Northampton’s Alex Mitchell backs Fin Smith in duel with Bath’s Finn Russell

The England scrum-half Alex Mitchell is backing his teammate Fin Smith to win his looming fly-half duel with Finn Russell when Northampton face Bath in the Gallagher Premiership final this weekend. The battle of the two No 10s and goalkickers will be a key element of the game on Saturday and Mitchell believes the more youthful Smith has all the necessary tools to emerge on top.

Mitchell, 27, will have his own hands full opposite Bath’s captan Ben Spencer but, following Saints’ semi-final win against the defending champions Saracens, he believes the 22-year-old Smith is up there with Russell as a game-breaking threat.

“Fin has shocked me in terms of how good he has been in all aspects of the game,” said Mitchell, now established as England’s first-choice No 9.

“He has been awesome this season. It is mental to think how young he is but he bosses boys around regardless. He really does lead the squad. He has such a calm head on him for such a young lad. He’s been fantastic, not just on the pitch but off it as well. He has really fitted into the squad and all the boys love him.”

Northampton, though, remain keenly aware of the tactical influence Russell and Spencer can exert on games, either with ball in hand or through their kicking game.

“Because Finn Russell’s such a big character and such a big name, maybe Spencer’s gone under the radar a little bit,” Phil Dowson, Northampton’s director of rugby, said. “They’ve got a big power game, a very strong set-piece, great runners and those two in the middle pulling the strings and getting them down the pitch.”

With a sold-out crowd expected at Twickenham, however, Saints want to ensure a fitting send-off for their experienced trio of Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam and Alex Waller, all of whom are leaving the club. “We have had a lot of emotion about it in the last couple of weeks,” Mitchell said. “They are legends of the club and we want to send them off with some silverware. Everyone appreciates it is the last dance … we know it is a massive thing.”

Mitchell, for his part, has been drawing inspiration from his French opposite number Antoine Dupont, currently the best scrum-half in the world and Toulouse’s matchwinner in the Champions Cup final against Leinster last month. “I watched the highlights of that game and he was world class,” said Mitchell, who is poised to face the All Blacks on England’s upcoming summer tour.

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“He still made a couple of mistakes but the way he got back and made that crucial cover tackle shows that you can make mistakes and still play amazingly well. That gives you confidence when a player of that ilk can do what he does. He is one of the world’s best and if he carries on doing what he is doing he is going to be one the best ever. It is class to have someone like him in your position, watching what he is doing and trying to be like that.”

The Guardian