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Saracens 40 Edinburgh 7: Bonus-point win sends Sarries through in Vicarage Road send-off

Saracens 40 Edinburgh 7: Ashton doubles lifts Sarries in Vicarage Road send-off

By
Luke Benedict

PUBLISHED:

15:50 GMT, 20 January 2013

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UPDATED:

23:08 GMT, 20 January 2013

England winger Chris Ashton defied the snow to score two tries and book Saracens a Heineken Cup quater-final clash with Ulster.

It was the sort of day when a winger only touches the ball twice – luckily for Ashton he scored both times. The first was a routine chase but the second came from a controversial cross-field kick from Owen Farrell.

The England fly-half, wearing the Saracens number 13 shirt yesterday, looked to be teeing up a penalty but spotted Ashton open wide and pulled the trigger. The Edinburgh players were furious as the kicking tee was already on the pitch, meaning Saracens, playing their final match at Vicarage Road, had no option but to kick.

Saracens finished first in their table ahead of Munster and Racing Metro

Top dogs: Saracens finished first in their table ahead of Munster and Racing Metro

Charlie Hodgson celebrates after scoring Saracens' fourth try to secure their bonus-point

Ecstatic: Charlie Hodgson celebrates after scoring Saracens' fourth try to secure their bonus-point

But Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall preferred to salute Ashton, saying: 'It was great to see Ashy score a couple of tries and getting back to what he really does best.

'The second try was fantastic and I wish I could claim credit for thinking that up; Ashy and Owen (Farrell) just saw each other and they pulled it off.

'We can appreciate just how difficult it was out there and we said after the game that the conditions were as bad as it gets with the ball like a bar of soap.’

Saracens' skipper Steve Borthwick rampages through tackles at a very snowy Vicarage Road

Power: Saracens' skipper Steve Borthwick rampages through tackles at a very snowy Vicarage Road

Richard Wigglesworth handed Edinburgh a way back before half-time. With the ball slipping around like an ice-hockey puck the Saracens scrum-half fumbled and Greig Tonks tobogganed over the line.

But the game was won early in the second half with an unstoppable lineout drive. Eight snowmen might have done a better job of slowing down the driving maul than the visiting pack and Matt Stevens emerged smiling.

Saracens' Ernst Joubert takes a line-out on full stretch

Reach for the sky: Saracens' Ernst Joubert takes a line-out on full stretch

It was Charlie Hodgson who scored the crucial fourth try to cap off another polished performance this season. Edinburgh captain Greg Laidlaw was distracted by Joel Tomkins’ dummy line and Hodgson simply stepped through the defence.

The only question for Saracens now is where to stage April’s quarter-final. Their new Allianz Park 10,000-seater stadium is not large enough so the club are ‘assessing all options’ with Wembley a possibility.

Will Fraserescapes the Edinburgh defence on his way to a break the gain line

Braving the cold: Will Fraserescapes the Edinburgh defence on his way to a break the gain line

The groundsmen did a terrific job to get the match on and have the send-off for Vicarage Road

Snowed under: The groundsmen did a terrific job to get the match on and have the send-off for Vicarage Road

Saracens 28 Gloucester 23: match report

Saracens 28 Gloucester 23: Hodgson marks return by kicking hosts back into second

PUBLISHED:

17:21 GMT, 2 December 2012

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UPDATED:

17:21 GMT, 2 December 2012

Fly-half Charlie Hodgson kicked 23 points as Saracens moved back into second place in the Aviva Premiership table with victory over Gloucester at Vicarage Road.

Hodgson, returning to the side after four weeks out with a fractured cheekbone, landed seven penalties and a conversion – with only one miss – to hand captain Steve Borthwick victory on his 100th appearance for the club.

But they were pushed all the way by Gloucester who competed superbly but were ultimately sunk by replacement Richard Wigglesworth's crucial second-half try for Sarries.

Kicking on: Charlie Hodgson marked his return to Saracens by scoring 23 points

Kicking on: Charlie Hodgson marked his return to Saracens by scoring 23 points

Gloucester, who had two players sin-binned, replied with tries from prop Dan Murphy and flanker Akapusi Qera, with Billy Twelvetrees kicking their other 13 points.

Twelvetrees, switched from centre to fly-half with Freddie Burns on England duty as a replacement in the Twickenham triumph over New Zealand, kicked Gloucester into an early 6-0 lead with penalties in the second and seventh minutes.

Hodgson's second penalty levelled the scores at 6-6 in the 27th minute but, two minutes later, Gloucester scored the first try of the match after the former England fly-half's clearance kick was charged down.

Prop Murphy, who blocked the kick, produced a neat one-touch to control the ball with his boot and a clean pair of hands to collect it and drive over the line, with Twelvetrees converting.

But, three minutes later, Murphy became the villain when he was sin-binned by referee Sean Davey for killing the ball at a ruck.

Hodgson made partial amends for his earlier blunder by kicking the resulting penalty.

Crunched: Billy Twelvetrees of Gloucester runs into trouble

Crunched: Billy Twelvetrees of Gloucester runs into trouble

Coming together: John Smit (right) tries to power past Twelvetrees

Coming together: John Smit (right) tries to power past Twelvetrees

Gloucester sent on Nick Wood as a temporary front-row replacement for Murphy but his first scrum was penalised on the halfway line and Hodgson made his fourth kick appear effortless from the halfway line to reduce the deficit to a single point four minutes before the interval.

Hodgson struck again to kick Saracens ahead three minutes into the second half after Gloucester were penalised for failing to roll away at the tackle.

But Gloucester responded with number eight Sione Kalamafoni making a surging run through the middle from the halfway line before their pack mounted a concerted series of forward drives.

They moved the ball wide before Qera crashed over in the left corner, with Twelvetrees adding the conversion from the touchline.

Saracens, stung into action, came storming back and when Kalamafoni blatantly killed the ball at a ruck he became the second visiting player to be yellow-carded.

Gloucester were forced to defend desperately as Sarries, attempting to capitalise on their second extra-man advantage, threw everything at them in a series of forward assaults.

Easily done: Richard Wigglesworth dives over the line to score a try

Easily done: Richard Wigglesworth dives over the line to score a try

Gloucester somehow kept them out but they were conceding penalties and Hodgson landed his sixth in the 54th minute before suffering his first miss at the seventh attempt three minutes later as he tried to kick the home side ahead from long range.

