Preview: Saracens v Toulon

Date published: January 20 2017

Saracens have named their side to face Toulon for Saturday’s Champions Cup clash at Allianz Park.

Fresh from the news of his Six Nations call-up for England, Alex Lozowski is named at full-back for the visit of the three-times European champions after impressing in the Saracens number 15 shirt last weekend. The versatile 23-year old continues at full-back in the absence of Alex Goode who is currently sidelined with an ankle ligament injury.

Lozowski is joined by Chris Ashton in the back three and Sean Maitland, who is back in the side after missing Saracens’ 22-22 draw away to Scarlets to attend the birth of his daughter. Chris Wyles is ruled out with a hamstring injury.

At centre, Nick Tompkins continues in the number 12 jersey with Brad Barritt still serving a three-week suspension, and the 22-year old academy graduate will be partnered by the experienced Marcelo Bosch in the Sarries midfield.

Richard Wigglesworth continues at scrum-half and will be partnered by Owen Farrell, with the Saracens fly-half skippering the side.

Up front, England hooker Jamie George comes into the side to rotate with Schalk Brits, with the experienced Petrus Du Plessis also starting at tighthead prop – Richard Barrington continues at loosehead prop. In the heart of the Saracens engine room Maro Itoje partners Jim Hamilton at lock with England lock George Kruis not risked for the game after recovering from a cheek-bone injury. Elsewhere in the pack, Michael Rhodes (blindside flanker), Schalk Burger (openside flanker) and Jackson Wray (number eight) are named in the back row.

Director of Rugby Mark McCall said: “Toulon are a fine European team full of players who have vast experience of playing on the biggest stage. These are the kind of games that we really look forward to as a group and occasions like Saturday’s highlight why this tournament is so special for players, coaches and fans alike. We have enjoyed a fantastic week of preparation and now we can’t wait for kick off. I know that the 23 players who are involved on Saturday will give everything they have to produce the performance that we want.”

Meanwhile, Toulon have named Matt Giteau as their starting fly-half as he lines up alongside Sebastien Tillous-Borde at half-back while Josua Tuisova is on the right wing.

Form: Saracens are sure of qualification for the last eight and a win on Saturday would also guarantee them a home quarter-final. A win for Toulon, and they will also book their place in the knockout stage. Saracens have won their last two fixtures against Toulon in European competition including the Round 1 match at Stade Mayol, but the holders lost two knockout games against their rivals in between those wins (2013 semi-final and 2014 final). Saracens have won their last 11 home games in Europe, averaging 42 points in that run. Saracens’ draw with Scarlets in Round 5 prevented them breaking the record for most consecutive wins in the competition (still tied with Munster on 13). Saracens are one of just two sides (Munster are the other) yet to concede a first half try this season. Toulon have won their last two away games against Premiership opposition, despite failing to score 20 points in both those wins. Saracens have opted to kick the ball in open play more often than any other side (28 times per game on average). Toulon and Saracens have success rates of 90% at both lineout and scrum this season – Leinster are the only other side to achieve this. Owen Farrell has five try assists this season, equal best with Connacht’s Jack Carty and Conor Murray of Munster. Only Leinster captain, Isa Nacewa (75), has scored more points than Owen Farrell (74) or Leigh Halfpenny (67) this season.

The teams:

Saracens: 15 Alex Lozowksi, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Jamie George, 1 Richard Barrington
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Titi Lamositele, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Kelly Brown, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Tim Streather, 23 Nathan Earle

Toulon: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Josua Tuisova, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Juan Smith, 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Mamuka Gorgodze, 3 Levan Chilachava, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Laurent DelBoulbes
Replacements: 16 Jean Charles Orioli, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Marcel Van der Merwe, 19 Liam Gill, 20 Jocelino Suta, 21 Pierre Bernard, 22 Jonathan Pelissie, 23 Samu Manoa

Date: Saturday, January 21
Venue: Allianz Park
Kick-off: 15:15 GMT
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Ian Davies (Wales), Gwyn Morris (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)