Preview: Saracens v Newcastle Falcons

Date published: December 23 2016

Saracens boss Mark McCall has made several changes to his starting XV for their Christmas Eve clash with Newcastle Falcons at Allianz Park.

Will Skelton makes his first start for the Men in Black from the second row, with Maro Itoje moving to the number six jersey.

In the front row, Vincent Koch lines up with Richard Barrington and Jamie George.

In the backs, Owen Farrell captains the side from fly-half, taking over the armband from Brad Barritt who misses Saturday’s fixture after picking up a slight knock against Sale.

Sean Maitland moves into the 15 jersey, replacing Alex Goode who misses out with a knock, while on the wing last weekend’s last minute try scorer Nathan Earle joins Chris Wyles in the lineup for his first Aviva Premiership start this season.

In the replacements Chris Ashton, available for selection once again, makes his return to the match day squad.

Meanwhile, Newcastle Falcons have made eight changes to their team for this fixture.

Vereniki Goneva and Marcus Watson return on the wings for a Falcons side who face the league’s top three clubs back to back over the next fortnight, their trip to Saracens followed by home dates against second-placed Wasps (Friday December 30) and third-placed Bath (Friday January 6).

Alex Tait comes in at full-back for a Newcastle side who have won their last two Premiership outings against Harlequins and Northampton, Fred Burdon the only other addition to the back line as he starts at outside centre.

Rob Vickers and Scott Lawson slot into the front row, Canadian international Evan Olmstead returning to the second row as Ally Hogg comes in at number eight.

The Falcons go into the game after back-to-back European Challenge Cup matches against Lyon, the latter of which saw a 48-29 home victory as they ran in six converted tries.

Returning to league duties during a busy festive programme, Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards said: “You couldn’t ask for anything more difficult than playing the top three teams in the Aviva Premiership back to back, and it is a challenge for the boys. We will take from it what we can, and we are certainly not approaching it with any degree of fear.

“Saracens are without doubt a quality side, as you would expect from the English and European champions. They have got a squad which reflects that, so for us the challenge is to go down there and knock them off their perch. We are looking forward to it, we are under no illusions as to what it will take but the boys are definitely up for it.”

Having led 14-3 at half-time during their last Premiership trip to Allianz Park in the penultimate round of last season, Richards added: “I’ve said all along that there are no sides in the Premiership who worry us in terms of going out there and getting thumped.

“We just need to be on our game that particular day and put out a strong side, and when we do that we are a match for anyone. Last season’s game at Saracens probably reflects that, when we did reasonably well down there.

“Saracens are quite predictable in the way that they play but they go about it in a very thorough and methodical way. What they do, they are very effective at, and we need to be disciplined in how we deal with it. Our average penalty count this season has been pretty low, so in that sense it has not really affected us.

“The boys have prepared well and we are hopeful that, be it this week, next week or the week after, we will get something out of these three games.”

Form: Saracens slipped up at Bath in Round 10 of Premiership but have not lost successive encounters in the tournament since May 2015. Sarries have won their last thirteen home games in all competitions since Northampton beat them at Allianz Park in Premiership Rugby on March 5. Newcastle Falcons have won three of their last four contests in all tournaments whilst in Premiership Rugby they are attempting to achieve a third successive victory for the first time since season 2009/10. The Falcons have won twice on the road this season, at Gloucester in Round 4 and at Northampton in Round 9. Saracens have won their last fifteen fixtures against Newcastle in all tournaments since the Falcons 13-9 victory at Kingston Park in Premiership Rugby in February 2009 whilst Newcastle’s only win on Saracens soil since 2011 was at Vicarage Road in December 2007.

The teams:

Saracens: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Nathan Earle, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 George Kruis, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Richard Barrington
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Titi Lamositele, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Schalk Burger, 20 Joel Conlon, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Chris Ashton

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Marcus Watson, 13 Fred Burdon, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Ally Hogg, 7 Mark Wilson (c), 6 Callum Chick, 5 Evan Olmstead, 4 Calum Green, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Rob Vickers
Replacements: 16 Ben Sowrey, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Will Witty, 20 Opeti Fonua, 21 Sam Egerton, 22 Craig Willis, 23 Dominic Waldouck

Date: Saturday, December 24
Venue: Allianz Park
Kick-off: 13:30 GMT
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Roger Baileff, Andrew Jackson
TMO: David Sainsbury