But Saracens took the lead for the second time in the match when full-back Chris Wyles, back from international duty with the United States, split the Gloucester defence before releasing replacement scrum-half Wigglesworth who crossed in the corner for a real winger's try, converted by Hodgson.

Twelvetrees cut the gap to two points with his third penalty before Hodgson responded with his seventh.

Gloucester mounted a desperate late assault which saw Wigglesworth sin-binned but Saracens managed to soak up the pressure.

2002 autumn internationals: How England tamed the big three

How England tamed the big three: Ten years on from an autumn to remember

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UPDATED:

23:49 GMT, 4 November 2012

Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal to win the World Cup in November 2003 is etched in the memory of every England rugby fan.

But the foundation was laid a year earlier with stunning victories in successive weeks in the 2002 autumn series against the three southern hemisphere giants New Zealand, Australia and South Africa – a feat achieved neither before nor since.

The series started on November 9, 2002 with the mighty All BIacks.

Try time: Danny Lee can't stop Jonny Wilkinson from scoring

Try time: Danny Lee can't stop Jonny Wilkinson from scoring

ENGLAND 31 NEW ZEALAND 28

ENGLAND: Robinson; Simpson-Daniel (Healey 77), Greenwood (Johnston 40), Tindall, Cohen; Wilkinson, Dawson; Woodman, Thompson, Vickery; Johnson, Grewcock (Kay 60); Moody, Hill, Dallaglio (Back 70).
Subs not used: Regan, Leonard, Stimpson.
Tries: Cohen, Moody, Wilkinson.
Cons: Wilkinson (2).
Pens: Wilkinson (3).
DG: Wilkinson.

NEW ZEALAND: Blair; Howlett, Umaga, Lowen (Robinson 46), Lomu; Spencer (Mehrtens 40), Devine (Lee 24); McDonnell, Hore, Meeuws; Robinson (Mika 60), Williams; Randall, Holah, Broomhall.
Subs not used: Mealamu, Hayman, So’oialo.
Tries: Howlett, Lee, Lomu (2).
Cons: Blair (2), Mehrtens (2).
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (SA).

It is sometimes forgotten England had not lost to southern hemisphere opposition since the South African tour in June 2000. They had also won 15 matches in a row at Twickenham, so confidence was high.

The match proved a real nail-biter, as the 31-28 scoreline would suggest. But it took a heroic Ben Cohen tackle in the corner and an equally vital Ben Kay line-out steal on England’s line to preserve the narrow advantage.

‘I’d come on as a replacement for Steve Borthwick,’ Kay remembers. ‘I had already established myself in the England squad. But I think that steal possibly cemented my reputation as a good line-out leader.

‘We proved that we could handle a
pressure situation just as we did in a different scenario against
Australia the week after. That was so important when we got to the World
Cup.’

The game against Australia had a strange
build-up. Any fly on the wall in the England team room at Pennyhill
Park Hotel 10 years ago next week would have been well advised to spread
his wings over his ears when two rugby giants clashed.

Wrecking ball: Jonah Lomu brushes aside James Simpson-Daniel

Wrecking ball: Jonah Lomu brushes aside James Simpson-Daniel

ENGLAND 32 AUSTRALIA 31

ENGLAND: Robinson; Simpson-Daniel, Greenwood, Tindall (Healey 80), Cohen; Wilkinson, Dawson; Leonard, Thompson, Vickery; Johnson, Kay; Moody, Hill, Back.
Subs not used: Regan, Morris, Grewcock, Dallaglio, Gomarsall, Stimpson.
Tries: Cohen (2).
Cons: Wilkinson (2).
Pens: Wilkinson (6).

AUSTRALIA: Burke; Sailor, Herbert (Giteau 73), Flatley, Mortlock; Larkham, Gregan; Noriega (Darwin 77), Paul (Freier 69), Young; Vickerman (Griffin 56), Harrison (Croft 70); Cockbain, Smith, Kefu.
Subs not used: Whitaker, Staniforth.
Tries: Sailor, Flatley (2).
Cons: Burke (2).
Pens: Burke (4).
Referee: Paul Honiss (NZ).

England No 8 Lawrence Dallaglio, fresh from playing his part in the famous defeat of the All Blacks, had just found out that he had been left out of the side to face the world champions. He wanted to ‘discuss’ the matter with a pre-knighted Clive Woodward, the England manager. ‘We lunched together the other day and had a good laugh about it,’ Dallaglio told Sportsmail.

‘At least Clive did. It is not a subject I could ever laugh about.’

Dallaglio,
the very personification of pride and patriotism, had quite reasonably
anticipated leading out England against the Aussies for his 50th cap. He
had never previously been dropped and never previously been allocated a
seat on an international bench.

He adds: ‘I was not happy. I think you can assume the air was blue.

‘I
thought I had played pretty well against New Zealand. The stats showed
that I had been top tackler. Actually, I don’t think Clive realised it
would have been my 50th cap.

Putting the boot in: Wilkinson kicks a penalty against the All Blacks

Putting the boot in: Wilkinson kicks a penalty against the All Blacks

Swallow dive: Ben Cohen goes over in the win against New Zealand

Swallow dive: Ben Cohen goes over in the win against New Zealand

‘At least I had captained England and experienced the honour of leading the team out. I would have been even angrier had I not and been denied that moment.’

Woodward remembers a ‘good’ meeting. ‘It was probably the stormiest I ever had with a player. Lawrence was furious. He did not like being dropped. He tried to persuade me to say that he had been rested. I refused. He had been dropped and that was that.’

Ben Kay, who replaced Danny Grewcock in the second row for the second of the Antipodean encounters, was a member of a group all too aware. ‘I heard some crashing about in Lawrence’s bedroom that night,’ he recalls.

Legend: England captain Martin Johnson breaks clear

Legend: England captain Martin Johnson breaks clear

Woodward pretty much knew his optimum World Cup XV even at that stage of the preparations. ‘The back row was certainly 100 per cent settled. It was always going to be (Richard) Hill, Dallaglio and (Neil) Back. They were all world class.’

In fact, neither Dallaglio nor Back were in the starting line-up for all three autumn internationals. But no fewer than 10 of the 15 who began the World Cup final featured in all three teams that November. Only Josh Lewsey of the World Cup side had yet to emerge. He did not make his home England debut until the 2003 Six Nations.

