Farrell junior at the centre of Sarries' plans

 

Saracens have done their very best to support the England cause just recently, but now is the moment for the reigning Premiership champions to think a little selfishly.

They can do nothing to prevent the Rugby Football Union making a formal bid for the services of the coach Andy Farrell – yesterday they released a statement that said they and the RFU had "started cordial and constructive discussions on the subject of support staff for newly-appointed England coach Stuart Lancaster" and added that there would be no further comment – but they are perfectly justified in standing their ground over Owen Farrell.

The junior member of domestic rugby's first family plays at centre in this afternoon's derby with Harlequins in front of a world-record crowd of almost 90,000 at Wembley, thereby allowing Charlie Hodgson to start at fly-half. England may see Farrell as a long-term option at No 10, but as Saracens consider him and Hodgson to be automatic picks, he will continue to conduct the lion's share of his club business in the wider position.

Steve Borthwick's side look strong enough, although the World Cup-winning Springbok captain John Smit would probably have started in the front row but for a shoulder injury. There are also issues in the back row, with the specialist breakaway Andy Saull joining his fellow flanks Kelly Brown and Jacques Burger on the long-term injury list after suffering a knee injury during the comprehensive victory at Sale eight days ago.

Quins have the England captain Chris Robshaw back – the flanker has spent a few days in Abu Dhabi, enjoying some desert heat after an arduous winter campaign – and keep faith with the Samoan back-rower Maurie Fa'asavalu, who was cited for a dangerous tackle during last week's tight game with Bath and has been listed to appear before the bench on Monday afternoon.

Exeter, fighting on more than one front, are contemplating two big games in six days: this afternoon's tussle with London Irish at Sandy Park, where victory would go a very long way to securing them a place among the Heineken Cup elite next term, followed by a glamour trip to Paris for the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final with Stade Français on Thursday night. The Devonians, who won at Gloucester last weekend, are unchanged for the visit of the Exiles, so the No 8 Richard Baxter makes his 400th competitive appearance for the club, 15 years after his senior debut.

Stephen Donald, the No 10 who kicked the World Cup-winning goal for New Zealand last October, is back in the Bath midfield for this evening's meeting with Northampton at the Recreation Ground.

Gloucester, badly in need of points to bolster their Heineken Cup qualification ambitions, make a fistful of changes for tomorrow's visit to Wasps. Henry Trinder, fully recovered from a broken jaw, links up with Tim Molenaar at centre with Nick Runciman starting at half-back. Tom Savage replaces the unwell Alex Brown at lock while Peter Buxton comes into the back row for the injured Matt Cox.

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