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Saracens open title defence understrength

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Saracens start Premiership title defence with nucleus of their side 6,000 miles away trying to win the World Cup

By PA Authors
By Online Editors

Saracens launch the defence of their Gallagher Premiership title with a youthful side against Northampton at Allianz Park on Saturday.

Mark McCall’s men are the bookmakers’ favourites to retain their crown, but they face an early test of their strength in depth, with the nucleus of the side 6,000 miles away trying to win the World Cup with England.

In fact, the European champions have 15 players either in or returning from Japan, including their most notable addition, Elliot Daly, and they have lost tighthead prop Josh Ibuanokpe to a five-week ban for striking. No fewer than 11 of Saracens’ starting XV have come through the club’s academy.

Saints have not won at Saracens in any competition since March 2016 and have lost each of their last six league games against McCall’s men.

Exeter, who narrowly lost out to Saracens in June, will be hoping to reproduce the start they made to last season when they won their opening eight Premiership matches. That run was ended in round nine by Harlequins, who are their first opponents on Saturday.

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“They thoroughly deserved to win and they outperformed us on the day,” said Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter, who is still awaiting the arrival of big signing Stuart Hogg.

“We were better here at home and we showed more of our true qualities that day, but that too was a hum-dinger of a game and it was tough. That, though, is what games of Premiership rugby are like now.

“Like ourselves, Harlequins are an ambitious side. They will want to be targeting top six, top four, and seeing what more they can take from there.”

Sale and Worcester both start with home matches against teams they completed the double over last season. Leicester are the visitors to Worcester, while the Sharks host Gloucester hoping to pick up from where they left off in pre-season by winning all four matches in the Premiership Cup.

Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond said: “It has provided us with some good competitive fixtures and has enabled the coaches and I to try various combinations of the match-day squad ahead of this weekend.

“It is important that we continue building on the performances we have put in over the past few weeks and we will face a tough task in Gloucester on Saturday. They are a very well-coached side and proved that they are solid top-four contenders with the consistency of their performances last year.”

Wasps director of rugby Dai Young warned his players to expect a ferocious opening from promoted London Irish in Sunday’s match at Ricoh Arena.

Young said: “Irish will chuck everything at us on the weekend and we’re going to have to be on our mettle. They will have been looking forward to this from the day they went down and will want to show everyone they’re a Premiership team and have the right to be there.”

– Press Association 

WATCH: Jim Hamilton previews the World Cup quarter-finals in the latest edition of Don’t Mess With Jim

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Saracens start Premiership title defence with nucleus of their side 6,000 miles away trying to win the World Cup