Preview: Gloucester v Saracens

Date published: February 16 2017

Gloucester director of Rugby David Humphreys has made five changes to his starting XV for Friday’s clash with Saracens at Kingsholm.

The Cherry and Whites will be looking to bounce back after last Saturday’s reverse at Welford Road against Leicester Tigers, and make three changes to their pack and two to the back-line.

Returning in the Gloucester midfield is centre Matt Scott, while David Halaifonua takes over from Henry Purdy on the left wing.

Up front, John Afoa is replaced at tighthead by Salesi Ma’afu, and Ben Morgan and Ross Moriarty return in the back row in place of Sione Kalamafoni and Lewis Ludlow respectively.

Humphreys told the media this week that the performance at Leicester wasn’t up to scratch and that a reaction is expected against Saracens.

“We were disappointed, frustrated and angry that, probably for the first time this season, we turned up at a game and just didn’t perform,” he said.

“We didn’t really fire a shot and that was the most disappointing thing.

“Our focus has been very much on making sure that the issues that we had last week aren’t there this weekend, because we know that Saracens will pose a very similar challenge to the one we faced last week with Leicester.

“Strong set-piece, physical pack – it’s something we’ve brought every week to every game, we’ve been tough to play against all season. Yes, the results haven’t always gone our way, but we’ve been tough to play against.

“Come Friday night, we’ll be well prepared and I’ve no doubt that the supporters will see a very big reaction from the players.

“We love playing at Kingsholm, Friday night under lights, it’ll be a big atmosphere, and the players are looking forward to getting back there and responding to the disappointment of last weekend.”

Meanwhile, Saracens have named a strong run-on team for this fixture.

Mako Vunipola has recovered from a knee-injury to start for the champions. Vunipola will pack down at loosehead prop after nine-weeks on the sidelines and will join Schalk Brits (hooker) and Juan Figallo in the front row.

At lock, former Gloucester skipper Jim Hamilton is joined by Michael Rhodes whilst in the back row Will Fraser continues at blindside flanker with Schalk Burger (openside flanker) and Jackson Wray (number eight) also named to start.

In the backs, Saracens name Duncan Taylor in the starting XV for the first time this season. Taylor starts at full-back alongside Chris Ashton (right-wing) and Mike Ellery (left-wing) in the Saracens back three.

At centre, Marcelo Bosch returns to the number 13 jersey to partner skipper Brad Barritt whilst in the halves, Richard Wigglesworth (scrum-half) continues to partner Alex Lozowski (fly-half).

Form: Three of Gloucester’s four wins in Premiership Rugby this season have come in the space of the last seven rounds. Gloucester’s only defeat at Kingsholm in any tournament since early October was by a single point to Northampton Saints in round 12 of the Premiership. Saracens were defeated at Worcester in round 14 and have not lost back-to-back first team games since May 2015. Saracens have lost two of their last three away games in Premiership Rugby. Gloucester have already beaten Saracens at Kingsholm this season: 36-32 in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, but in Premiership Rugby they have won only one of their last seven fixtures with Saracens.

The teams:

Gloucester: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 David Halaifonua, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Willi Heinz (c), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Jacob Rowan, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Tom Savage, 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Josh Hohneck
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Paul Doran-Jones, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Lewis Ludlow, 21 Callum Braley, 22 James Hook, 23 Henry Trinder

Saracens: 15 Duncan Taylor, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Mike Ellery, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Will Fraser, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jared Saunders, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Mark Flanagan, 20 Kelly Brown, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Max Malins, 23 Matt Gallagher

Date: Friday, February 17
Venue: Kingsholm
Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace, Nigel Carrick
TMO: David Grashoff