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Preview: Saracens v Northampton

02nd March 2012 12:21

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Steve Borthwick

Back in business: Steve Borthwick

Former England lock Steve Borthwick returns from injury to lead Saracens in Sunday's Aviva Premiership clash with Northampton Saints at Vicarage Road.

Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall has also included England returnees Charlie Hodgson and Matt Stevens in his matchday 23, with Hodgson starting the match and Stevens on the bench.

Other changes see Duncan Taylor, James Short, Rhys Gill and Justin Melck come into the starting XV. Peter Stringer starts at scrum-half in what will be his final Saracens appearance before his loan spell ends.

Joining Stevens on the replacement's bench are John Smit, Hugh Vyvyan, Jackson Wray, Joel Tomkins and Neil de Kock who all started last weekend.

"We have played some good rugby in our past two matches and although we have come up just short in both games, there have been some very good performances from a number of players," said McCall.

"We have enjoyed an excellent week of preparation and are really looking forward to the game against a very strong Northampton Saints side."

Meanwhile, the Saints are going into the Vicarage Road clash having lost once in the past six Aviva Premiership matches, but director of rugby Jim Mallinder says that the team will have to be at its best against the reigning champions.

"We're feeling positive about Sunday's game, but we know it's going to be a hard challenge for us," he said.

"Saracens' last two results have been very close and they're still a good side. They've got a lot of quality players in their squad and some players coming back from international duty so it will be a tough game.

"We think we're good enough to win, but we'll have to play better than we did last week against a team which plays very effectively. We'll have to stop their momentum and make sure that we do the right things in the right areas.

"We'll certainly have to cut out the little errors which at this level can easily lead to five or seven points. But we've spoken about that during the week, worked hard in training and are ready for Sunday's game," added Mallinder.

Form: Saracens have slipped to back to back defeats to Leicester and Worcester - but have not lost three successive Premiership matches since season 2009/10. Sarries have lost consecutive Premiersahip games at Vicarage Road just once since 2006. Northampton Saints are the best team in Aviva Premiership Rugby on current form, securing 23 league points from their last six fixtures. The Saints beat Saracens 30-8 at Franklin's Gardens in round nine and have not achieved a season's double over Sarries since 2003/04. Northampton's most recent victory at Vicarage Road was on 15 February 2004.

The teams:

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Duncan Taylor, 13 Chris Wyles, 12 Adam Powell, 11 James Short, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Peter Stringer, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Andy Saull, 6 Justin Melck, 5 George Kruis, 4 Steve Borthwick (c), 3 Carlos Nieto, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 John Smit, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Hugh Vyvyan, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Joel Tomkins, 23 Joe Maddock.

Northampton: 15 Paul Diggin, 14 Vasily Artemyev, 13 George Pisi, 12 James Downey, 11 Scott Armstrong, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Martin Roberts, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Calum Clark (c), 6 Phil Dowson, 5 Christian Day, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Paul Doran-Jones, 2 Andy Long, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Mark Sorenson, 20 Tom Wood, 21 Ryan Glynn, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Tom May.

Date: Sunday, March 4
Venue: Vicarage Road
Kick-off: 17:00 GMT
Referee: Wayne Barnes

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Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Saracens418
2Northampton416
3Bath415
4Exeter414
5Wasps411