Preview: Saracens v Sale Sharks

Date published: December 9 2016

Saracens have named their side to face Sale Sharks in Saturday’s round three of the European Rugby Champions Cup clash at Allianz Park.

England quartet Owen Farrell, Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and George Kruis all start for Saracens.

Prop forward Vunipola is joined by George at hooker, with Petrus Du Plessis (tighthead prop) starting alongside the Red Rose pair in the front-row. After making his comeback from a hand injury last weekend away too Bath, Maro Itoje is reunited with his lock partner George Kruis in the Saracens second row.

Elsewhere in the pack, Jackson Wray is ruled out of the Pool Three clash with a slight knock, so Mark McCall reshuffles his loose forward trio by naming Schalk Burger at number eight. Experienced flanker Kelly Brown starts at openside with Mike Rhodes named on the blindside flank. On the bench, new signing Will Skelton is set to make his Saracens debut if he features.

In the backs, Owen Farrell comes into the side at fly-half to partner Richard Wigglesworth scrum-half, whilst Brad Barritt continues to skipper the side from inside centre alongside Argentine international Marcelo Bosch. In the back three, Sean Maitland continues on the right wing with Chris Wyles (left wing) and Alex Goode (full-back) named to start.

Speaking ahead of the game, director of rugby Mark McCall: “Sale are team who we’ve had some quality clashes with in recent times.

“Earlier this season we edged a tight contest, but The Sharks made us scrap and fight for every inch, and Saturday will be another fierce battle between the two sides. Steve Diamond has brought together a talented group, with match winners throughout their team. We will have to play with the same enthusiasm as we did earlier this campaign if we are to come away with a win.”

Meanwhile, Director of Rugby Steve Diamond has made six changes to his starting XV, that lost to Exeter Chiefs last weekend. Paolo Odogwu comes in on the wing, to replace Tom Arscott switches to full-back in place of Mike Haley. James Mitchell starts at scrum-half, replacing Mike Phillips who drops to the bench.

Jonathan Mills makes his first start following his injury, replacing Bryn Evans. Diamond has opted to rotate his entire back row, with Tom Curry, David Seymour & Laurence Pearce coming in, replacing Cameron Neild, Ben Curry and TJ Ioane respectively.

Diamond said that his side needed to use the game to gain some confidence.

“We are not playing well as a team at the moment and we need to get some confidence back into the players and the squad. We will use the game on Saturday to do just that. We are up against probably the best club side in the world that have massive strength in depth.

“They have big named players but they have also worked hard with their Academy over the last seven or eight years and their efforts have been rewarded by the number of home grown players they can field.”

Form: Champions Cup holders Saracens top Pool Three after hard-fought victories over Toulon (31-23) at Stade Felix Mayol and Scarlets (44-26) at Allianz Park in Rounds One and Two. In contrast, Sale have suffered a nightmare start to their European campaign with a pair of defeats to the same opposition. Sale suffered a 28-11 defeat to Scarlets in their tournament opener at Parc y Scarlets before losing 15-5 to Toulon in their Round Two clash at the AJ Bell Stadium. It does not get any easier for Steve Diamond’s charges as they prepare to travel to the home of the reigning champions, bolstered by the return of their England stars.

The teams:

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Schalk Burger 7 Kelly Brown, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Petrus du Plessis, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola,
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Will Skelton, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Nathan Earle

Sale Sharks: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Paolo Odogwu, 13 Sam James, 12 Johnny Leota, 11 Josh Charnley, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 James Mitchell, 8 Laurence Pearce, 7 David Seymour, 6 Tom Curry, 5 Jonathan Mills, 4 Josh Beaumont, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison
Replacements: 16 Cameron Neild, 17 James Flynn, 18 Ciaran Parker, 19 George Nott, 20 Ben Curry, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 Dan Mugford, 23 Mark Jennings

Date: Saturday, December 10
Venue: Allianz Park
Kick-off: 19:30 GMT
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referees: Maxime Chalon (France), Thomas Déjean (France)