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Martin Bayfield exclusive: Saints icon on a 'huge' East Midlands derby Premiership semi-final, 'future England head coach' Steve Borthwick and the influence of Kevin Sinfield
East Midlands rivals Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints resume hostilities with a place in the 18 June final at Twickenham at stake - live on BT Sport
Former Saint Martin Bayfield looks ahead to Saturday's semi-final showdown between East Midlands rivals Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints
Premiership history makers Leicester Tigers are one game away from a remarkable return to English rugby's showpiece event, with East Midlands rivals Northampton Saints standing in the way between them and a first final for eight years.
Tigers became the first club to go through an entire season as table toppers to set up a mouth-watering semi-final showdown at Welford Road with their bitter local rivals.
Logic suggests hosts Leicester will overpower Northampton, just as they did in their two other meetings this season.
But Saturday's visitors Northampton have momentum on their side, with six bonus-point wins in their past seven league matches and one of the most devastating attacks in the country.
As two titans of English rugby prepare to do battle for a place in next weekend's final, BT Sport spoke to former Northampton stalwart Martin Bayfield to get his take on Saturday's East Midlands dust-up.
The rise, fall and rise again of Leicester Tigers
It pains me to say it as a Northampton man, but it’s difficult not to like Leicester Tigers at the moment!
What they’ve achieved is outstanding. If it weren’t for Saracens’ salary cap breach they’d have been relegated two years ago.
Steve Borthwick and his coaching staff have done a remarkable job to turn Leicester around.
He is an exceptional coach and I would not be surprised if he becomes Eddie Jones’ England successor - but the influence of defence coach Kevin Sinfield should not be underestimated.
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He may be lacking in rugby union experience at the top level but he has brought an extra emotional component that seems to be rubbing off on the side.
It also shows that rugby players, no matter how good they are, only need a little bit of guidance and you will get a phenomenal response.
Leicester players are benefitting from a clear coaching message, a clear gameplan and they’ve really delivered.
What’s also helped is some exceptional recruitment.
They’ve brought established players in like Hanro Libenberg and Jasper Wiese to complement their young players and they are quite rightly back at English rugby’s top table.
East Midlands rivalry on the big stage
The East Midlands derby is the biggest of all the Premiership derbies.
Leicester Tigers were the kings throughout my rugby career. I only beat the Tigers once at Welford Road playing for the Saints and it’s a big deal.
Whether it’s as big a deal as it once was for the players, I’m not sure, but it’s still the most important game of the year for the fans.
When the fixtures come out at the start of the season the first thought on everyone’s mind is ‘when is the East Midlands derby?’
Historically Bath against Gloucester has always been huge, but because neither team has been particularly strong in recent years that rivalry has faded into the background as Leicester versus Northampton has taken centre stage.
Any Saints - Tigers game is absolutely huge. You’ve got two rugby-mad cities where if your team wins your up all week and if your team loses it ruins your week.
But what always makes it a little bit more spicy is when one team is better than the other.
If you go back to 2000, when Northampton won the Heineken Cup, that would have really hurt Leicester, because they’d beaten them to a first European Cup.
Lo and behold, the next season Leicester go and win it – and I’m sure part of that was fuelled by the need to level the scores with their local neighbours.
Historically Tigers have the edge on Saints, their history, their trophy cabinet and their record proves they are a better team and Leicester are the favourites this weekend.
This weekend has the added subplot of so many potential farewells.
Tom Wood is retiring from Northampton Saints and he has been absolute titan for them.
Chris Boyd is stepping down as director of rugby after four years in charge and they’ll want to send him on his way with a trophy, without a doubt!
It’s at Welford Road, which has one of the narrowest pitches in the league, so it will be interesting to see if Northampton can play the expansive running game that has got them this far.
Boyd said in his post-match interview after the Newcastle game that our two worst performances of the season have been against Tigers and if they play badly again they will get beaten and well beaten.
That being said, Saints have played some brilliant rugby at times this season and if they get it right they will be difficult to stop.
Leicester Tigers vs Northampton Saints immediately follows the culmination of Saracens vs Harlequins.
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