Preview: Saracens v Gloucester

Date published: February 19 2016

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Scotland centre Duncan Taylor returns to the Saracens starting XV for their Premiership clash with Gloucester at Allianz Park on Saturday.

With the Six Nations taking a one week hiatus, the in-form centre comes into the side at outside centre and will partner skipper Brad Barritt in the heart of the Sarries midfield. Barritt will lead the side in the absence of Alistair Hargreaves, who is ruled out of the game with an ankle injury.

Elsewhere in the Sarries backline, Ben Ransom rotates with Marcelo Bosch at full-back, and joins Chris Wyles (left wing) and Mike Ellery (right wing) in the back three.

At half-back, Richard Wigglesworth comes into the side at scrum-half with Ben Spencer reverting to the bench. Wigglesworth will partner Charlie Hodgson in the halves.

Up front, Rhys Gill starts at loosehead prop and joins Schalk Brits and Petrus Du Plessis in the front-row. USA international Hayden Smith comes into the side to replace the injured Alistair Hargreaves, and starts alongside Jim Hamilton at lock. In the back-row, Will Fraser starts at openside and will link up with Michael Rhodes (blindside flanker) and Jackson Wray (number eight).

On the bench, Jared Saunders, Titi Lamositele and Juan Figallo are the front-row cover, whilst loose forwards Jacques Burger and Kelly Brown are also included. Ben Spencer and Nils Mordt offer cover at half-back with Marcelo Bosch the three-quarter replacement.

Meanwhile, Gloucester make five changes to the side that defeated Harlequins last weekend as they prepare to face Saracens.

The Cherry and Whites will be looking to make it three wins in a row at Allianz Park having defeated Bath and Quins in their past two outings, while Saracens will be looking to bounce back from 23-64 home defeat at the hands of Wasps last Sunday.

The two teams have already met once in the Premiership this season, with Saracens edging a tight encounter at Kingsholm back in October, by 17 points to 15, thanks to a late Owen Farrell penalty.

With the Premiership games coming thick and fast, and a number of players still absent due to injury, Gloucester continue to use a rotation policy to spread the workload.

Three of the changes are in the pack, where Nick Wood, Jeremy Thrush and Ross Moriarty come in for Paddy McAllister, Tom Savage and Ben Morgan respectively.

Behind the scrum, Callum Braley gets the nod over Willi Heinz at scrum-half and Mark Atkinson will partner Billy Twelvetrees in the midfield in place of Bill Meakes.

Amongst the replacements, there is a welcome return for Henry Trinder who is back after injuring his hamstring against Harlequins on December 27.

Following back to back wins over Bath and Harlequins, Director of Rugby David Humphreys admitted to the local media this week that spirits are high in the camp.

“There is a buzz about the camp but, in the same way that we didn’t get too down after the Leicester result, we haven’t got too carried away by how we’ve performed over the last two weeks, two great results,” he said.

“It’s good for the squad, good for the mood around the group and, most importantly, good from a confidence point of view. We’ve said for a long time that we know we can compete, but you’ve got to win some games and the last two weeks have been good for us.”

Form: Saracens conceded 64 points at home to Wasps on Sunday and have only once before conceded more in a game in the professional era – whilst losing 21-66 at Bath in Premiership Rugby in May 2008. Saracens have never lost successive matches at Allianz Park. Gloucester Rugby have won their last two Aviva Premiership Rugby encounters, against Bath and Harlequins, and have not won three in a row in the tournament since October 2012. Gloucester’s only defeat in their last five away games in all tournaments was 10-19 at Exeter in Premiership Rugby on 9th January. Saracens have lost just one of their last five contests with the Cherry & Whites: 23-24 at Kingsholm on 9th January 2015, whilst Gloucester’s most recent victory on Saracens’ turf was 25-21 at Vicarage Road in November 2008.

The teams:

Saracens: 15 Ben Ransom, 14 Mike Ellery, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Hayden Smith, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Rhys Gill
Replacements: 16 Jared Saunders, 17 Titi Lamositele, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Jacques Burger, 20 Kelly Brown, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Nils Mordt, 23 Marcelo Bosch

Gloucester: 15 Billy Burns, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Billy Twelvetrees (c), 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Steve McColl, 10 James Hook, 9 Callum Braley, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Nick Wood
Replacements: 16 Tom Lindsay, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 Paul Doran-Jones, 19 Tom Savage, 20 Jacob Rowan, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Henry Trinder, 23 Rob Cook

Date: Saturday, February 20
Venue: Allianz Park
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Robin Goodliffe, Andrew Pearce
TMO: Rowan Kitt

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