Job done: Johnson lifts the Cook Cup after the win over Australia

Job done: Johnson lifts the Cook Cup after the win over Australia

‘We did have a settled side,’ Woodward
says. ‘And it is important to keep winning and building momentum ahead
of a world championship.

‘But I have always thought it a bit of a cop-out when coaches talk about using any international as a preparation for this or that.

High hopes: A young Mike Tindall skips clear of a South African challenge

High hopes: A young Mike Tindall skips clear of a South African challenge

ENGLAND 53 SOUTH AFRICA 3

ENGLAND: Robinson; Cohen, Greenwood (Stimpson 70), Tindall, Christophers; Wilkinson (Healey 44), Dawson (Gomarsall 57); Leonard, Thompson, Vickery; Johnson, Kay (Grewcock 70); Moody (Dallaglio 14), Hill, Back.
Subs not used: Regan, Morris.
Tries: Cohen, Greenwood 2.
Pen try: Back, Hill, Dallaglio.
Cons: Wilkinson, Dawson, Gomarsall (2), Stimpson (2).
Pens: Wilkinson (2).

SOUTH AFRICA: Greeff; Paulse (Russell 48), Fleck, James, Lombard; Pretorius (Jacobs 54), Conradie (Jordaan 10); Roux, Dalton (Van Biljon 54), Carstens; Labuschagne, Venter; Krige, Wannenburg, Niekerk.
Subs not used: Van der Linde, Wentzel, Uys.
Pen: Pretorius.
Sent off: Labuschagne (23).
Referee: Paddy O’Brien (NZ).

‘Test rugby is the absolute pinnacle. I
firmly believed in that old cliche of taking one game at a time and
picking a side to win that match.’ The contest against the Aussies was
another determined display by England. They ended up winning 32-31,
demonstrating that England could come from behind as well as hold on. A
10-point lead was turned into a 12-point deficit as Australia scored 22
unanswered points either side of half-time.

Dallaglio came on as a blood replacement for Richard Hill in that period, and recalls: ‘It was like a blur. We lost two tries and I left the field. As I was trotting off I heard a Gloucester voice in the crowd shout, “Hey, Dallaglio, we were winning before you came on”. I had to agree with him.

‘These wins, though, and further ones against southern hemisphere countries in 2003, were very important in building up confidence for the World Cup. We were better than them and they knew it.’

Last up, a week later, were South Africa. The 53-3 annihilation of the shambolic Springboks is remembered less for England’s seven tries than the cheap shots and calculated violence perpetrated by the tourists. Lock Jannes Labuschagne, who felled Wilkinson with a late shoulder charge, might not have been the only South African shown a red card.

Three Saturdays. Three unforgettable victories. History in the making.

Mauling: Neil Back celebrates a Will Greenwood try

Mauling: Neil Back celebrates a Will Greenwood try

Ten years on, an England side still early in the development stage are preparing for the mighty challenge provided by, in order, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

‘New Zealand look pretty much unbeatable,’ Woodward reckons. ‘But it is always a good time of the year to face the southern hemisphere countries. They are ending their season while we are beginning ours. And the Olympic Games demonstrated more than I had realised that home advantage is a huge factor in sport.’

Mastermind: Woodward back in 2002

Mastermind: Woodward back in 2002

Edinburgh 0 Saracens 45: Charlie Hodgson inspires bonus-point thrashing

Edinburgh 0 Saracens 45: Perfect start as Hodgson inspires bonus-point thrashing

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UPDATED:

14:49 GMT, 13 October 2012

Saracens got their Heineken Cup campaign off to a splendid start with a one-sided bonus-point victory over last season's semi-finalists Edinburgh.

Charlie Hodgson's right boot was in fine form, with the former England fly half scoring the last of five tries to complete a personal haul of 25 points.

More follows…

Over the line: Chris Ashton scores the third try

Over the line: Chris Ashton scores the third try

Match facts

Edinburgh: Brown, Jones, De Luca, Scott, T. Visser, Laidlaw, Rees, Yapp, Ford, Nel, Gilchrist, Cox, Denton, Rennie, McInally.

Replacements: Fife for T. Visser (41),
Leonard for Laidlaw (41), Leck for Rees (70),
Hislop for Yapp (70), Titterrell for Ford (62),
Cross for Nel (70), McAlpine for Gilchrist (77),
Talei for McInally (65).

Saracens: Goode, Ashton, Tomkins, Barritt, Strettle, Hodgson, Wigglesworth, Vunipola, Brits, Stevens, Borthwick, Botha, Brown, Fraser, Wray.

Replacements: Farrell for Tomkins (56),
Wyles for Strettle (70), de Kock for Wigglesworth (56),
Gill for Vunipola (56), Smit for Brits (65),
Du Plessis for Stevens (65), Kruis for Botha (56),
Saull for Brown (56).

Tries: Tomkins, Farrell, Ashton, Goode, Hodgson.

Cons: Hodgson 4. Pens: Hodgson 4.

Att: 6,543

Ref: John Lacey (Ireland).

Heineken Cup 2012-13: Sportsmail"s guide to Europe"s premier rugby competition

Ready to rumble: Sportsmail's guide to Europe's premier rugby competition

By
Chris Foy

PUBLISHED:

21:37 GMT, 10 October 2012

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UPDATED:

23:49 GMT, 10 October 2012

The Heineken Cup kicks off this weekend as 24 teams will battle to win the crown that Leinster won at Twickenham in May. Here, Sportsmail's Chris Foy gives his guide to the six pools and the teams involved.

Wrecking ball: Courtney Lawes is colossal for the Saints

Wrecking ball: Courtney Lawes is colossal for the Saints

POOL ONE

A classic Pool of Death. Three of these four reached last season’s quarter-finals, with Edinburgh making it to the last four. The Scots belied their league struggles with epic home-and-away wins over Racing Metro, the rich French side who have just signed Olly Barkley from Bath. Munster don’t seem to be the force they were but Saracens, now with Chris Ashton’s prolific finishing, have the calibre to finish top.

Predicted qualifier: Saracens.

