I, 22 Wilson, 23 Stephenson
You can watch the Amlin Challenge Cup final live from 7:30pm on Sky Sports 1 HD
Amlin Challenge Cup Final 2013/14
Northampton ended a run of four finals defeats with a 30-16 victory over Bath in the Amlin Challenge Cup final.
Luther Burrell believes the time has come for Northampton Saints as they prepare for a fourth final in three seasons.
Northampton prop Silesi Ma'afu will miss the Amlin Challenge Cup final after being handed a one-week ban.