Preview: Saracens v Northampton

Date published: November 21 2014

England number eight Billy Vunipola will start for Saracens in Sunday’s clash with Premiership leaders Northampton Saints.

England number eight Billy Vunipola will start for Saracens in Sunday’s clash with Premiership league leaders Northampton Saints at Allianz Park.

Vunipola joins Jackson Wray (blindside flanker) and Will Fraser (openside flanker) in the back-row for the home side.

At lock, Jim Hamilton comes into the side to partner skipper Alistair Hargreaves, whilst in the front-row Rhys Gill, Jamie George and Juan Figallo will start the game.

At scrum-half, Ben Spencer replaces Richard Wigglesworth who is away on England duty, to partner Charlie Hodgson. Chris Wyles continues at inside centre and is joined by Nick Tompkins in the heart of the Saracens midfield.

In the back-three Saracens remain unchanged, with in-form wings David Strettle and Chris Ashton joining Alex Goode in the back field.

On the bench, hooker Brett Sharman could face his former club, whilst Richard Barrington and James Johnston are named as prop replacements.

LV= Cup captain Maro Itoje comes into the squad, with Jacques Burger and Ernst Joubert also taking their place on the Saracens bench. Neil de Kock and Ben Ransom are named as the Saracens backs replacements.

Meanwhile, the Northampton team shows two changes from that which started last Friday’s loss to Exeter.

In the backs Tom Collins is ruled out, with James Wilson coming onto the wing.

But in the pack the Saints have been bolstered by James Craig’s return, with the lock’s introduction meaning that Samu Manoa switches to number eight. Phil Dowson moves to the flank, with Ben Nutley dropping to the bench.

Form: Saracens only defeat in Aviva Premiership Rugby this season came in round 5 at Bath. Saracens have won their last eleven home games in all competitions since London Irish visited Allianz Park in round 13 of Premiership Rugby last season. Northampton Saints retained top spot in the table despite going down 18-24 at home to Exeter on Friday evening. Northampton’s only loss in their last four away games in the competition was 16-20 at Wasps in round 2. The two clubs met on five occasions last season in all tournaments with Saracens only victory being 28-24 at Allianz Park in Aviva Premiership Rugby on 13th April. The Saints only victory on Saracens home soil in their last twelve visits since 2004 was in the Premiership Rugby semi-final at Allianz Park in 2013.

The teams:

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode; 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Chris Wyles, 11 David Strettle; 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Billy Vunipola 7 Will Fraser, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Jim Hamilton, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Jamie George, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Brett Sharman, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 James Johnston, 19 Maro Itoje, 20 Jacques Burger, 21 Ernst Joubert, 22 Neil de Kock, 23 Ben Ransom.

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 Tom Stephenson, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 James Wilson, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Samu Manoa, 7 Phil Dowson (c), 6 Calum Clark, 5 Christian Day, 4 James Craig, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Mike Haywood, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Ross Mcmillan, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Teimana Harrison, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Dom Waldouck, 23 Howard Packman.

Date: Sunday, November 23
Kick-off: 13:00 GMT
Venue: Allianz Park
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Gareth Copsey, Ross Campbell
Television match official: Graham Hughes
Timekeeper: John Burtenshaw
Assessor: Christopher White