Edinburgh

Coach: Michael Bradley.
Captain: Greig Laidlaw.
Ground: Murrayfield (capacity: 67,144).
Last year: Semi-final. ERC ranking: 13.
Star man: Tim Visser (wing) – Scotland’s giant ‘Flying Dutchman’ has emerged as a try-scorer extraordinaire.
Title odds: 125-1.

Munster

Coach: Rob Penney.
Captain: Doug Howlett.
Ground: Thomond Park (26,000).
Last year: Quarter-final. ERC ranking: 4.
Star man: Ronan O’Gara (fly half) – The veteran has won countless pressure games for his province in Europe.
Title odds: 14-1.

Racing Metro

Coach: Pierre Berbizier.
Captain: Jacques Cronje.
Ground: Stade Olympique Yves du Manoir (14,000).
Last year: Pool. ERC ranking: 29.
Star man: Juan Martin Hernandez (fly half) – ‘El Mago’ (The Magician) is a regal playmaker at his best.
Title odds: 66-1.

Saracens

Coach: Mark McCall.
Captain: Steve Borthwick.
Ground: Vicarage Road (18,214).
Last year: Qtr-final. ERC ranking: 20.
Star man: Schalk Brits (hooker) – South African is a combative forward with the skills of a midfield back.
Title odds: 16-1.

Opening fixtures — Saturday: Edinburgh v Saracens, 1.35; Racing Metro 92 v Munster, 1.35.

POOL TWO

Leicester are hell-bent on making amends for failing to reach the knock-out stages. Richard Cockerill’s side can progress if they avoid a pile of injuries, but Toulouse – awash with Test talent – are the team to beat. The Ospreys retain clout up front but their wait for European glory is destined to go on.

Predicted qualifier: Toulouse.

Leicester

Coach: Richard Cockerill.
Captain: Geordan Murphy.
Ground: Welford Road (24,000).
Last year: Pool. ERC ranking: 9.
Star man: Ben Youngs (scrum-half) – Back from injury to galvanise the Tigers with his high-octane running.
Title odds: 14-1.

Ospreys

Coach: Steve Tandy.
Captain: Alun Wyn Jones.
Ground: Liberty Stadium (20,520).
Last year: Pool. ERC ranking: 14.
Star man: Adam Jones (prop) – Every side craves a top tighthead and the Welsh region arguably have the world’s best.
Title odds: 40-1.

Toulouse

Coach: Guy Noves.
Captain: Thierry Dusautoir.
Ground: Stade Ernest Wallon (19,000).
Last year: Qtr-final. ERC ranking: 2.
Star man: Dusautoir (flanker) – Rugged, inspiring leader, brutal in defence and a menace at the breakdown.
Title odds: 5-1.

Treviso

Coach: Vittorio Munari.
Captain: Antonio Pavanello.
Ground: Stadio Comunale di Monigo (9,000).
Last year: Pool. ERC ranking: 28.
Star man: Robert Barbieri (Flanker/No 8) – A back-row bruiser with a handy knack of scoring tries.
Title odds: 2000-1.

Opening fixtures — Friday: Ospreys v Treviso, 8pm. Sunday: Toulouse v Leicester, 3pm.

POOL THREE

Aviva Premiership champions Harlequins suffered a shock defeat at Connacht last season but having won in Toulouse, Conor O’Shea’s men will believe they can handle a trip to Biarritz. The most Connacht and newcomers Zebre can aim for is an upset win at home.

Predicted qualifiers: Harlequins, Biarritz.

Biarritz

Coach: Laurent Rodriguez.
Captain: Imanol Harinordoquy.
Ground: Parc des Sports Aguilera (13,400).
Last year: Pool. ERC ranking: 3.
Star man: Dimitri Yachvili (Scrum-half) – The little general makes the Basque team tick and is a renowned goal-kicker.
Title odds: 14-1.

Connacht

Coach: Eric Elwood.
Captain: Gavin Duffy.
Ground: Sportsground, Galway (9,000).
Last year: Pool. ERC ranking: 24.
Star man: Dan Parks (fly-half) – The Australian-born, former Scotland No 10 is an experienced playmaker.
Title odds: 1000-1.

Harlequins

Coach: Conor O’Shea.
Captain: Chris Robshaw.
Ground: Twickenham Stoop (14,282).
Last year: Pool. ERC ranking: 11.
Star man: Nick Easter (No 8) – Veteran former captain is on song and hasn’t lost hope of a Test recall.
Title odds: 10-1.

Zebre

Coach: Roberto Manghi.
Captain: Marco Bortolami.
Ground: Stadio XXV Aprile (5,000).
Last year: N/A. ERC ranking: N/A.
Star man: Salvatore Perugini (Prop) – A one-time cornerstone of the Italy scrum who made his mark in Europe at Toulouse.
Title odds: 5000-1.

Opening fixtures: Saturday: Zebre v Connacht, 1.35pm, Harlequins v Biarritz, 6pm

POOL FOUR

Northampton lost the 2011 final to Leinster in agonising fashion after storming into a big lead, but have one of the most formidable packs in the tournament. Ulster have responded to the shattering death of their young centre, Nevin Spence, by sweeping all before them in recent weeks and with their blend of South African and home-grown quality bolstered by the return of Tommy Bowe.

Predicted qualifier: Ulster.

Castres

Coach: Laurent Travers.
Captain: Matthias Rolland.
Ground: Stade Pierre Antoine (10,000).
Last year: Pool. ERC ranking: 27th.
Star man: Romain Teulet (Full back) – Goal-kicking full back has been a club stalwart since tournament debut 11 years ago.
Title odds: 80-1.

Glasgow

Coach: Gregor Townsend.
Captain: Alastair Kellock.
Ground: Scotstoun Stadium (5,000).
Last year: Pool. ERC ranking: 19th.
Star man: John Barclay (Flanker) – One-time Scotland captain who is renowned as a classical openside poacher and forager.
Title odds: 200-1.

Northampton

Coach: Jim Mallinder.
Captain: Dylan Hartley.
Ground: Franklin’s Gardens (13,591).
Last year: Pool.ERC ranking: 6th.
Star man: Courtney Lawes (Lock/flanker) – When fit, he is an athletic carrier, strong in the air and a wrecking-ball tackler.
Title odds: 20-1.

Ulster

Coach: David Humphreys.
Captain: Johann Muller.
Ground: Ravenhill (11,700).
Last year: Runners-up.
ERC ranking: 8th. Star man: Stephen Ferris (Flanker) – Figure of monumental influence for his home province, even though his knees are creaking.
Title odds: 18-1.

