Leeds search for first win
September 16, 2010
David Strettle impressed during Saracens' defeat of Sale © Getty Images
Leeds host last season's Premiership runners-up Saracens on Sunday with the pressure mounting on them to gain their first win of the season.
Leeds have started with consecutive defeats to Bath and Gloucester after their remarkable run to Premiership survival last season, and they will be desperate to record a victory. They came agonisingly close against Gloucester, leading by two points with a minute to go, but slumped to a soul-destroying 22-21 defeat.
Saracens will pose formidable opposition after finding their form with a 28-13 defeat of Sale. David Strettle, in particular, hit his top speed in an impressive showing as a second-half replacement, while recent signing Richard Wigglesworth pitched in with 15 points from the boot.
Leeds - Player to Watch: Fly-half Christian Lewis-Pratt enjoyed a hugely promising debut last weekend, scoring a try and contributing 11 points with the boot, and Leeds will need him to maintain that type of form if they are to have any chance of victory.
Leeds - Team News: The fit-again Juan Gomez returns at tight-head prop but Luther Burrell (calf) and Alfie To'oala (adductor muscle) have both been ruled out through injury, meaning there are starts for James Ticknell and Kearnan Myall at outside centre and blindside flanker respectively. Hooker Steve Thompson has been handed his first start at the expense of Andy Titterrell.
Saracens - Player to Watch: Strettle gave Sarries fans a nice taster of what they can expect from him this season with a scintillating, try-scoring cameo against the Sharks last weekend. In his first start, the winger will again be hoping to catch the eye.
Saracens - Team News: Steve Borthwick returns to skipper the side from the second-row after he, like Strettle, impressed as a second-half replacement last weekend in what was his first appearance of the season. Ethienne Reynecke, George Kruis, Justin Melck, Neil de Kock and Kameli Ratuvou have also been drafted into the starting line-up, while Derick Hougaard will wear No.10 with Alex Goode having been switched to fullback.
Key Battle: Steve Thompson gets his first chance to shine from the start this weekend and he must be secretly pleased that he will not be going head-to-head with the phenom that is Schalk Brits, with the South African having been dropped to the bench, presumably because he took a nasty knock against the Sharks. Ethienne Reynecke will start at hooker instead and Thompson will be far more confident of winning the hooking duel as a result.
Trivia: Leeds have not won any Premiership matches in rounds 1, 2 and 3 since beating Rotherham in season 2003/04.
Stats: Leeds are joint-top of the off-loading stats with Harlequins, while Saracens have made the second highest number of tackles so far this season.
"Our problem at the moment is that we have leaked a couple of unnecessary tries. [But] We are confident that we are going in the right direction. If we can develop as much as we did from the first game to the second game into our third game, then I think we will be looking at a good win." - Leeds director of rugby Andy Key
"Leeds are a very committed side and we are expecting a fiercely competitive match at Headingley. Our intensity and workrate will have to be at its best if we are to get the result we want." - Saracens director of rugby Brendan Venter
Fantasy: Goal-kicking scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth is proving a dream signing in the Fantasy leagues. Time to sign him up? ESPN Premiership Rugby Fantasy Game
Prediction: Sarries have failed to impress thus far this season but they should enough in the second half of last weekend's win over Sale to suggest that they will have far too much class for Leeds, who showed their frailty in failing to see off Gloucester.