Our rugby scribe previews the opening round Aviva Premiership match between Saracens and The Worcester Warriors.
The 2016/17 Aviva Premiership season gets underway this weekend and defending champions, Saracens, will be looking to fire a warning shot to all of their opponents when they take on Worcester on Saturday afternoon. The hosts enjoyed a stellar season last time around, claiming a European double while producing some highly entertaining rugby.
Their opponents for this weekend’s clash endured a much less prosperous campaign finishing two places off the relegation position. It must be remembered, though, that this is an extremely young Worcester squad and last year’s exposure to a grueling campaign will only have strengthened their youngsters resolve.
Saracens v Worcester | Saturday 3 September | Allianz Park | 15:00
To Win (80 Mins)
Saracens 1/20 | Draw 45/1 | Worcester 15/2
Last season set the standard for Saracens’ rugby and while it’s near on impossible for them to improve on it – perhaps they could replicate their North London footballing counterparts and produce an invincible season – you can bet your bottom dollar that head coach, Mark McCall, will demand improvement from his side.
Saracens quest to defend their title will be greatly enhanced by the summer signings which include Stormers duo, Schalk Burger and Vincent Koch. Burger is likely to slot straight into the starting XV – taking the place of recently retired Namibian hard man, Jaques Burger. Koch’s case is much more complicated with himself and the impressive Petrus du Plessis likely to duke it out for the starting tighthead berth.
‘Saries haven’t only reinforced their pack with former Canterbury Crusaders man Sean Maitland having been brought in from London Irish and Wasps backup pivot Alex Lozowski swapping the comforts of Coventry for the hustle and bustle of North London.
The signing I’m most excited about seeing, however, is Fijian Sevens star Savenaca Rawaca. While signing Fijian Sevens players seems to have become a trend in European rugby circles, this man is a cut above his fellow countrymen. He has an electric turn of pace, reads the game well, and weighs in at a hefty 104 kilograms. I’m expecting big things from the Olympic gold medalist.
New man Alex Lozowski is likely to fill in at fly-half this week with veteran Charlie Hodgson retired and incumbent ten, Owen Farrell, still struggling to overcome a back injury. Otherwise, it will be an almost full strength squad that runs out in front of the Allianz faithful.
Worcester have also been rather active in the transfer market bringing in 12 players, with the three stand out signings being former Bulls man Dewald Potgieter and Bath duo Alafoti Fa’osilva and Will Spencer.
This added experience will be key to Worcester chances this Saturday. Potgieter, in particular, will have an important role to play. The six-capped South African international will be tasked with taking on an imposing Saracens loose trio at ruck time. He is likely to be supported in his quest to negate Saracens breakdown dominance by Sam Betty. Worcester’s 2014/15 top try scorer is an absolute beast at the breakdown and will keep the likes of Schalk Burger and Michael Rhodes honest at ruck time.
Worcester will be without one of last season’s standout players, Francois Hougaard. The former Blue Bulls man is currently on Springbok duty and will only return to Worcester once the Rugby Championship is over.
Verdict: Saracens 1/20
‘Saries managed to run out comfortable victors in both their fixtures against Worcester last season winning by 30 points in their clash at home and 19 points out at Worcester. While there’s not much value on a Saracens win, it’s still worth adding to all multiples.