Aviva Premiership preview: Saracens ring the changes as Joe Launchbury hits a century and Chris Robshaw returns

Team news from the Christmas Aviva Premiership fixtures

Jack de Menezes
Friday 23 December 2016 17:45 GMT
Will Skelton makes his first start for Saracens after making his debut last week
Will Skelton makes his first start for Saracens after making his debut last week (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Saracens vs Newcastle Falcons, Saturday 24th December, 13:30

England forward Maro Itoje moves to blindside flanker to accommodate the giant Australia international Will Skelton as the Wallaby makes his first start in the Saracens second-row against Newcastle, having made an impressive debut as a replacement in the Champions Cup victory over Sale Sharks last weekend.

Head coach Mark McCall makes a number of changes, with Vincent Kock coming into the front-row, while captain Brad Barritt misses out with an ankle injury. Owen Farrell deputises as skipper in his place, with Nick Tompkins starting outside him in the 12 shirt, while Alex Goode is another notable omission with a slight knock. Sean Maitland moves to full-back as cover, with Nathan Earle starting his first Aviva Premiership match on the wing.

Newcastle also ring the changes, with Rob Vickers and Scott Lawson starting in the front-row, Evan Olmstead at lock and former Scotland international Aly Hogg starting at No 8. Fred Burdon starts at outside centre, Alex Tait comes in at full-back and both wings are changed as Vereniki Goneva and Marcus Watson get the nod.

Wasps vs Bath, Saturday 24th December, 14:00

Joe Launchbury caps his 100th appearance for Wasps by captaining them against Bath in front of what is expected to be over 25,000 fans at the Ricoh Arena. Marty Moore starts at prop in the absence of Jake Cooper-Woolley, who misses out through the return-to-play protocols regarding concussion.

Kurtley Beale is handed his Premiership debut at full-back after starring in Wasps Champions Cup double-header with Connacht, while Elliot Daly lines up at 13 outside Jimmy Gopperth as the England international returns from the three-week ban he picked up during the autumn internationals. Danny Cipriani returns to the side after recovering from a calf injury to partner Joe Simpson at half-back, with Kyle Eastmond also returning from injury to take a place among the replacements.

Bath meanwhile are able to call on England international Semesa Rokoduguni, Nathan Catt and co-captain Matt Garvey as the trio return after sitting out the win over Cardiff Blues last week. Ben Tapuai is partnered in the centres with Jonathan Joseph for the first time, but Matt Banahan, Dan Bowden, Rhys Priestland, David Denton, Henry Thomas and Anthony Watson all remain unavailable.

Danny Cipriani returns from injury for Wasps
Danny Cipriani returns from injury for Wasps (Getty)

Exeter Chiefs vs Leicester Tigers, Saturday 24th December, 15:00

Rob Baxter recalls a number of first-team members after rotating for last weekend’s European victory over Bordeaux, with Ben Moon, Jack Yeandle and Tomas Francis all in the front-row, England’s Luke Cowan-Dickie only making the replacements’ bench. Jonny Hill is handed a start at lock, while Gareth Steenson captains the side from fly-half to force Henry Slade along the line to outside centre with Ollie Devoto between the pair.

Leicester Tigers head into the match with questions still lingering over director of rugby Richard Cockerill’s future, although last weekend’s victory over Munster silenced the rumours of discontent for at least another week. Mike Williams makes his first start in two months at blindside flanker after recovering from an arm injury, while Dan Cole returns his exploits with England in the autumn internationals by taking up a place on the replacements’ bench.

George McGuigan starts at hooker in the absence of club captain Tom Youngs, so Ed Slater takes on the armband alongside Mike Fitzgerald in the second-row. Sam Harrison continues at 9 with Ben Youngs also a notable absentee, while Freddie Burns returns at stand-off after missing the win over Munster through injury, with Manu Tuilagi continuing his latest comeback from injury at inside centre.

Gareth Steenson comes back into the side to lead the Chiefs
Gareth Steenson comes back into the side to lead the Chiefs (Getty)

Bristol Rugby vs Worcester Warriors, Monday 26 December, 15:00

Basement side Bristol can close the gap on 11th-placed Worcester when the two meet at Aston Gate on Boxing Day, with the home side able to call on Tusi Pisi for the first time in more than two months after recovering from a groin injury to start at fly-half.

Dan Tuohy will make his competitive debut for Bristol at lock, with Olly Robinson leading the side from the openside in No 8 Jordan Crane’s absence. The other change sees Nick Fenton-Wells start in place of Jonathan Fisher, who is ruled out with a head injury.

Worcester can take a giant stride towards survival with a victory on Monday afternoon, and head coach Carl Hogg recalls England centre Ben Te’o for the encounter after featuring in the autumn internationals. Christian Scotland-Williamson is handed his first start at lock, while Michael Dowsett starts at 9 and Dean Hammond comes in on the right wing.

Tusi Pisi makes his first start in over two months for Bristol
Tusi Pisi makes his first start in over two months for Bristol (Getty)

Harlequins vs Gloucester, Tuesday 27 December, 16:00

The big match at Twickenham sees Harlequins cross the road from The Stoop to take on Gloucester, with Chris Robshaw coming into the side after England duty in the only change to the starting XV that beat Timisoara Saracens last weekend.

Joe Marler makes his 100th Premiership appearance alongside fellow England prop Kyle Sinckler, while Danny Care, Marland Yarde and Mike Brown all start in what will be close to a sell-out crowd.

Chris Robshaw makes his first start after international duty with England
Chris Robshaw makes his first start after international duty with England (Getty)

Gloucester make five times as many changes as Quins, with former England centre Billy Twelvetrees back and Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw among the returning quintet. Laidlaw leads the side from scrum-half, with Paddy McAllister coming into the front-row, Mariano Galarza joining Tom Savage in the second-row and Ross Moriarty back at blindside flanker.

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