Preview: Gloucester v Saracens

Date published: October 22 2015

Gloucester have made five changes to their side for Friday's clash with defending Premiership champions Saracens at Kingsholm.

The Cherry and Whites got their Premiership campaign off to a winning start at Kingston Park last Friday evening but, with the return of a number of players from Rugby World Cup duty, have more selection options this weekend.

Returning in the backline are David Halaifonua, James Hook and Jonny May. Charlie Sharples moves to full-back from wing and Billy Twelvetrees returns to the midfield from fly-half.

Up front, Sione Kalamafoni will partner Tom Savage in the second row, and Ben Morgan takes over from Lewis Ludlow at number eight with the latter moving to the blindside flank.

Director of rugby David Humphreys admitted he was pleased with the winning start but recognises the need to improve still further this weekend.

"The first game of the season was important to us, everyone felt a little bit of pressure in the build up to it," he said.

"But we were delighted with the win and with large parts of the performance. But we're ready now for an even bigger challenge in Saracens.

"The big focus for us at this stage of the season, at this early stage, is to make sure that we're focussing on ourselves, concentrating on how we're going to play, getting ourselves as best prepared as we can.”

Both teams have welcomed back World Cup returnees, but Humphreys stressed that there is no point second guessing who might line up for Saracens on the night.

"It's impossible to know who we'll be up against, but we're confident, that with the team that we're going to put out, that we'll have another big performance in us this weekend," he added.

"It'll be good to be back at Kingsholm – it's been a while. Everyone who went to a World Cup game will have seen the atmosphere and be excited for this weekend. Saracens are the defending champions, it's a huge game and we're looking forward to that wonderful atmosphere that we experienced last season.”

Meanwhile, England hooker Jamie George will captain Saracens in this fixture.

Fresh from a Man of the Match performance in Saracens' Round One 41-3 defeat of Sale Sharks, George will lead the north Londoners against the Cherry and Whites alongside Mako Vunipola and Petrus Du Plessis in the front row.

Sarries' Director of Rugby Mark McCall rotates his locks with England man George Kruis coming into the side for Maro Itoje to partner Jim Hamilton at second row – club captain Alistair Hargreaves is named on the bench after recovering from an Achilles injury.

In the back row, Michael Rhodes, Kelly Brown and Jackson Wray all retain their places in the side.

Neil de Kock continues to partner Charlie Hodgson in the halves whilst Owen Farrell (inside centre) returns to action to partner Tim Streather (outside centre) in the Saracens midfield.

In the back three, Chris Ashton and Mike Ellery continue on the wings with Alex Goode named at full-back.

"Friday night will be a difficult game for us,” said McCall. 

"I thought that last season Gloucester were the most improved team in the league, and that their final position didn't really reflect the improvement they made as a team.

"David Humphreys is a man I know very well, he's added Jonny Bell from Ulster as their defence coach, he is one of the best coaches around and after watching their preseason games you can see the influence he's had.

"Kingsholm is really tough place to go, but we'll go over there and roll up our sleeves and give it our best.”

Form: Gloucester beat Newcastle Falcons at Kingston Park on Friday evening and haven’t begun a season with victories in rounds 1 and 2 since 2007/08. Gloucester are unbeaten at Kingsholm in their last five Premiership Rugby encounters since Wasps beat them there on 28 December. Saracens were the only side in Round 1 to gain a maximum point victory, overcoming Sale 41-3. Saracens have won at least their opening two fixtures of a season every year since 2011/12. Sarries only defeat in their last four away fixtures in the tournament was 20-25 to Northampton at Milton Keynes in Round 20. Each side won its respective home game when the two clubs met last season, whilst Saracens have won on two of their last four visits to Kingsholm. 

The teams:

Gloucester: 15 Charlie Sharples, 14 David Halaifonua, 13 Billy Twelvetrees (capt), 12 Bill Meakes, 11 Jonny May, 10 James Hook, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Lewis Ludlow, 5 Sione Kalamafoni, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paddy McAllister. 
Replacements: 16 Tom Lindsay, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Paul Doran-Jones, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Jacob Rowan, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Steve McColl, 23 Mark Atkinson

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Tim Streather, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Mike Ellery, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Neil De Kock, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Kelly Brown, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 George Kruis, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Jamie George (c), 1 Mako Vunipola. 
Replacements: 16 Jared Saunders, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Titi Lamositele, 19 Alistair Hargreaves, 20 Will Fraser, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Nick Tompkins, 23 Ben Ransom.

Date: Friday, October 23
Venue: Kingsholm
Kick-off: 19:45 local (18:45 GMT)
Referee: Matt Carley
Assistant Referees: Simon Harding, Roy Maybank
TMO: Stuart Terheege