The fifth match-up of Round 14 of the Premiership sees Bristol Bears hosting Saracens.
Vengeance will be foremost in the minds of the Bears after the last time the teams met - on 20 December 2019 - a match that ended in convincing victory for Saracens as they crushed their Bristol opponents 47-13.
Bristol started strongly in that outing, manufacturing an early lead through a well-worked try which saw Luke Morahan canter in over the line. However, once Saracens had found a rhythm, they ploughed on mercilessly through their opponents.
The game offers some exciting match-ups with the likes of enterprising Bears flanker Steven Luatua up against the hard-running Ben Earl and Billy Vunipola in the forwards while the Saracens backline will have to somehow keep a hold on the hot-stepping feet and sything running of Bears fullback Charles Piutau who, before the halt in proceedings, had proved himself the most deadly attacker in the competition.
Bears are currently in a strong position on the log, occupying third spot behind Sale and Exeter, while Saracens find themselves in twelfth.
While Saracens enjoyed home-ground advantage in the previous clash, the reverse will be so for the one coming up.
There is no accounting for what effect the hiatus will have had on the teams. There can be no doubt, however, that both outfits will be starved of match practice and much will depend on the effectiveness of the training methods employed by each team’s coaching staff during the long pause.
Semi Radradra will make his Bristol Bears debut when the Premiership makes its long awaited comeback on Saturday as Saracens visit Ashton Gate.
The Fijian international is named in a mouth-watering line-up that includes nine internationals as Pat Lam’s men return to competitive action behind closed doors, with hooker Bryan Byrne is set for his first start for the Bears too, while England duo Ben Earl and Kyle Sinckler are listed among the replacements and could make maiden outings from the bench
Director of Rugby Lam said: “After an unprecedented lockdown break since Round 13, it is such a great feeling to finally be back doing what we all love, and I’d like to pay tribute to our players and staff. To arrive back with a high percentage of the squad available for selection and in good condition is testament to the planning, attention to detail and positive mindset shown by all.
“While we acknowledge we have some world class players in our squad, as usual it’s more important that we channel all our excitement into a true Bears team performance if we want to have any chance against a quality team like Saracens.\
“Of course, we wish our supporters were at Ashton Gate with us, but we know we will have Bears supporters all over the world tuning in to support the team. It’s been a long wait and we are delighted that Premiership Rugby is back.”
Bristol Bears team to face Saracens at Ashton Gate on Saturday, August 15th (4.30pm KO):
15. Charles Piutau; 14. Luke Morahan, 13. Semi Radradra, 12. Siale Piutau, 11. Henry Purdy; 10. Callum Sheedy; 9. Harry Randall; 1. Jake Woolmore, 2. Bryan Byrne, 3. John Afoa, 4. Dave Attwood, 5. Chris Vui, 6. Steven Luatua (c), 7. Dan Thomas, 8. Nathan Hughes.
System players: 16. Harry Thacker, 17. Max Lahiff, 18. Kyle Sinckler, 19. Ed Holmes, 20. Ben Earl, 21. Andy Uren, 22. Ioan Lloyd, 23. Alapati Leiua.
Unavailable: Jake Armstrong (ankle), Joe Joyce (knee), Mitch Eadie (hamstring), Chris Cook (back), Sam Bedlow (shoulder), Piers O’Conor (neck), Toby Fricker (groin), Jack Bates (knee).
Juan Pablo Socino will make his Saracens debut against Bristol Bears having joined the Men in Black this summer and forms a midfield with Dom Morris who scored last time out against Leicester Tigers.
Wing Alex Lewington crossed the whitewash twice in that game and is joined in the back three by Rotimi Segun and Sean Maitland. Club stalwarts Richard Wigglesworth and Alex Goode line-up at nine and 10 with near 550 Sarries appearances between them.
Mike Rhodes is set for his first run out in starting jersey this season after making his sole outing as a replacement before lockdown. Billy Vunipola and Jackson Wray take the other spots in the back row. Jamie George will captain the side from hooker alongside props Mako Vunipola and Vincent Koch, and Maro Itoje partners Callum Hunter-Hill in the second row.
On the bench, front row duo Eroni Mawi and Alec Clarey could make their Saracens debuts as could scrum-half Aled Davies and centre Harry Sloan.
Saracens team to take on Bristol Bears at Ashton Gate:
15 Sean Maitland (73)
14 Alex Lewington (47)
13 Dom Morris (18)
12 Juan Pablo Socino (0)
11 Rotimi Segun (30)
10 Alex Goode (297)
9 Richard Wigglesworth (246)
1 Mako Vunipola (168)
2 Jamie George (226)
3 Vincent Koch (81)
4 Maro Itoje (119)
5 Callum Hunter-Hill (15)
6 Mike Rhodes (93)
7 Jackson Wray (245)
8 Billy Vunipola (110)
16 Tom Woolstencroft (34)
17 Eroni Mawi (0)
18 Alec Clarey (0)
19 Joel Kpoku (30)
20 Sean Reffell (19)
21 Aled Davies (0)
22 Harry Sloan (0)
23 Elliott Obatoyinbo (10