Saracens v Exeter Chiefs Premiership Preview

Saracens host Exeter Chiefs at Allianz Park

Saracens have named Veteran scrum-half Neil De Kock will make his 250th in Saturday’s Aviva Premiership match against Exeter Chiefs at Allianz Park.

De Kock will come off the replacements bench but Alex Goode and wing Chris Wyles will make their 200th appearances for the club in the starting line up.

Full-back Goode, will start at full-back, alongside fellow double-centurion Chris Wyles in the back three. Duncan Taylor returns to club action to take his place on the right wing.

At centre, Brad Barritt continues to skipper the side from inside centre. Marcelo Bosch is his midfield partner.

In the halves, Richard Wigglesworth starts at scrumhalf and will be joined by Owen Farrell who is back in his customary No10 shirt after England duty.

Up front, Mako Vunipola starts at loosehead prop and will be joined by Schalk Brits (hooker) and Petrus Du Plessis (tighthead prop) in the Saracens front row.

At lock, England’s Grand Slam engine room will be reunited as Maro Itoje and George Kruis will pack down alongside each other. In the back row, Billy Vunipola starts at No8 with Jackson Wray shifting to blindside flanker and Will Fraser coming into the side at openside flanker.

On the bench, Jared Saunders, Richard Barrington and Titi Lamositele are the named front-row replacements, with Alistair Hargreaves and Kelly Brown the forward cover. Neil De Kock covers half-back with three-quarters Nick Tompkins and Mike Ellery also included in the matchday 23.

Saracens have relinquished top spot in the Aviva Premiership table for the first time this season, having won just one of their last four matches, against London Irish in New Jersey, USA, in round 16.

Saracens have lost two of their last three matches at Allianz Park.

Exeter Chiefs home win over Northampton Saints took them to the top of the Aviva Premiership Rugby table for only the fourth time, but all the previous occasions have been after rounds 1 or 2.

The Chiefs only defeat in their last five Aviva Premiership Rugby fixtures was 27-31 at Leicester on 6th March.

The two sides have met on 11 previous occasions in Premiership Rugby with Saracens winning seven and Exeter four.

The Chiefs were victorious on their most recent visit to Allianz Park: 24-20 in round 21 last year.

Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter has made four changes made up front where there are starts for Alec Hepburn, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Julian Salvi and Damian Welch, the latter making his first return since mid-December when he picked up a pectoral injury away to Clermont Auverge.

Behind, Phil Dollman’s return at full-back means Aussie international Lachie Turner shunts to the left wing with James Short, himself a former Saracens player, being given the week off by Baxter.

On the bench, Ben Moon – who will make his 100th Premiership appearance if summoned – is joined by the returning Moray Low, Kai Horstmann and Will Hooley, all of whom sat out last weekend’s home clash with Northampton.

It’s the first time this season that the Chiefs have occupied top spot, but Baxter has urged his players to embrace the experience and not worry themselves about losing their lofty placing.

“I don’t mind talking about it quite openly – we are top of the league and it is a fantastic test to see if we clam up and stop doing what we do or if we come closer together as a team and it brings the best out of us. It is a fantastic challenge,” said Baxter.

“We have to enjoy that and mentally that is going to be a big thing for us. That will be our focus – not being edgy and nervous – but instead enjoy being top and enjoying the fight to stay there.

Baxter clearly liked what he saw from his troops during that 40 minutes and says that must be the starting point when they take to the field against Saracens.

“All we did in the second half was get our heads down, kept things simple and do what we are good at,” explained the head coach. “There was no magic or no miracles to it, it was just good, solid disciplined application of what we do day by day in training.

“Sure the players will learn from that and we don’t need to find miracles to win big games of rugby, but we do have to be good in what we do and I am hoping we follow that through for the rest of the season. The truth is we will have nervy moments going ahead, but if these games weren’t big there would be no point to them. Some of the lads will be nervy and edgy and there will be the odd mistake, but that won’t kill us, it’s more how we get on with it and how we respond.”

Match : Saracens v Exeter
Date : Saturday 26 March
Venue : Allianz Park,
Kick Off : 3.15pm
Live on: BT Sport
Match Officials
Referee :Matthew Carley (42nd Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Ross Campbell & Paul Dix.
TMO: David Grashoff

Teams

Saracens

15 Alex Goode , 14 Duncan Taylor , 13 Marcelo Bosch , 12 Brad Barritt (c) , 11 Chris Wyles , 10 Owen Farrell , 9 Richard Wigglesworth , 1 Mako Vunipola , 2 Schalk Brits , 3 Petrus Du Plessis , 4 George Kruis , 5 Maro Itoje , 6 Jackson Wray , 7 Will Fraser , 8 Billy Vunipola

Replacements : 16 Jared Saunders , 17 Richard Barrington , 18 Titi Lamositele , 19 Alistair Hargreaves , 20 Kelly Brown , 21 Neil De Kock , 22 Nick Tompkins , 23 Mike Ellery

Exeter Chiefs

15 Phil Dollman , 14 Olly Woodburn , 13 Henry Slade , 12 Ian Whitten , 11 Lachie Turner , 10 Gareth Steenson (capt) , 9 Dave Lewis , 1 Alec Hepburn , 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie , 3 Harry Williams , 4 Geoff Parling , 5 Damian Welch , 6 Dave Ewers , 7 Julian Salvi , 8 Thomas Waldrom

Replacements : 16 Elvis Taione , 17 Ben Moon , 18 Moray Low , 19 Ollie Atkins , 20 Kai Horstmann , 21 Will Chudley , 22 Will Hooley , 23 Max Bodilly

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