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Saracens aim to avoid Heineken Cup banana skin against Zebre

Owen Farrell of Saracens. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images Owen Farrell of Saracens. Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

Saturday, December 14, 2013
11:46 AM

Saracens have the chance to move top off Heineken Cup Pool 3 with victory over Zebre today (3pm) after four-time European kings and leaders Toulouse lost at home to Connacht last week.

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The Hendon side claimed a bonus point victory against the Italian minnows in Parma last week and will hope to do the same as Allianz Park hosts its first ever game in the competition.

Toulouse don’t play until 6pm in their reverse fixture against against Connacht so another victory for the north Londoners will put the pressure on the Top 14 giants.

Sarries director of rugby Mark McCall insists Saracens will not take Zebre lightly and slip up like Toulouse.

“What pleased me most [last] week was how good our preparation and mentality was,” McCall told ercrugby.com.

“We actually gave them a lot of respect in the build up to the game and we knew how difficult it could have been. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday training was at a very high level and I suppose we have to do the same this week and make sure we have the correct attitude ,which I’m sure this group will.”

Owen Farrell returns to the side at fly-half, starting his first game in the Saracens No.10 shirt since returning from international duty – he is partnered by 30-year-old scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth in the halves.

Duncan Taylor and Marcelo Bosch partner each other at centre, wearing the 12 & 13 jerseys respectively whilst Alex Goode, Chris Ashton and David Strettle make up the back three.

In the pack, Richard Barrington and James Johnston continue as props and are joined by Jamie George in the front row, with Schalk Brits moving to a bench that includes Mako Vunipola.

Try scorer for a second successive game last weekend George Kruis partners captain Steve Borthwick at lock.

Jacques Burger returns to the fray for the first time after his 36 tackle heroics away at Exeter three weeks ago, with Jackson Wray coming into the side at blindside flanker as Billy Vunipola replaces last week’s man of the match Ernst Joubert at No.8.

McCall told the club’s webite: “If you look at the Zebre squad who we faced last week, in the likes of Marco Bortolami, Quintin Geldenhuys, Mauro Bergamasco, Salvatore Perugini and the familiar face of Kameli Ratuvou, they have players who have vast experience on the domestic and international stage. So we can expect a very competitive match”.

Saracens: 15. Alex Goode; 14. Chris Ashton, 13. Marcelo Bosch, 12. Duncan Taylor, 11. David Strettle; 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Richard Wigglesworth; 1. Richard Barrington, 2. Jamie George, 3. James Johnston, 4. Steve Borthwick (c), 5. George Kruis, 6. Jackson Wray, 7. Jacques Burger, 8. Billy Vunipola.

Replacements; 16. Schalk Brits, 17. Mako Vunipola, 18. Matt Stevens, 19. Alastair Hargreaves. 20. Ernst Joubert, 21. Neil de Kock, 22. Charlie Hodgson, 23. Ben Ransom.

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