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Aviva Premiership: Gloucester v Saracens Preview
Our rugby scribe previews Friday's Aviva Premiership game between Gloucester Rugby and defending Premiership champions, Saracens.
Gloucester currently sit in ninth position on the Aviva Premiership standings and will have it all to do when second-placed Saracens come knocking at the Kingsholm Stadium on Friday.
Gloucester v Saracens | Friday 17 February | Kingsholm Stadium | 15:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Gloucester 2/1 | Draw 20/1 | Saracens 4/10
Gloucester (+5.5) 17/20 | Saracens (-5.5) 17/20
After a solid run that saw them win four and draw one of their last five matches in all competitions, Gloucester were finally brought back to earth (rather abruptly), going down by 34 points to 9 away to Leicester. Their defeat saw them relinquish eighth place to the Newcastle Falcons, and coach Laurie Fisher will be urging his side to fight on for a potential top-six finish come the season's end. Their upcoming match against 'Sarries poses a huge challenge for the 144-year-old club, and they will have to play out of their socks to avoid losing to the defending champions. Gloucester will look to improve on their first-half showing this weekend, after early tries put them under massive pressure in the opening minutes against Leicester.
The Six Nations has claimed the services of influential players like Ross Moriarty, Jonny May and 'Captain Fantastic' Greg Laidlaw, and if their recent struggle against the Tigers is anything to go by, they will be sorely missed.
The lack of aggression and urgency in the Cherry and Whites' game was exposed early on by the more experienced Leicester side, and they never fully recovered from their early setbacks. Players like centre Billy Twelvetrees and Kiwi lock Jeremy Thrush will continue to punch above their weight for their side, but Saracens will be looking to avenge their surprise away defeat to Worcester, and will come out with a point to prove.
Going down by 18 points to 24 to a side like Worcester, home or away, is unacceptable for Saracens. The Londoners conceded eight penalties, all of which were clinically converted by Worcester first-five-eighth Ryan Mills, although a late Schalk Brits five-pointer did salvage a losing bonus point for the visitors.
For a club with such lofty ambitions, Sarries will feel dreadful after their performance, with ill-discipline and a struggling set-piece constantly proving their downfall over the course of the eighty minutes. Now five points adrift of the log-leading Wasps, the 2015/16 champions will be pulling out all the stops in their bid to potentially host another Grand Final.
Saracens were arguably the hardest hit by Six Nations call-ups in the entire competition, with big names such as Maro Itoje and Jamie George severely depleting their struggling forward pack. Mark McCall will offer no excuses, however, and will back his South African contingent of Brad Barritt, Schalk Burger, Schalk Brits and Petrus du Plessis to deliver the bruising performances that they are renowned for.
Verdict: Saracens 4/10
The Worcester defeat has put some perspective back into Saracens season after they initially seemed unstoppable, and they should come back with a much stronger showing this weekend. Back them to take this one.