Preview: Exeter v Saracens

Date published: September 9 2016

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Exeter head coach Rob Baxter has made three changes to his XV that will take on Saracens in a repeat of last season’s Premiership final.

Up front new signing Greg Holmes has been given the nod over Harry Williams at tighthead; England international Geoff Parling is promoted from the bench ahead of Mitch Lees to skipper the side; while behind Lachie Turner comes in on the wing for Ollie Woodburn, who is nursing a knock after the Wasps game.

Baxter has called on his Exeter Chiefs side to use home advantage to the full when they play host to reigning English and European champions.

“In a lot of ways this game is a low pressure game for us,” said Baxter.

“I know that sounds a bit strange because we didn’t beat Saracens last season – they were the only side to win here at Sandy Park, we lost quite heavily at their place, and then they beat us in the final – so in some ways it’s a great opportunity to just go and challenge ourselves and see if we are a bit closer to them than last season.

“For me, the pressure on us is to make sure we put in a really good home performance in front of our fans. I want it to be one that they can really believe in and one that we can really believe in. That’s far more important to me than anything else in that first home game.

“I want this weekend to be a sell-out and I want every person who comes in here to come again, simply because they lived and breathed the game with the team. That’s what creates a good home record, that’s what creates a good home base, and that’s what creates a great atmosphere here.

“It’s about showing people that we mean business and that the 80 minutes here on a weekend are the most important part of the week, both as individuals and as a team.”

Meanwhile, Saracens head coach Mark McCall has named an unchanged side to the one that defeated Worcester Warriors in the London Double Header.

After a 20-point haul on his debut at Twickenham Alex Lozowski continues at fly-half with Owen Farrell just missing out on selection due to a back strain. Partnering Lozowski in the halves will be Richard Wigglesworth, with Ben Spencer named amongst the replacements.

In the backs, Brad Barritt skippers the side from inside centre where he is partnered by Marcelo Bosch in the Saracens midfield. Sean Maitland and Chris Ashton continue on the wings with Alex Goode named at full-back.

Up front, hooker Jamie George will pack down alongside Mako Vunipola (loosehead prop) and Petrus du Plessis (tighthead prop) in the front-row. Maro Itoje and George Kruis partner each other at lock forward with Schalk Burger, Jackson Wray and Billy Vunipola the back-row.

“Exeter Chiefs are a quality outfit and Sandy Park is probably the toughest ground to visit in the Aviva Premiership. They have a strong home record, and games between the two sides in recent years have been closely fought affairs. Two seasons ago they did the double over us, and last season we were pretty successful against them, which highlights how competitive this particular fixture is,” said McCall.

“In terms of our performance, we need an improvement from the Worcester game but the group have trained very well this week and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Form: Exeter Chiefs were narrowly defeated 20-25 at Wasps on Sunday and have never begun an Aviva Premiership Rugby season with a pair of defeats. The only side to have beaten The Chiefs at their Sandy Park home since January 2015 was Saracens: 14-11 last February. Saracens have won their last 11 matches in all competitions since their 13-21 defeat at Leicester in Aviva Premiership Rugby on 20 March, a run which has seen no opponent obtain a single league point. The two clubs met on three occasions in Aviva Premiership Rugby last season including the final at Twickenham, with Saracens running out victors every time. Saracens, along with Leicester are the only visiting clubs to have won on four separate occasions at Sandy Park in Premiership Rugby.

The teams:

Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Ollie Devoto, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Ian Whitten, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Don Armand, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Geoff Parling (c), 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Dave Dennis, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Max Bodilly

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Michael Rhodes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 Mike Ellery

Date: Saturday, September 11
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 15:00 BST (14:00 GMT)
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Philip Watters, Paul Burton
TMO: Geoffrey Warren

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