Tom Vickers’ LV= Cup Final preview: Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints

There has been plenty of talk about Exeter having home advantage against Saints in Sunday’s LV= Cup final – but just how much does that really matter?
HOME ADVANTAGE LACKING - Chelsea triumphed against FC Bayern at their home stadium in Munich in the 2012 Champions League FinalHOME ADVANTAGE LACKING - Chelsea triumphed against FC Bayern at their home stadium in Munich in the 2012 Champions League Final
HOME ADVANTAGE LACKING - Chelsea triumphed against FC Bayern at their home stadium in Munich in the 2012 Champions League Final

Well, a look into the annals of recent sporting history suggests it could actually be a hindrance rather than a help.

The biggest recent example comes in football, namely Chelsea’s performance in the 2012 Champions League final.

Roberto Di Matteo’s Blues, big underdogs, went to Munich to face FC Bayern on their home patch, the Allianz Arena.

It was expected to be a landslide victory for Jupp Heynckes’ men, but after going a goal up, they froze.

Chelsea equalised late on and the German side were beaten on penalties. And you don’t hear that too often.

Bayern, it could be said, were hampered by supposed home advantage.

With their fans likely to have bought up extra tickets, expectant faces were all around and the pressure weighed heavy on their shoulders. And they crumbled under it.

A year later, they travelled to the neutral setting of Wembley to face Borussia Dortmund. Their class told and they proceeded to breeze past their countrymen.

There was no home advantage and, consequently, there were fewer mental factors to take into account.

And Bayern are not the only team to suffer stage fright at their own theatre.

Atletico Madrid sprung a surprise in the 2013 Copa Del Rey final, earning a gritty success at the citadel of local rivals Real Madrid.

And looking back further, Liverpool triumphed in the European Cup Final in Rome in 1984, despite Roma having home comforts.

If they’re clever, teams can turn the tables on their hosts.

Get some early points on the board or simply stifle the home team for long enough, and doubts can start to creep in.

Supporters get agitated and that transmits to the players.

In recent rugby history, play-off games have tended to go with the home team.

But, remember when Saints were beaten by Saracens in 2010?

Just a point separated the teams going into the final seconds, with Northampton on the front foot.

With the strain on to find one last surge, one final penalty or drop goal, Saints suffered, with Saracens shutting the door to secure their passage to Twickenham.

A wave of disappointment flashed around Franklin’s Gardens as the plucky visitors celebrated.

But last May, Saints claimed their revenge, storming Allianz Park to smash Saracens into submission.

The Barnet-based outfit, who had finished top of the table, were heavily backed at their stronghold – although there was a healthy Northampton presence – and fell flat on their faces.

That owed much to a slick start from Jim Mallinder’s men, who were 17-0 up at the break.

Sarries, seemingly out of the running, played with more freedom in the second half, but it was too little, too late.

Saints, who had felt little burden going into the game, as they had endured a mixed campaign, had got the job done early.

They have become well-versed in winning with their backs to the wall – the ‘Why not us?’ mentality served them so well last season - and will hope for a similar occurrence this weekend.

Of course, any side that has won its previous 13 games going into a final cannot be said to be underdogs, but there is no doubt there will be plenty of expectancy on Exeter, too.

They are billing this as the most important game in their history. And why not?

It’s a home final. A chance for a huge west country jamboree.

But, as recent sporting and Saints history has shown, Northampton have every chance of crashing this particular party.