Preview: Saracens v Exeter

Date published: May 8 2015

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The business end of the season is upon us as Saracens host possible playoff rivals Exeter Chiefs in the Premiership on Sunday.

With two games to go Exeter are outside of the playoffs by just a single point from Leicester in fourth, while as for Saracens their aim is a home semi-final but that won't come easy with Bath currently in second place.

Mark McCall and his squad will watch how Bath get on at Harlequins on Friday with real intent, knowing that Saracens will round off the season away to London Welsh where they would hope to gain maximum points.

Exeter though will be incredibly tricky to overcome even on home soil. Rob Baxter's Chiefs have made another step forward this season with Henry Slade emerging at fly-half to become one of the stars of the season.

Given Leicester travel to Wasps on Saturday and then host league leaders Northampton in the final round, Exeter have a real chance to make the final four if they can steal something from their trip to Barnet.

The Chiefs will have the added confidence boost of having won the corresponding fixture back in November, when Gareth Steenson kicked a record nine penalties.

In team news, Saracens lock forward George Kruis will be the latest Saracens academy product to be inducted into the team's 100 Club. The England international forward will bring up his century of appearances for the club alongside Maro Itoje at lock.

Elsewhere up front, in-form loosehead Mako Vunipola continues in the loosehead slot, and is joined by Jamie George and Petrus Du Plessis in the Sarries front row. In the back row, Jackson Wray starts at number eight with Billy Vunipola just missing out on the crunch Premiership clash with a slight ankle complaint. Kelly Brown starts at blindside flanker, with Namibian loose-forward Jacques Burger named at openside.

McCall is forced into a backline reshuffle, with Brad Barritt missing out with a slight knock. Chris Wyles comes into Saracens midfield in place of Barritt to wear the number 12 jersey and partners Marcelo Bosch in midfield.

In the halves, Richard Wigglesworth captains the side from scrum-half and will link up with Charlie Hodgson, who starts at fly-half In the back three, David Strettle starts on the left wing with Chris Ashton named on the opposite flank – Alex Goode continues at full-back.

Meanwhile, for Exeter, Gareth Steenson is recalled at fly-half with Slade switching to centre in place of Jack Nowell; whilst up front Luke Cowan-Dickie starts at hooker and Ben White is fit again and returns to the back-row. 

On the bench, Academy youngster Max Bodilly comes in for his first-ever inclusion in a Premiership squad, while Tongan international Fetu’u Vainikolo is also included.

Form: Saracens have lost their last two first team fixtures and have not lost three in a row since season 2009/10. Sarries only defeat at Allianz Park in Aviva Premiership Rugby this season was against table-topping Northampton in round eight. Exeter Chiefs have lost their last two matches: at Gloucester in the semi-final of the European Challenge Cup and at Wasps in Aviva Premiership Rugby. Exeter's only victory on the road in the tournament since November was 32-21 at Harlequins in round 15.The two clubs have already met three times this season with The Chiefs victorious at Sandy Park in Premiership Rugby in November but Saracens taking both encounters in the Anglo-Welsh Cup at Allianz Park in February and in the final at Northampton in March. Exeter's only previous victory on Saracens' soil was 23-9 at Vicarage Road in Premiership Rugby in October 2010.

The teams:

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Chris Wyles, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth (c), 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 George Kruis, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 James Johnston, 19 Alistair Hargreaves, 20 Ernst Joubert, 21 Neil De Kock, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Nick Tompkins

Exeter: 15 Byron McGuigan, 14 Ian Whitten, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Ben White, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Mitch Lees, 4 Dean Mumm (c), 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon

Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Alex Brown, 19 Damian Welch, 20 Kai Horstmann, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Fetu’u Vainikolo, 23 Max Bodilly

Date: Sunday, May 10
Venue: Allianz Park
Kick-off: 14:00 local (13:00 GMT)
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Peter Huckle
TMO: David Grashoff

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