Sarries desperate to bounce back
February 23, 2012
Leicester stripped Sarries of their unbeaten home record last weekend © Getty Images
Saracens will look to bounce back from their agonising defeat to Leicester Tigers last weekend when they travel to Worcester Warriors on Friday night.
Second-place Sarries were stripped of their proud home record - having been unbeaten at Vicarage Road since October 2010 - last Sunday when Geordan Murphy kicked an injury-time drop-goal to clinch a 20-19 victory for the Tigers. The defeat meant they lost ground on leaders Harlequins at the top of the Premiership table and they will be desperate to regain the wining habit against Worcester.
Director of rugby Mark McCall has made five changes for their trip to Sixways with Hugh Vyvyan and Ernst Joubert returning to the forwards and rugby league import Joel Tomkins making his Premiership debut at outside centre. Elsewhere Michael Tagicakibau is back on the wing and Will Fraser comes into the back-row.
Worcester rugby director Richard Hill, who makes four switches, said: "Our last four league fixtures have seen us play three away from Sixways, so we always knew it was going to be a difficult period. However, the team has responded magnificently. We now enter a series of four games out of six at home, so this is the time to press on."
Wasps boss David Young has urged his players to sharpen their clinical edge ahead of their clash with Sale Sharks. The Londoners head to Stockport just six points above bottom club and relegation favourites Newcastle, who closed the gap by beating London Irish last time out.
That result means Wasps, European champions in 2004 and 2007, remain realistic candidates to drop out of the Premiership. It would have been an unthinkable prospect at the start of this season, but only four wins from 15 league fixtures tell a dismal story.
"I have no doubt that Newcastle will win a few more games, but it is up to us to control what we can control," rugby director Young said. "We are six points in front of them, but just four behind Worcester. We can still catch teams in front of us if we can turn the narrow losses into wins.
"I genuinely believe after the last two performances (against Saracens and Exeter) that if we can just improve another 10-15% then that win is not far away from us. We are creating good scoring opportunities, but what we need is to turn those chances from being a yard short of the line into being a yard over it. We simply need to be more clinical.
"Over the last two games we were the side who looked more likely to score tries, but the difference at the moment is that we are not finishing them off."
Young includes Ospreys wing loan signing Tom Prydie at Edgeley Park in a team captained by lock Marco Wentzel, while young forward prospects James Cannon and Joe Launchbury also feature.
Sale, still in contention for a title play-off place, include Wales international Andy Powell at No.8 after he failed to gain a place in Wales' 22 for their Six Nations clash against Wales on Saturday.
Leaders Harlequins travel to Kingsholm on Saturday. Conor O'Shea's team have opened up a six-point lead at the top of the Aviva Premiership and tackle an in-form Gloucester outfit that has beaten Bath and Northampton Saints in recent weeks.
Samoa international centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu is absent for Gloucester after suffering a knock during training, so Henry Trinder is called up as Mike Tindall's midfield partner. With hooker Scott Lawson and lock Jim Hamilton on Six Nations duty for Scotland, Darren Dawidiuk and Will James start as their respective replacements.
Centre Jordan Turner-Hall starts for Quins after being left out of England's match-day 22 against Wales this weekend, and Ross Chisholm replaces fullback Mike Brown in a team captained by No.8 Nick Easter.
Bath lost out to their West Country rivals on their own turf last weekend and face another local test when they play Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park on Saturday. Exeter show two changes from the side that beat Wasps last weekend, both up-front. Hooker Chris Whitehead starts instead of Neil Clark, with former Bath lock Peter Short also featuring as he takes over from Aly Muldowney.
Ex-England lock Dave Attwood is recalled as Bath's solitary change in the pack for their trip to Sandy Park. Behind the scrum, Matt Carraro partners Olly Barkley in midfield, with Matt Banahan moving to the wing and Sam Vesty featuring at fullback.
Buoyed by their victory over London Irish, Newcastle travel to Welford Road to face Leicester Tigers. The Tigers will be without England duo Toby Flood and Manu Tuilagi who have been called up to face Wales after proving their fitness against Sarries last weekend.
Leicester skipper Geordan Murphy will make his 300th first team appearance for the Tigers. Matt Smith and Billy Twelvetrees team up in midfield, with George Ford replacing England's Toby Flood at fly-half.
Newcastle head to Welford Road without lock Adriaan Fondse, who is suspended after being sent off during last Saturday's victory over London Irish. Andrew van der Heijden replaces him, while one other change sees a start for Jeremy Manning on the wing.
On Sunday third-place Northampton Saints travel to London Irish. The Exiles are struggling for form after successive defeats in the Premiership, including a 19-10 loss to basement-side Newcastle last weekend.
Irish are bolstered by the return of back-row forwards Declan Danaher and Chris Hala'ufia. Elsewhere, wing Topsy Ojo is recalled, Dan Bowden lines up at inside centre and Irish head coach Toby Booth opts for a half-back pairing of Adrian Jarvis and Ross Sansom.
Northampton are again without their sizeable contingent of international players for the trip to Reading. Flanker Calum Clark captains Saints at the Madejski Stadium, leading a team that also includes starts for fly-half Stephen Myler, prop Paul Doran-Jones and No.8 Roger Wilson.
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