Opening fixtures: Friday: Ulster v Castres, 8pm, Sunday: Northampton v Glasgow, 12.45pm

POOL FIVE

Exeter jump in at the deep end on their debut in Europe’s premier event – starting with a trip to Dublin to face the champions. Leinster have a raft of Test players and have set new standards of attacking cohesion thanks to Joe Schmidt’s inspired coaching. Clermont have a staggering array of firepower and forward clout, with imports such as Lee Byrne, Nathan Hines and Sitiveni Sivivatu. The Scarlets are not the force of old but they have a potent back line.

Predicted qualifiers: Leinster, Clermont.

Clermont Auvergne

Coach: Vern Cotter.
Captain: Aurelien Rougerie.
Ground: Stade Marcel Michelin (18,000).
Last year: Semi-final. ERC ranking: 7th.
Star man: Wesley Fofana (Centre) – France’s latest midfield sensation was at the heart of run to last four last season.
Title odds: 8-1.

Exeter

Coach: Rob Baxter.
Captain: Tom Hayes.
Ground: Sandy Park (10,744).
Last year: N/A. ERC ranking: 34th.
Star man: Tom Johnson (Flanker) – The back-row dynamo has been instrumental in the Chiefs’ rise, earning England recognition.
Title odds: 500-1.

Leinster

Coach: Joe Schmidt.
Captain: Leo Cullen.
Ground: RDS Arena (18,500).
Last year: Champions. ERC ranking: 1st.
Star man: Richardt Strauss (Hooker) – Amid the household names, the South African who may play for Ireland has been outstanding.
Title odds: 7-2.

Scarlets

Coach: Simon Easterby.
Captain: Rob McCusker.
Ground: Parc y Scarlets (15,180).
Last year: Pool. ERC ranking: 18th.
Star man: George North (Wing) – Giant star of Wales’ Grand Slam and World Cup campaign. Surely a Test Lion-in-waiting.
Title odds: 50-1.

Opening fixtures: Saturday, Clermont Auvergne v Scarlets, 3.40pm, Saturday, Leinster v Exeter 3.40pm

POOL SIX

Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal, has been amassing an ‘army’ and this may be the year when his troops conquer Europe. The French club have such remarkable depth that their pool rivals face a seemingly impossible battle. Yet, the Blues beat Toulon in the Amlin Challenge Cup Final two years ago and have a few high-calibre players of their own, although the new regime is already under fire. Sale return on the back of six straight league defeats leaving them bottom of the Premiership. Montpellier are fourth in the Top 14, but can’t hope to edge out their compatriots in this pool.

Predicted qualifier: Toulon.

Cardiff Blues

Coach: Phil Davies.
Captain: Andries Pretorius.
Ground: Cardiff Arms Park (13,000).
Last year: Quarter-final, ERC ranking: 5th.
Star man: Sam Warburton (Flanker) – Wales skipper has had injury issues but when fit he is among world’s best No 7s.
Title odds: 66-1.

Montpellier

Coach: Fabien Galthie.
Captain: Fulgence Ouedraogo.
Ground: Stade Yves du Manoir (14,719).
Last year: Pool, ERC ranking: 30th.
Star man: Mamuka Gorgodze (Lock/back row) – Colossal Georgian known as ‘Godzilla’ who England struggled to handle at the World Cup.
Title odds: 66-1.

Sale

Coach: Bryan Redpath.
Captain: Dave Seymour.
Ground: Salford City Stadium (12,000).
Last year: N/A, ERC ranking: 25th.
Star man: Richie Gray (Lock) – Yet to hit full throttle since move from Glasgow but Scots’ talisman is a major talent.
Title odds: 200-1.

Toulon

Coach: Bernard Laporte.
Captain: Joe van Niekerk.
Ground: Stade Felix Mayol (14,500).
Last year: N/A. ERC ranking: 12th.
Star man: Steffon Armitage (Flanker) – Among all the global superstars, the English openside has been the most consistent performer.
Title odds: 7-1.

Opening fixtures: Sale v Cardiff Sunday 12.45pm, Toulon v Montpellier Sunday 8pm

Harlequins 16 Saracens 18: Owen Farrell on fire

Harlequins 16 Saracens 18: Farrell on fire for Sarries to break unbeaten Quins run

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UPDATED:

16:54 GMT, 30 September 2012

England fly-half Owen Farrell kicked the winning penalty six minutes from time as Saracens consigned Harlequins to their first defeat in five Aviva Premiership matches this season.

Farrell scored all 18 points for the visitors, with six penalties, in a hard-fought encounter at the Twickenham Stoop.

Harlequins, knocked off the top of the table when Northampton beat Wasps on Friday night, replied with an opportunist try from scrum-half Danny Care and 11 points from the boot of fly-half Nick Evans.

On form: Owen Farrell scored all of Sarries points

On form: Owen Farrell scored all of Sarries points

Breakout: Brad Barritt is tackled by Harlequins' Nick Easter

Breakout: Brad Barritt is tackled by Harlequins' Nick Easter

Match facts

Harlequins: Brown, Stegman, Hopper, Turner-Hall, Monye, Evans, Care, Marler, Gray, Johnston, Kohn, Robson, Guest, Robshaw, Easter.

Replacements: Buchanan for Gray (28), Matthews for Kohn (54), Fa'asavalu for Guest (54).

Not Used: Lambert, Collier, Dickson, Clegg, Lindsay-Hague.

Sin Bin: Kohn (33).

Tries: Care. Cons: Evans. Pens: Evans 3.

Saracens: Goode, Ashton, Tomkins, Barritt, Wyles, Farrell, Wigglesworth, Gill, Brits, Du Plessis, Borthwick, Hargreaves, Brown, Fraser, Joubert.

Replacements: Strettle for Tomkins (53), Hodgson for Wyles (69), Spencer for Wigglesworth (74), Vunipola for Gill (49), Smit for Brits (63), Stevens for Du Plessis (45), Kruis for Hargreaves (54), Saull for Fraser (72).

Sin Bin: Kruis (66).

Pens: Farrell 6.

Att: 14,224

Ref: Andrew Small (RFU).

