Saracens are undefeated this campaign in both domestic and European rugby and are currently on a 22-match streak without a loss, with their most recent defeat coming at the hands of Leinster in the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup last season. As for Exeter, they have faltered slightly of late, losing to both Harlequins and Gloucester in the last three weeks, but with home advantage and their complement of internationals now fully reintegrated following the test window, they will fancy their chances of upsetting the champions.
The two sides have represented the major forces in English rugby of late, with Saracens accounting for two Champions Cup and two Premiership titles in the last three years and Exeter the only side capable of unseating the side from north London, having lifted their first domestic title in the 2016/17 season.
We have compared the two squads and picked a composite XV, but will strength on paper reflect strength on the pitch when the two clubs do battle on Saturday?
Continue reading below…
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- Alex Goode, Saracens (86)
Phil Dollman (79) is an ultra-reliable operator for Exeter and the fact he has never been capped at international level speaks highly of Leigh Halfpenny’s consistency over the years, but there’s not too much to dispute here. Goode is in the mix for most effective full-back in the Premiership and whilst he doesn’t seem to tick the boxes for Eddie Jones, that doesn’t mean he isn’t incredibly impactful at this level. This will be fun to re-evaluate next season with Stuart Hogg arrives at Sandy Park.
- Liam Williams, Saracens (91)
A really tough call and you wouldn’t find too many arguments from us if you opted for British and Irish Lion Jack Nowell (86) instead. Williams has added another dimension to Saracens in attack, giving them two phenomenal counter-attackers when he is used in tandem with Goode, ensuring that teams have to be pinpoint in their kicking game.
- Henry Slade, Exeter Chiefs (74)
Another one that could go either way, with Alex Lozowski (85) having distinguished himself in his new position of outside centre. We have just erred on the side of Slade, due to the array of passes he has in his arsenal and his ability to create space and opportunities with the boot. Certainly not weaknesses in Lozowski’s game, either, but the Exeter man may just have a slight advantage.
- Brad Barritt, Saracens (86)
A man discarded by England far too soon? Barritt is the linchpin in the Saracens back line and consistently delivers them line-speed and decision-making in defence, as well as a source of front-foot ball when on the attack. Everything flows around him and it’s his reliability in those roles which sees him win out over the arguably more offensively talented duo of Sam Hill (82) and Ollie Devoto (82).
- Santiago Cordero, Exeter Chiefs (88)
The Argentinean has been in electric form since arriving in the south-west from the Jaguares and his footwork has left many a Premiership defender grasping at thin air. Alex Lewington (78) and Sean Maitland (84) are doing well for Saracens, but it’s impossible to ignore Cordero and his devastating attacking ability.
- Owen Farrell, Saracens (92)
Joe Simmonds (75) is a coming force and Gareth Steenson (86) has been integral to Exeter’s rise, but not much dispute to be had here. Farrell is one of the best players in the world and is in the conversation with Johnny Sexton and Beauden Barrett for accolade of premier fly-half in world rugby.
- Nic White, Exeter Chiefs (85)
You could make cases for any of Richard Wigglesworth (89), Ben Spencer (89) or Jack Maunder (73) here, but the Australian probably gives you the most balanced option and his ability to help control the territory battle with his box-kicking is a paramount skill for how both of these sides try to play the game.
- Mako Vunipola, Saracens (91)
Arguably the top loosehead prop currently playing, although the form of Ben Moon (86) recently at international at least warrants him a mention. Vunipola’s ability in the loose, specifically as a carrier, ball-handler and the conditioning he brings on defence, is second to none at the position and he has worked considerably on his scrummaging in recent years.
- Jamie George, Saracens (92)
Extremely accurate at the lineout, effective with ball in hand and another integral part of that Saracens defensive unit, this one was a relatively straightforward call. If Luke Cowan-Dickie (87) can sharpen up his throwing at the lineout or Jack Yeandle (87) can become more dynamic with ball in hand, then George’s position will come under threat.
- Vincent Koch, Saracens (90)
It’s a mark of Koch’s ability and improvements over the last couple of seasons that he sees off Juan Figallo (86), Tomas Francis (84) and Harry Williams (82) for this spot. All four are internationals and scrummage well, but Koch’s ability in the loose just gives him the edge over the other three.
- Maro Itoje, Saracens (92)
Obviously, Itoje is not available this weekend, but when fit, he is an undisputed selection in the engine room. He can wreck opposition lineouts, carries with intent and makes a nuisance of himself at the breakdown and on opposition mauls, as well as bringing the line-speed that Saracens’ gameplan is built around.
- George Kruis, Saracens (84)
This is a tougher call, with Jonny Hill (91) pushing for England, Sam Skinner (86) coming on strongly and Kruis’ teammate Nick Isiekwe (87) also making his own claim. That said, Kruis is still one of the best lineout operators in English rugby and he is one of the key defensive communicators for Saracens, with the side often looking a lot harder to break down when he is fit and in the line-up.
- Mike Rhodes, Saracens (89)
Injury issues have unfortunately held Dave Ewers (82) back and probably prevented him, thus far, making a real run at higher honours with England. Rhodes fits that Saracens system perfectly and has been a notable example of how a player in their late 20’s can continue to adapt, evolve and improve their game.
- Don Armand, Exeter Chiefs (80)
Like Goode, another player who performs to the highest standard in the Premiership but, for whatever reason, doesn’t quite tick the boxes that Jones is looking for with England. He carries excellently, impacts the breakdown and is a more than solid lineout option.
- Billy Vunipola, Saracens (85)
As impressive as Sam Simmonds (89) has been in recent seasons and the eye-catching form of Matt Kvesic (88) during this campaign, this is a spot that belongs to Vunipola. When fit, Vunipola borders on uncontainable and the positive impact he brings to both Saracens and England is hard to overestimate.
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