Preview: London Irish v Saracens

Date published: March 11 2016

London Irish fly-half Greig Tonks will make his full debut in Saturday’s ground-breaking Premiership clash with Saracens at the Red Bull Arena in New York.

Scotland international Tonks, who penned a deal with the Exiles last month, is one of three changes to the side that was defeated by Bath.

Tom Cruse replaces David Paice at hooker, while Blair Cowan gets the nod at openside flanker, with skipper Luke Narraway moving to blindside.

The Exiles have been using New York Jets’ state of the art training facilities in the build-up to Saturday’s showdown with the league leaders.

Assistant Coach Grant Doorey says the Exiles are relishing the prospect of going toe-to-toe with the reigning Aviva Premiership champions.

“There has been immense excitement in the camp all this week about the opportunity to come to New York and put our season back on track,” Doorey told the Official London Irish website.

“The facilities have been fantastic and the hotel is great. Having the squad together 24/7 has been great and the level of connection has really jumped up this week,” he added.

Irish lock horns with a Saracens outfit looking to bounce back from a narrow 20-15 defeat against Northampton Saints at Allianz Park last weekend.

Doorey is well aware of the challenge that awaits the Exiles, saying: “We are certainly not underestimating the challenge we have got in front of us – Saracens are a good side but we will do everything in our power to make sure we can put in the right performance on Saturday.

“Saracens have plenty of threats, but we have been focussing more on ourselves this week,” Doorey said.

“We know how good a side Saracens are and what they can bring. The aerial battle will be critical and they have some physical ball carriers that we will need to look after.”

Meanwhile, Saracens are able to call upon the services of Alex Goode, with the England player having linked up with the side earlier this week after his release from Eddie Jones’ side to face Wales in the Six Nations that includes five Saracens players.

Goode, who has already played at the Red Bull Arena when playing for England in the Churchill Cup back in 2010 will start at full-back alongside former USA Eagles skipper Chris Wyles and Mike Ellery in the Sarries back three.

Elsewhere in the back division, Brad Barritt will skipper the side alongside Argentine international Marcelo Bosch whilst Nils Mordt and Ben Spencer make up the half back combination.

In the pack, props Richard Barrington and Juan Figallo are joined by hooker Jared Saunders with USA international Titi Lamositele named on the bench. 

Jim Hamilton and former USA Eagle Hayden Smith continue in the send row. Michael Rhodes, Jacques Burger and Jackson Wray make up the back row.

Form: The Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, USA, becomes the 35th different venue to host a Premiership encounter, and the first outside of England. London Irish have lost their last four fixtures since beating Worcester 20-13 at Madejski Stadium in February. Despite the fact that London Irish are in 12th spot in the table, they have scored at least one try in first team game they have played over the past twelve months.  Saracens only victory in their last four Aviva Premiership Rugby encounters was 25-12 at home to Gloucester in Round 13. Last Saturday Saracens were held try-less in a game for only the second time this season, with both instances being against Northampton. London Irish have won just two of their last ten encounters with Saracens, in Reading in February 2013 and at Allianz Park in 2014.    

The teams:

London Irish: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Ciaran Hearn, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Topsy Ojo, 10 Greig Tonks, 9 Scott Steele, 1 Tom Smallbone, 2 Tom Cruse, 3 Halani Aulika, 4 Matt Symons, 5 Elliott Stooke, 6 Luke Narraway (c), 7 Blair Cowan, 8 Rob McCusker
Replacements: 16 Gerard Ellis, 17 Tom Court, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Will Lloyd, 20 Joe Trayfoot, 21 Darren Allinson, 22 Theo Brophy Clews, 23 Fergus Mulchrone

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 4 Mike Ellery, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Nils Mordt, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Hayden Smith, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Jared Saunders, 1 Richard Barrington
Replacements: 16 David Porecki, 17 Titi Lamositele, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Alistair Hargreaves, 20 Kelly Brown, 21 Neil De Kock, 22 Nick Tompkins, 23 Ben Ransom

Date: Saturday, March 12
Venue: Red Bull Arena, New Jersey
Kick-off: 15:00 local, (22:00 GMT)
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Ross Campbell
TMO: David Grashoff