But the usually dependable former All
Black missed three kickable second-half penalties, any one of which
would have been enough to preserve Quins' 100 per cent record this
season.

Evans kicked Harlequins into a
second-minute lead but six minutes later he saw a second attempt rebound
off the post after Sarries flanker Will Fraser pulled down a rolling
maul.

Saracens drew level in the 12th minute with Farrell's simple opening penalty after Harlequins strayed offside.

Two minutes later Evans restored his side's lead with his second successful kick.

Farrell equalised again in the 21st
minute after former England number eight Nick Easter was penalised for
not rolling away from a ruck.

The first try-scoring opportunity was
wasted by Quins. Evans found Easter but, with full-back Mike Brown
outside him, the back-row man's final pass went straight into the arms
of Saracens' England wing Chris Ashton.

A quick break out of defence put
Sarries on the front foot when Farrell and hooker Schalk Brits combined
to release Ashton down the right touchline but he was superbly tackled
into touch by Brown.

Harlequins hit trouble when they lost
hooker Joe Gray to injury, had lock Ollie Kohn sin-binned and fell
behind to Farrell's third penalty.

Over the line: Danny Care dives over to score a try

Over the line: Danny Care dives over to score a try

Gray's game ended in the 28th minute
when he was replaced for the second time by Rob Buchanan, only four
minutes after returning to the pitch following a 14-minute blood-injury
absence.

Five minutes later referee Andrew
Small showed Kohn the yellow card for killing the ball near his own line
and Farrell landed the resulting penalty.

On the move: Care breaks through

On the move: Care breaks through

But 14-man Quins put the misfortunes
behind them when Care, looking far more lively than England scrum-half
rival and opposite number Richard Wigglesworth, scored a real sniper's
try.

Exploiting a rare gap in the
Premiership's meanest defence, he dashed clear to touch down near the
posts, leaving Evans a simple conversion.

Charge: Harlequins' Mike Brown breaks through a tackle from Saracens' Will Fraser (left) and Steve Borthwick

Charge: Harlequins' Mike Brown breaks through a tackle from Saracens' Will Fraser (left) and Steve Borthwick

Farrell reduced Quins' lead to a single point with a 45-metre penalty four minutes into the second half.

Then hooker Brits produced a touch of
magic worthy of a half-back when he found space and directed an
inch-perfect kick into the corner for the chasing Ashton but he was once
again thwarted by Brown's first-class covering.

Evans missed a 52nd-minute penalty
kick for Harlequins and, three minutes later, Farrell kicked the
visitors ahead after Quins were penalised at the breakdown.

Pure gold: Mo Farah does the Mobot with the Harlequins mascots and daughter Rihanna

Pure gold: Mo Farah does the Mobot with the Harlequins mascots and daughter Rihanna

Evans was off-target again in the 62nd
minute after Sarries' replacement prop Mako Vunipola was penalised for
entering a ruck from the side.

But Evans made no mistake from in
front of the posts in the 66th minute after Saracens' replacement lock
George Kruis, who had only been on the pitch for 12 minutes, was
yellow-carded for hands in the ruck.

Evans then missed another penalty shot before Farrell kicked the winner in the 74th minute.

Exeter 14 Saracens 12: Chiefs squeeze out Sarries

Exeter 14 Saracens 12: Chiefs squeeze out win over Farrell-fired Sarries

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UPDATED:

16:13 GMT, 23 September 2012

Exeter returned to winning ways with their first victory over Saracens at Sandy Park to move into the top six in the Aviva Premiership table as the visitors slipped to their first defeat of the season.

Sireli Naqelevuki scored the game's only try after 54 minutes, with the rest of the Chiefs' points coming from three first-half Ignacio Mieres penalties.

All of Sarries' points came from the boot of fly-half Owen Farrell – two penalties in each half – but his efforts were not enough to help his team avoid a first loss of the campaign.

Options: James Scaysbrook looks for support as Owen Farrell closes in

Options: James Scaysbrook looks for support as Owen Farrell closes in

Match facts

Exeter: Arscott, Dollman, Whitten, Naqelevuki, Jess, Mieres, Thomas, Sturgess, Whitehead, Rimmer, Hayes, Hanks, Phillips, Scaysbrook, Baxter.

Replacements: Foster for Dollman (63), Chudley for Thomas (48), Alcott for Whitehead (70), Muldowney for Hanks (60), White for Phillips (52).

Not Used: Moon, Budgen, Steenson.

Sin Bin: Whitehead (59).

Tries: Naqelevuki.

Pens: Mieres 3.

Saracens: Goode, Ashton, Taylor, Barritt, Short, Farrell, de Kock, Vunipola, George, Nietl, Hargreaves, Botha, Brown, Fraser, Wray.

Replacements: Hodgson for Taylor (67),
Wigglesworth for de Kock (40), Gill for Vunipola (46), Brits for George (46), Stevens for Nietl (52), Borthwick for Hargreaves (46), Joubert for Wray (71).

Not Used: Tomkins.

Sin Bin: Brown (28), Ashton (49).

Pens: Farrell 4.

Att: 6,141

Saracens went into this match unbeaten in the Premiership this season, having drawn 9-9 against Leicester at Wembley last weekend and having won their last four games on the road.

The visitors included England international Chris Ashton in their starting line-up, the 25-year-old donning a head bandage after suffering minor cuts to the left side of his face during a brief alteration with a stranger during a night out in London last weekend.

Scrum-half Neil de Kock made his 150th appearance in a Sarries side led by flanker Kelly Brown. Hooker Jamie George, lock Alistair Hargreaves and outside Duncan Taylor all made their first starts of the campaign.

Exeter opened their season at Sandy Park with a convincing 43-6 triumph over Sale but that was followed by defeats at Northampton and newly-promoted London Welsh.

Injuries to Craig Mitchell and Tom Johnson meant prop Carl Rimmer and flanker James Phillips came into the pack. Scrum-half Haydn Thomas was handed his first start of the season, with Ian Whitten moving to the centre and Phil Dollman going to the wing.

Both teams took time to settle into
the game and adjust to the slippery ball before the hosts went close to
scoring after 10 minutes when Thomas charged down a kick from full-back
Andy Goode but, after several drives, the Chiefs knocked on at the line.

But
having given away several penalties, a couple when in attacking
positions, at the breakdown it was Saracens who broke the deadlock as
fly-half Owen Farrell landed a 25-metre penalty from just to the left of
the posts.

