Preview: Saracens v Sale Sharks

Date published: October 16 2015

Maro Itoje will captain Saracens in their Aviva Premiership opener against Sale at Allianz Park on Saturday.

Michael Rhodes will make his Premiership debut from blindside flanker. The summer signing from South African Super Rugby side the Stormers will be joined by Kelly Brown (openside flanker) and Jackson Wray in the back row.

The reigning Premiership Champions welcome back England quartet Jamie George,  Alex Goode, George Kruis and Mako Vunipola plus USA tighthead Titi Lamositele into their 23-man squad to face the Sharks.

Fresh from facing Urugauy in Manchester, hooker Jamie George will start alongside Rhys Gill (loosehead) and Petrus Du Plessis (tighthead) in the Saracens front row.

At lock, Itoje will captain the side with Alistair Hargreaves just missing out as he recovers from an Achilles injury. Itoje will be partnered by Jim Hamilton in the second row.

At halfback, experienced scrum-half Neil de Kock starts alongside Charlie Hodgson who will be entering his 16th successive Premiership season.

In the midfield, Scottish centre Duncan Taylor will start at inside centre and he is joined by Tim Streather.

Alex Goode is Saracens second England returnee to start the game, and the 27-year old full-back is joined by Chris Ashton and Mike Ellery in the Saracens back three.

On the bench, England pair Mako Vunipola and George Kruis are named as replacements, with USA Eagles tighthead Titi Lamositele also named following Argentine Juan Figallo being called-up to Los Pumas quarter-final squad to face Ireland on Sunday.  Back rower Will Fraser is also named as a substitute whilst England U20s centre Nick Tompkins also makes the matchday 23.

Speaking ahead of the game, Sarries director of rugby Mark McCall said: "Our England players have been superb throughout training this week. They've brought some real enthusiasm and energy to the group and it will be great to have them back out there this weekend. Having played Sale on four occasions last season we know how tough a side they are to face, and we are fully aware of the challenge ahead."

Meanwhile, Brian Mujati and Bryn Evans will be making their full debuts for the Sharks since moving to the club in the summer, with Neil Briggs and Peter Stringer on the bench.

Form: Saracens were defeated 24-20 by Exeter in their most recent match at Allianz Park and have never lost successive games at Allianz Park. Sale Sharks have won just once on the opening weekend since 2010 – 22-16 at Gloucester in 2013 – and their only win on the road in the tournament so far in 2015 came at relegated London Welsh in February.

The teams:

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Tim Streather, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Mike Ellery, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Kelly Brown, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 Jim Hamilton 4 Maro Itoje (c), 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Jamie George, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Dave Porecki, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Titi Lamositele, 19 George Kruis, 20 Will Fraser, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Nick Tompkins, 23 Ben Ransom.

Sale: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Tom Arscott, 13 Sam James, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 11 Will Addison, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Chris Cusiter, 8 Mark Easter 7 David Seymour, 6 Dan Braid (captain), 5 Bryn Evans, 4 Josh Beaumont, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 James Flynn, 18 Vadim Cobilas, 19 Jonathan Mills, 20 Magnus Lund, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Nick Macleod, 23 Mark Jennings

Date: Saturday, October 17
Venue: Allianz Park
Kick-off: 14:00 local (13:00 GMT)
Referee: Dean Richards
Assistant Referees: Andy Watson, Nigel Carrick
TMO: David Sainsbury