Preview: Newcastle v Saracens

Date published: April 19 2012

England fly-half Owen Farrell returns to Saracens' starting line-up for Friday's Aviva Premiership meeting with Newcastle.

England fly-half Owen Farrell returns to Saracens' starting line-up for Friday's Aviva Premiership meeting with Newcastle.

The penultimate league match of regular season is crucial for both sides, with Saracens still looking to claim a home semi-final while the Falcons are battling to stay in the Premiership.

The 20-year-old Farrell, who was ruled out last week's 28-19 over London Irish with a dead leg, is joined by James Short in the only changes to the side.

Charlie Hodgson and Michael Tagicakibau both move to the replacement's bench.

Meanwhile, Newcastle Falcons chief Gary Gold has named an unchanged side for the Aviva Premiership showdown at Kingston Park.

Gold, who has guided his resurgent Falcons outfit to back-to-back victories over Sale Sharks and Gloucester, is expecting a stern test from the Londoners.

“In the last few weeks we have been in a situation where every game has been a cup final and this week will be no different,” said Gold.

“Saracens will be right up for it as they are playing for a home semi-final and we are playing for Premiership survival.

“The type of style of rugby that they play is incredibly difficult to play against and each player knows exactly what they are doing.

“It has been a tough week in training as we have the Premiership champions coming to town on Friday night. They are very well-drilled and you do not reach two Premiership finals in a row by accident.

“They are incredibly well coached with a good bunch of guys down there – I would go as far as saying that this is our toughest challenge of the season to date, there is no question about that.”

Form: Newcastle have now won back-to-back Aviva Premiership Rugby matches against Sale and Gloucester, but have not won three in succession in the competition since November 2009. Saracens were victorious at London Irish on Saturday but slipped to 3rd place in the table – their lowest position since round three. Sarries only defeat in their last eight away games in all competitions was 11-16 at Worcester on 24 February. The reigning champions need just three more points to guarantee a semi-final spot for a third successive year. Saracens have won their last six encounters with Newcastle in all competitions, with the Falcons most recent victory in the series being 13-9 at Kingston Park in February 2009.

The teams:

Newcastle: 15 Greg Goosen, 14 Corne Uys, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Peter Stringer,8 Adam Balding, 7 Will Welch, 6 Ally Hogg, 5 Tim Swinson, 4 James Hudson, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Rob Vickers, 1 Jonny Golding.
Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 Grant Shiells, 18 James Hall, 19 James Goode, 20 Taiasina Tu'ifua, 21 Mark Wilson, 22 Chris Pilgrim, 23 Tom Catterick.

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 David Strettle, 13 Chris Wyles, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 James Short, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 George Kruis, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Carlos Nieto, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Justin Melck, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Charlie Hodgson, 23 Michael Tagicakibau.

Date: Friday, 20 April
Venue: Kingston Park
Kick-off: 19.45 BST
Referee: JP Doyle