Just before the midway point of the
half the Chiefs were back on level terms thanks to a 40-metre penalty
from Argentina fly-half Mieres, 10 metres in from the right touchline.

But
the Chiefs failed to learn from earlier errors and were again penalised
at the breakdown as Farrell slotted a 25-metre kick from in front of
the posts.

Nice one: Exeter players celebrate the games only try, scored by Sireli Naqelevuki

Nice one: Exeter players celebrate the games only try, scored by Sireli Naqelevuki

Hargreaves was penalised soon after but Mieres' 30-metre kick hit the upright.

Just before the half-hour mark, with the Chiefs pressing the line, Sarries skipper Brown was shown the yellow card by referee Sean Davey and Mieres kicked the resulting penalty and his third a couple of minutes later to put Exeter 9-6 in front at the break.

Farrell, now matching Ashton with a head bandage after having treatment off the field in the first half, levelled the scores with his fourth penalty shortly after the restart before Ashton was sent to the sin-bin for a shoulder-charge on James Phillips, but Mieres failed with the kick.

Exeter took advantage of the extra man with inside centre Naqelevuki taking an offload from wing Matt Jess to score in the corner only for Farrell reduced the arrears with his fourth penalty just before Chiefs hooker Chris Whitehead was yellow-carded on the hour.

Both sides continued to mount attacks in the final minutes, with the visitors striving for maximum points. Sarries replacement fly-half Charlie Hodgson kicked for touch rather than attempt a long-range penalty, but it came to nothing.

Saracens 40 London Irish 3: Charlie Hodgson scores 2,000th Premiership point

Saracens 40 London Irish 3: Hodgson boots his way to milestone

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UPDATED:

18:03 GMT, 1 September 2012

Milestone: Charlie Hodgson kicks a penalty

Milestone: Charlie Hodgson kicks a penalty

Charlie Hodgson became the first player to pass 2,000 points in the Premiership as Saracens comfortably overcame London Irish in the second London Double Header match at Twickenham.

The former England fly-half, who went into the match on 1,992 points, achieved the milestone with his third penalty in the 27th minute.

England winger Chris Ashton marked
his Saracens debut with two second-half tries – after being sin-binned
in the first half – with England centre Brad Barritt and replacement
Nils Mordt also touching down.

Hodgson finished with 20 points,
adding four conversions to his three early penalties, with full-back
Alex Goode also landing a penalty.

The only Irish reply was a penalty from full-back Tom Homer, last season's Premiership leading scorer with 278 points.

Going over: Brad Barritt of Saracens dives for a try

Going over: Brad Barritt of Saracens dives for a try

After Homer missed his first penalty shot in the second minute, Saracens skipper Steve Borthwick had a fourth-minute try ruled out.

Borthwick was denied by the new regulations which allow the referee to refer the build-up to a try to the television match official – instead of just seeking advice on the act of scoring.

Hodgson created the opening before man-of-the-match prop Mako Vunipola turned the ball inside to send Borthwick over between the posts but TMO Trevor Fisher ruled that the final pass was forward.

Touchdown: Chris Ashton goes over for a Saracens try

Touchdown: Chris Ashton goes over for a Saracens try

After releasing another pass, Hodgson had to survive a bone-shaking late challenge from Ofisa Treviranus which earned the Samoan flanker a 15th-minute yellow card.

While Hodgson recovered, Goode landed the resulting penalty. Saracens were also reduced to 14 men when Ashton, a summer capture from Northampton, was sin-binned by referee Wayne Barnes for a late barge on Irish fly-half Steve Shingler.

Homer, who had missed three early long-range penalties, finally succeeded at the fourth attempt, from just inside the Saracens' half, to open the Exiles' account with the resulting kick.

Hodgson was not to be denied, however, and he landed his second penalty, in off the post, in the 25th minute.

Missed me: Marland Yarde of London Irish jinks past Will Frasser

Missed me: Marland Yarde of London Irish jinks past Will Frasser

Two minutes later Hodgson, who scored most of his points for former club Sale Sharks, took his Premiership tally to 2,001 with his third penalty of the match to give his side a 12-3 lead, which they retained until the end of a feisty first half.

Ashton made amends for his earlier misdemeanour by scoring the first try of the match with the second half only two minutes old.

Hooker Schalk Brits, former Wigan Warriors rugby league star Joel Tomkins and USA international winger Chris Wyles were involved in a quality build-up which ended with Ashton, up in support and showing his best predatory instincts, supplying the finish despite a despairing attempt at a tackle from new Exiles skipper Bryn Evans.

Hodgson converted to stretch the Saracens' lead to 19-3.

Eight minutes later Hodgson was on target once more after Saracens struck again with a try from England centre Brad Barritt.

Pass master: Richard Wigglesworth of Saracens distributes the ball

Pass master: Richard Wigglesworth of Saracens distributes the ball

But Irish looked unfortunate not to have the score referred to the TMO for an apparent forward pass in the build-up before Ashton knocked the ball back, one-handed, for Barritt to pounce.

Saracens flanker Kelly Brown was the third player to be sin-binned, for killing the ball at the breakdown midway through the second half, but his 14 team-mates kept their line intact until he returned.

Back to full strength, Saracens had the final say with two more tries, both converted by Hodgson.

The fly-half passed out of the tackle to set up Ashton for his second try in the 73rd minute and Mordt secured the bonus point with their fourth three minutes from time.

Leicester 21 Saracens 15: George Ford guides Tigers to eighth Aviva Premiership final

Leicester 21 Saracens 15: Teen Ford guides Tigers to eighth Aviva Premiership final

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UPDATED:

21:02 GMT, 13 May 2012

George Ford is on course to parade his teenage talents at Twickenham, as Toby Flood is almost certain to miss Leicester's latest appearance in the Aviva Premiership Final and England's summer tour through injury.

On Saturday, 19-year-old Ford, the IRB Young Player of the Year, illustrated why he was deemed worthy of such a prestigious award by showing remarkable composure to guide the Tigers into their eighth consecutive final with a 24-15 win over champions Saracens.

Going places: George Ford shows his pace

Going places: George Ford shows his pace

The son of former England defence coach Mike Ford had a major hand in both Leicester tries and kicked 14 points.

