Preview: Saracens v Gloucester

Date published: October 10 2014

Saracens welcome back first-choice hooker Schalk Brits to their starting XV for Saturday’s clash with Gloucester at Allianz Park.

Saracens welcome back first-choice hooker Schalk Brits to their starting XV for Saturday’s clash with Gloucester at Allianz Park.

The South African rejoins the squad after his time away with the Springboks in the Rugby Championship. Brits takes his place in the front row alongside Richard Barrington and Kieran Longbottom.

Alistair Hargreaves skippers the side from the second row, and is joined by ex-Gloucester captain Jim Hamilton at lock.

In the back row, Kelly Brown starts at openside flanker, with Ernst Joubert starting on the blindside – Billy Vunipola continues at number eight.

Richard Wigglesworth comes into the side at scrum-half to partner Charlie Hodgson at half-back, whilst Brad Barritt has shaken off a minor calf injury to take his place in the midfield alongside Chris Wyles.

Ben Ransom replaces Alex Goode at full-back, with David Strettle and Chris Ashton continuing on the wings.

On the bench, Will Fraser returns to Mark McCall’s 23-man squad as does Argentine international Marcelo Bosch, who has returned to Saracens after time away with Los Pumas in the Rugby Championship.

Meanwhile, Gloucester director of rugby David Humphreys has kept faith with the same side that defeated Leicester Tigers last weekend.

It’s the first time that Gloucester have retained the same starting XV for two successive games since the same side was fielded against both Northampton Saints and Sale Sharks in weeks one and two respectively.

In fact, there are only two changes to the matchday 23 from last weekend. Hooker Darren Dawidiuk replaces Aleki Lutui amongst the replacements while Billy Meakes comes in for Tom Isaacs.

“This is going to be a huge test for us, in the same way that we said going into the Northampton game that that would be a huge test,” said Humphreys.

It will give us a very clear picture of how the team has developed and evolved in that time.

“As we said at the start of the season, this is the first point where we’ll be able to sit down, review the first phase of the season and really gauge where we are in comparison to other teams in the league.

“We’d like to be more consistent across the whole game. There will be points in any game against the top teams, where they’re in the ascendancy and you’re hanging on.

“And that’s the mental toughness that comes with getting used to winning.

“You see that from Saracens who pride themselves on being one of the top teams both physically and mentally.

‘In two games so far this season, they’ve won with the last play of the game. That’s a big element of their game.

“Going into this week, we’re looking to perform better than last week knowing that Saracens are one of the top teams in the competition.”

Form: Saracens were beaten just once at their home ground in the league last season and Sale Sharks are the only side to visit so far in this campaign – they were sent packing 40-19. But Gloucester do not head to North London short of form, having won three of their last four, including a 46-10 triumph away at London Welsh and a 33-16 victory over Leicester Tigers. Victory on Saturday would mark the first time the Cherry & Whites have won successive away games in Aviva Premiership Rugby since February 2011, as well as going some way to rectifying a poor recent record against Saracens. A pair of defeats by Mark McCall’s men last season means they have won just one of these sides’ last eight meetings.

Saracens: 15 Ben Ransom, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Chris Wyles, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9. Richard Wigglewsorth, 8 Billy Vunipola. 7 Kelly Brown, 6 Ernst Joubert, 5 Alistair Hargreaves (c), 4 Jim Hamilton, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Richard Barrington.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 James Johnston, 19 George Kruis, 20 Will Fraser, 21 Neil De Kock 22 Marcelo Bosch, 23 Alex Goode.

Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Purdy, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 James Hook, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Ben Morgan 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Sila Puafisi, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Mark Atkinson, 23 Billy Meakes.

Date: Saturday, October 11
Venue: Allianz Park
Kickoff: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Dean Richards
Assistant Referees: Ross Campbell & Kelvin Stewart
TMO: Trevor Fisher