Preview: Exeter v Saracens

Date published: February 5 2016

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Exeter have made five changes to their starting XV for this week’s top-of-the-table tussle with Premiership rivals Saracens at Sandy Park.

Skipper Jack Yeandle – who missed out against Worcester due to illness – returns in a front-row that also sees recalls for props Ben Moon and Moray Low.

Elsewhere in the pack, Ollie Atkins is given the nod in the second-row alongside Geoff Parling, while behind Sam Hill fills the void in midfield left by the absent Michele Campagnaro.

On the bench, Harry Williams is brought in as tighthead cover, while Lewis Stevenson – who recently re-joined the club from Ulster – gets his first involvement.

The only other change sees Max Bodilly brought in as cover for the back division.

With personnel in place and last week’s games reviewed extensively, assistant coach Rob Hunter is hopeful that the Chiefs can maintain their winning formula at home.

“We’ve set some high standards this season, especially here at home,” he said.

“That, however, comes with better squads and spending more time together. People will talk about discipline, but from our perspective it’s not just about giving penalties away in games.

“It’s also about how you catch and pass and you’re discipline in how you move about and where you put yourself on the pitch. I think our standards are increasing each year in that and it’s very much driven by what the players do and what they want to achieve as a group. You have got to have those standards in order to get bonus points away from home, like we did last week at Worcester.”

Meanwhile, Saracens boss Mark McCall has named Scotland flanker Kelly Brown at openside flanker. Brown is joined by Jackson Wray and Italy qualified loose-forward Samu Vunisa in the back-row, with Jacques Burger reverting to the bench and Michael Rhodes rested as Saracens continue to rotate their squad.

Elsewhere in the Saracens pack, after an impressive showing against Bath, Richard Barrington continues at loosehead with Rhys Gill returning to the bench after serving a four-week suspension. Schalk Brits continues at hooker and will be joined by the durable Petrus Du Plessis at tighthead prop.

At lock, Hayden Smith comes into the side to replace Maro Itoje who takes his place on the bench after being away with Eddie Jones’ England as injury cover. USA international Smith will be joined by Jim Hamilton in the second-row.

At half-back, Richard Wigglesworth partners Charlie Hodgson in a familiar looking halves pairing. In the centres, Brad Barritt will skipper the side in the number 12 jersey and he is joined by Nick Tompkins in the Sarries midfield.

Mike Ellery comes into the side on the right wing to replace Duncan Taylor who is named on the bench for Scotland to face England. Ellery will join Ben Ransom (full-back) and Chris Wyles (left wing) in the Saracens back-three.

On the bench, Jared Saunders and USA international join Rhys Gill as front-row cover, whilst Burger returns to the scene where he set the Premiership tackle record in 2013, with the Namibian loose forward taking his place on the bench. Elsewhere, Ben Spencer and Nils Mordt are the half-back cover with former England U20s flyer Nathan Earle named in his first matchday 23 of the season.

Form: Exeter Chiefs have won their last 15 home games in all major tournaments at Sandy Park since Gloucester beat them there on 3rd January 2015; during that run the Chiefs have allowed their opponents only one losing bonus point whilst helping themselves to nine try bonus points. Saracens only defeat in their last 19 fixtures in all tournaments was 23-29 at Harlequins in Aviva Premiership Rugby on 9th January. Saracens have gained at least one league point from every Premiership Rugby game they have played since they last visited Sandy Park in November 2014. The Chiefs achieved the season’s double over Saracens in Premiership Rugby in 2014/15. Saracens record at Sandy Park is won three, lost two.

The teams:

Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Don Armand, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Ollie Atkins, 3 Moray Low, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Kai Horstmann, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Will Hooley, 23 Max Bodilly

Saracens: 15 Ben Ransom, 14 Mike Ellery, 13 Nick Tomkins, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Samu Vunisa, 7 Kelly Brown, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Hayden Smith, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Richard Barrington
Replacements: 16 Jared Saunders, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Titi Lamositele, 19 Maro Itoje, 20 Jacques Burger, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Nils Mordt, 23 Nathan Earle

Date: Sunday, February 7
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 13:00 GMT
Referee: Thomas Foley
Assistant Referees: Jonathan Healy, Paul Dix
TMO: David Grashoff

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