Preview: Saracens v London Irish

Date published: October 30 2015

Saracens club captain Alistair Hargreaves makes his first start of the season as the holders take on London Irish at Allianz Park on Saturday.

Hargreaves will be captaining a side that includes a front-row that has a combined number 350 Saracens appearances to their name with experienced props Rhys Gill and Petrus Du Plessis packing down alongside Jamie George.

In the back-row, Ernst Joubert is named at number eight, with Jackson Wray (blindside) and Will Fraser (openside) flanking the experienced South African.

At half-back, Ben Spencer comes into the side at scrum-half and he will partner England's Owen Farrell, who starts his first home game of the season.

Duncan Taylor returns to the side to partner Nick Tompkins at centre, with Alex Goode, Mike Ellery and Chris Ashton continuing in the back-three.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's game, Director of Rugby Mark McCall said: "We are facing a new-look London Irish side under the tutelage of a great coach, in Tom Coventry, who I'm sure will be very successful in the Premiership.

"They, much like ourselves they have some players returning from Rugby World Cup duty to link-up with a very strong squad. We know that we will have to be at our very best if we are to come away with the spoils."

Meanwhile, Scotland internationals Blair Cowan and Sean Maitland will both start for London Irish on Saturday.

Maitland will make his run on debut in the back-three alongside Topsy Ojo and Aseli Tikoirotuma.

Fergus Mulchrone starts at inside centre in place of Eoin Griffin while Chris Noakes and Brendan McKibbin combine for the third successive game in the half-backs.

Tom Smallbone, David Paice and Halani Aulika line up in the front-row with captain George Skivington and Matt Symons in the second-row. Jebb Sinclair, Blair Cowan and Rob McCusker make up the back-row.

"Saturday’s fixture presents us with another tough challenge against strong opposition. The squad have reacted well to last week’s disappointment and we have enjoyed an intense training week We look forward to the contest and representing the club with passion," said London Irish head coach Tom Coventry.

Form: Saracens are one of only two sides to have begun the new Aviva Premiership Rugby campaign with a pair of victories – the other being Leicester Tigers. The champions have won their last five fixtures in the tournament since losing 20-24 to Exeter Chiefs at Allianz Park in May. London Irish are one of only two sides to have begun the new season with two losses, the other is Newcastle Falcons. The Exiles are without a win since they beat Sale Sharks 25-23 at Reading in round 19, whilst their most recent away victory came at London Welsh in February. London Irish are one of only three sides to have beaten Saracens at Allianz Park in Premiership Rugby, the others are Northampton Saints (twice) and Exeter Chiefs.

The teams:

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Mike Ellery, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Alistair Hargreaves (c), 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Jamie George, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Titi Lamositele, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Jacques Burger, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Brad Barritt, 23 Chris Wyles.

London Irish: 15 Topsy Ojo, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Tom Fowlie, 12 Fergus Mulchrone, 11 Aseli Tikoirotuma, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Rob McCusker, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Jebb Sinclair, 5 Matt Symons, 4 George Skivington (c), 3 Halani Aulika, 2 David Paice, 1 Tom Smallbone.
Replacements: 16 Gerard Ellis, 17 Tom Court, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Eoin Sheriff, 20 David Sisi, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Shane Geraghty, 23 Alex Lewington.

Date: Saturday, October 31
Venue: Allianz Park
Kick-off: 13:00 GMT
Referee: Gregory Garner
Assistant referees: Simon McConnell, Paul Dix
Television match official: Trevor Fisher
Timekeeper: Robert Ockenden
Assessor: Gary Welsh