Preview: Saracens v Exeter

Date published: May 4 2012

Brad Barritt returns to the Saracens starting XV for Saturday's Aviva Premiership clash with Exeter Chiefs at Vicarage Road.

Brad Barritt returns to the Saracens starting XV for Saturday's Aviva Premiership clash with Exeter Chiefs at Vicarage Road.

Saracens go into the match with a place in the semi-finals already assured with Exeter also still in with a chance of reaching the knockout stages.

Barritt returns to the Sarries midfield after missing the victory at Newcastle Falcons while Carlos Nieto also comes into the side in the front row. On the bench, John Smit and Joe Maddock both return from injury.

“Our efforts so far this season have already earned us a place in the semi-finals of the competition,” said Director of Rugby Mark McCall.

“Who we play and where will become clear by the final whistle on Saturday. The challenge for us is to continue to build momentum as we move into knockout rugby.

“Exeter are a very physical side with powerful ball carriers and, under the guidance of Rob Baxter, have enjoyed a very good campaign in the Premiership and we know it will be a very hard game. But we have had two excellent weeks of preparation and are looking forward to the game.”

Meanwhile, Exeter Chiefs may have lost the ability to control their own destiny in terms of qualification for the play-offs but head coach Rob Baxter says his team will be hell bent on finishing their campaign on a high note.

Having surrendered fourth place in the standings to Northampton following the Saints narrow 18-15 win at Sandy Park last time out, the Devon club know they must now replicate last season's away victory over defending champions Saracens, whilst at the same time hope Worcester Warriors cause an upset at Franklin's Gardens.

Just a solitary point separates the two clubs heading into the final round of top flight action and Baxter wants his players to continue to show the fighting spirit that has propelled his team towards the summit of the table.

“There's something very positive about being involved in games that matter at this stage of the season at the right end of the table,” said Baxter.

“It's a massive positive sign of just how well the players have performed all season to be in a position with something to fight for.
“It might be a relatively slim chance with Worcester having to go to Northampton but there is still something there, something tangible. That's fantastic and if we get to this stage of the season and we're in the fight pretty regularly we can be happy that we're becoming a competitive, established Premiership side.
“I think the players have done fantastically well and now they have to follow it through and appreciate how they have got themselves in this position.”

Injuries to Kiwi pair Hoani Tui and Jason Shoemark mean they are ruled out of action this weekend, so Craig Mitchell and Sireli Naqelevuki are handed starting roles at prop and centre respectively.

Whilst Gonzalo Camacho's three-week suspension means Phil Dollman is switched from full-back to the wing and Luke Arscott returns in the number 15 jersey.

The other changes in personnel see former Sarries player Kevin Barrett team-up with Gareth Steenson in a new-look half-back pairing; Haydn Thomas and Ignacio Mieres drop to the bench where prop Chris Budgen is also included.

Hooker Neil Clark is poised to make his 150th league appearance for the club if he appears from the bench.

Form: Aviva Premiership Rugby champions Saracens have already qualified for a 4th semi-final appearance in the competition. Saracens only loss in their last five Premiership matches was 19-24 to Harlequins at Wembley Stadium on 31 March. This game will be the 156th and last in the Premiership at Vicarage Road unless Sarries do not secure a home semi-final. Exeter Chiefs realistically require a victory in this game to give themselves any chance of making the Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-finals for the first time. The Chiefs have won their last four away matches in the Premiership. Saracens have already beaten Exeter twice this season: in the Premiership at Sandy Park and in the Anglo-Welsh Cup at Vicarage Road. The Chiefs only previous victory against Saracens came at Watford in October 2010.

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The teams:

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

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Phil Dollman, 13 Sireli Naqelevuki, 12 Bryan Rennie, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Kevin Barrett, 8 Richard Baxter, 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 James Hanks, 4 Tom Hayes (capt), 3 Craig Mitchell, 2 Chris Whitehead, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Neil Clark, 17 Brett Sturgess, 18 Chris Budgen, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 Ben White, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Ignacio Mieres, 23 Nic Sestaret.

Date: Saturday, May 5
Venue: Vicarage Road
Kick-off: 14:00 (13:00 GMT)
Referee: Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Assistant referees: Ian Tempest, Robin Goodliffe