He finished on the winning side
despite the efforts of his former national Under 20 team-mate Owen
Farrell, who landed five penalties for the visitors.

Tiger's roar: Alesana Tuilagi celebrates after scoring the first try at Welford Road

Tiger's roar: Alesana Tuilagi celebrates after scoring the first try at Welford Road

MATCH FACTS

Leicester: Murphy, Agulla, M. Tuilagi, Allen, A. Tuilagi, Ford, B. Youngs, Ayerza, Chuter, Cole, Skivington, Parling, Mafi, Newby, Waldrom.

Replacements: Castrogiovanni for Cole (58).

Not Used: T. Youngs, Mulipola, Kitchener, Woods, Harrison, Twelvetrees, Hamilton.

Tries: A. Tuilagi, Mafi.

Cons: Ford.

Pens: Ford 4.

Saracens: Goode, Strettle, Farrell, B. Barritt, Wyles, Hodgson, de Kock, Gill, Brits, Stevens, Borthwick, Botha, Wray, Fraser, Joubert.

Replacements: Short for Strettle (66), Powell for B. Barritt (78), Smit for Gill (78), George for Brits (78), Nieto for Stevens (62).

Not Used: Vyvyan, Kruis, Wigglesworth.

Pens: Farrell 5.

Attendance: 20,173

Referee: Dave Pearson (RFU).

Officially, Ford Jnr was a late replacement for Flood, who had been named in the Tigers starting XV.

In reality, the more experienced Englishman was never in contention and Sportsmail understands that the ankle injury he sustained against Bath on May 5 is worse than first thought.

Flood is set to be ruled out of
travelling to South Africa with England for next month's three-Test tour
against the Springboks, leaving Farrell to continue in the Test No 10
shirt.

Gloucester's Freddie Burns is the man most likely to be called into the squad as a replacement fly-half.

Flood's absence would also clear the
way for Ford to resume the conductor's duties in a second final of the
season, having wielded the baton with aplomb when Leicester won the LV
Cup in March.

On this occasion, it was the rookie's
astute, deep pass which sent Alesana Tuilagi clear for a try on his
last home appearance for the Midlands club.

The young playmaker's break then paved the way for Steve Mafi's second-half try.

Ford said: 'I was nervous before the
game, but there were lads out there with lots of experience and they
helped me out massively.'

Touching down: Leicester's Steve Mafi dives over to score his side's second try of the match

Touching down: Leicester's Steve Mafi dives over to score his side's second try of the match

Defensive duties: Leicester scrum-half Ben Youngs kicks the ball upfield at Welford Road

Defensive duties: Leicester scrum-half Ben Youngs kicks the ball upfield at Welford Road

Although Ford accepts that Flood is
first choice at Leicester, he added: 'You want to develop. your own game
so it can get quite frustrating at times but when opportunities come
like this you have to take them.'

Despite having had limited game time
for his club, Ford was considered by Stuart Lancaster for a place in
England's senior tour squad, but a decision was made in consultation
with the Tigers to leave him at home, to concentrate on bulking up a
comparatively slight frame.

Joe Marler looks bound for his
England debut after helping Harlequins' emerging front row leave
Northampton's heavyweights Brian Mujati and Soane Tonga'uiha substituted
and exhausted.

Trusty boot: Saracens star Owen Farrell kicks a penalty during the Aviva Premiership semi-final

Trusty boot: Saracens star Owen Farrell kicks a penalty during the Aviva Premiership semi-final

The 21-year-old has gained the
headlines for his Mohican-style haircut, but the talk now is of his
rapidly improving all-action style and strong scrummaging.

Marler scored the crucial try in
this semi-final victory and then had the confidence to declare that he
and his colleagues were confident of taking on any team after Quins came
back from a 23-15 deficit.

His try, following a rolling maul
involving 13 colleagues, levelled the scores at 23-23 before Nick Evans
slotted the match-winning conversion.

Foot in touch: Leicester back Alesana Tuilagi makes a try-saving tackle on David Strettle

Foot in touch: Leicester back Alesana Tuilagi makes a try-saving tackle on David Strettle

Marler believes Quins' improvement up
front began this time last year when they beat Stade Francais in the
European Challenge Cup final after a semi-final trip to Limerick to beat
Munster.

On the evidence of his energetic
display in which he overpowered Mujati on a personal level, he is set
for his senior England debut on the tour to South Africa.

With Bath's David Wilson out of the
trip due to a wrist injury, Marler is now the back-up for Andrew
Corbisiero, the London Irish loosehead who has been picked for the trip
despite a recent operation on a bicep injury.

Catch me if you can: Tigers centre Manu Tuilagi breaks through a tackle

Catch me if you can: Tigers centre Manu Tuilagi breaks through a tackle

Rumble: Ernst Joubert is tackled by Leicester prop Dan Cole (second right)

Rumble: Ernst Joubert is tackled by Leicester prop Dan Cole (second right)

Leicester take Toby Flood risk

Leicester take Flood risk for semi-final against Saracens

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UPDATED:

21:19 GMT, 11 May 2012

Leicester have included England fly-half Toby Flood in the squad to face Saracens in Saturday’s Aviva Premiership semi-final — despite concerns over an ankle injury he picked up last week against Bath.

Flood has not trained fully this week, prompting talk about the possibility of a call-up for teenager George Ford — one of England’s most promising players.

But Leicester have decided to name Flood for the game at Welford Road. They have also named versatile back Billy Twelvetrees on the bench.

Risk: Leicester's Toby Flood was injured against Bath

Risk: Leicester's Toby Flood was injured against Bath

LEICESTER: Murphy (capt); Agulla, M Tuilagi, Allen, A Tuilagi; Flood, B Youngs; Ayerza, Chuter, Cole; Skivington, Parling; Mafi, Salvi, Waldrom. Substitutes: T Youngs, Mulipola, Castrogiovanni, Kitchener, Newby, Harrison, Twelvetrees, Hamilton.

SARACENS: Goode; Strettle, Farrell, Barritt, Wyles; Hodgson, l de Kock; Gill, Brits, Stevens; Borthwick (capt), Botha; Wray, Fraser, Joubert. Substitutes: George, Smit, Nieto, Vyvyan, Kruis, Wigglesworth, Powell, Short.

TV: LIVE on ESPN from 4.45pm (Kick-off 5.30pm).