Preview: Saracens v Wasps

Date published: February 12 2016

Club captain Alistair Hargreaves returns to the Saracens starting XV for Sunday's clash with Wasps at Allianz Park.

It's the the first time Hargreaves will be in action after a prolonged spell on the sidelines. The 29-year lock forward who made his last appearance for Saracens in Round Five of the Aviva Premiership against Worcester Warriors at Twickenham Stadium in November 2015, will lead out Saracens with the Allianz Park side chasing their tenth consecutive win over Wasps.

Saracens name the same front row that started against Bath and Exeter in Rounds 10 and 11, with Richard Barrington (loosehead prop), Schalk Brits (hooker) and Petrus Du Plessis (tighthead) packing down to face Dai Young’s side. Front row replacements include Jared Saunders, Rhys Gill and Titi Lamositele.

At lock, Hargreaves returns to partner Jim Hamilton, with Hayden Smith reverting to the bench. Elsewhere in the pack, Michael Rhodes rotates with Jackson Wray to return after a week break to start at blindside flanker, and will start alongside Samu Vunisa (number eight) and Jacques Burger (openside flanker). Will Fraser comes back into the squad to start on the bench.

At scrum-half, Ben Spencer rotates with Richard Wigglesworth to make his seventh Premiership appearance of the season. Charlie Hodgson continues at fly-half with Nils Mordt names among the replacements.

At centre, Brad Barritt will continue in the number the 12 jersey and will partner Nick Tompkins in the Sarries midfield.

Marcelo Bosch will start at full-back in the place of Ben Ransom who moves to the bench, with the Argentine international linking up with Chris Wyles (left wing) and Mike Ellery (right wing).

Meanwhile, Elliot Daly starts at 13 for Wasps having returned from England camp this week, while Wasps’ co-captain Matt Mullan will be ready to come off the bench to join the front row.

George Smith skippers the side and is joined in the back row by Nathan Hughes and Thomas Young.

The match represents a significant occasion for the Piutau brothers who will play their first game of professional rugby together. All Black Charles (24) has returned to fitness to start at full-back, while Tonga international Siale (30) makes his first start for Wasps in the centre.

Ruaridh Jackson, back from Scotland duty, and Dan Robson form the halfback combination, while Christian Wade and Josh Bassett provide the flying firepower on the wing.

In the pack, Simon McIntyre and Jake Cooper-Woolley again start in the front row while Ashley Johnson lines up at hooker and Carlo Festuccia is named among the replacements having recovered from injury. Kearnan Myall and James Cannon form the second row partnership.

There was disappointing news this week that lock James Gaskell will require surgery on a foot injury sustained against Newcastle Falcons last Saturday which is likely to sideline him for the rest of the season.

Wasps' Director of Rugby Dai Young said: “We just got over the line last weekend against Newcastle and know we will need to up our game this Saturday against the league leaders. 

"Saracens are the form team not only in England but also in Europe, having only lost one game all season. They are really accurate and efficient in everything they do and excel at pressurising the opposition into making mistakes. It’s essential to match their accuracy and minimise errors.

“It doesn’t come any harder in the Premiership than playing at the home of the Premiership Champions, but we know on our day we can compete with the very best. 

"This is the kind of challenge professional sportsmen crave and it’s up to us to prepare well physically and mentally to rise to that challenge.”

Form: Saracens have been trailing at half-time in their last two matches, against Bath and Exeter, but turned them both into victories. Their only defeat this season in any competition was on their visit to Harlequins in Premiership Rugby on 9 January. Wasps have won their last three Premiership Rugby matches and have not won four in succession in the tournament since season 2012/13. Sunday’s 9-8 victory over Newcastle at the Ricoh Arena was the first time in the past four years that Wasps had won a game without scoring a try. Saracens have won their last nine encounters with Wasps in all tournaments since Wasps' 20-15 victory at Twickenham in the 2011 London Double Header. Wasps have visited Allianz Park just once before, losing 12-19 in Premiership Rugby in October 2013.

The teams:

Saracens: 15 Marcelo Bosch, 14 Mike Ellery, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Samu Vunisa, 7 Jacques Burger, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 Alistair Hargreaves (c), 4 Jim Hamilton, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Richard Barrington.
Replacements: 16 Jared Saunders, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Titi Lamositele, 19 Hayden Smith, 20 Will Fraser, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Nils Mordt, 23 Ben Ransom 

Wasps: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Ruaridh Jackson , 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 George Smith (c), 6 Thomas Young, 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 James Cannon, 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Ashley Johnson, 1 Simon McIntyre. 
Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Alex Rieder, 21 Jamie Stevenson, 22 Jimmy Gopperth, 23 Rob Miller

Date: Sunday, February 14
Venue: Allianz Park
Kick-off: 16:00 GMT
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Andy Watson, Craig Maxwell-Keys
TMO: Trevor Fisher