Off days. Even the best sides have them, and Saracens won't need reminding that, as long as they bounce back, it's where you are at the end of the season, having got a literally unbeatable aptitude for the big games. Yet they face another side who very much have all to play for, and who, as Wasps will attest, are capable of beating the best the division has to offer.
That said, there were concerns about the uncharacteristically poor discipline which gave Worcester the chance to win the game with eight penalty kicks, though at least the visitors were able to scramble a losing bonus point and claimed a pair of well-worked tries in a match which was nevertheless dominated by kicking from both sides. Clearly, there will need to be an improvement ahead of the trip to a Gloucester side who are consistent only in their inconsistency, and their six losing bonus points in the Premiership betray their inability to force tight wins, thwarted by their handling errors and missed chances. It's the third match of the season against the Cherry and Whites, the first of which saw them deliver a success in the opening Anglo Welsh Cup match in which a stirring comeback delivered a 36-32 win, and they threatened another victory in the Premiership at the end of November before eventually losing 24-20 in NW4.
Gloucester are dominating the headlines at the moment as their proposed common ownership with Montpellier Herault Rugby is considered, and are involved in the "Great Fly Half Merry Go Round" as James Hook returns to Ospreys at the end of the season to be replaced by Owen Williams from Leicester Tigers. On the pitch, the top four looks beyond the Kingsholm side, with European top flight hopes beginning to recede, although the present seven point gap on Harlequins is still bridgeable at this stage. Since their trip to Allianz Park, they have won two from their five Premiership matches, progressing to a home Quarter Final with Cardiff Blues in the European Challenge Cup, which they have performed so consistently in, but knocked out of the Anglo Welsh Cup. December got underway with a 26-18 bonus point home win over Bristol, as second half forward power yielded tries in the second half for Matt Scott, Willi Heinz and Henry Purdy, with a penalty try too. In the Challenge Cup, a modified side earnt a 35-14 bonus point home win over a La Rochelle side doing well in the Top 14, although the return match in France brought a 42-13 loss. Returning to Twickenham for a second successive Big Game after last season's thrilling draw, the visitors threatened more late drama but Harlequins held on for a 28-24 win.
New Year's Day served up a frustrating 13-12 home loss to Northampton Saints, who claimed the win with a late penalty try in poor conditions. However, the next trio of games saw Gloucester find their scoring touch in dramatic style, claiming 160 points in total, as they began with a 55-19 hammering of Worcester in the Premiership, with fly half Billy Burns having a particularly influential game which saw his side show some superb handling as they scored seven tries in total. Back in Europe, a 41-0 win was taken at Benetton Treviso and a ten try display yielded a 64-19 home win over Bayonne to earn the home Quarter Final. Switching tournaments to the Anglo Welsh, they showed their spirit by forcing a 17-all draw at Bath, but they were out of contention before the last game, a 24-13 home success over Newport Gwent Dragons. However, what appeared to be growing momentum was abruptly halted as they failed to take their chances and were well-beaten up front in a 34-9 loss at Leicester Tigers.
That may mean some changes as they face a Saracens side eager to atone for their own disappointing defeat against a Gloucester side likely to play a more expansive game than the Warriors, yet affording a greater opportunity for the visitors to counter attack if they use the ball well and don't overdo it on the kicking. James Hook may come in at full back, with Charlie Sharples and Purdy occupying the wings and a centre partnership of Scott and Billy Twelvetrees, as Burns and Heinz continue in the half backs. Pack-wise, Yann Thomas, Richard Hibbard and John Afoa are a possible front row, with Mariano Galarza and Jeremy Thrush teaming up at lock, and a back row trio of Lewis Ludlow, Jacob Rowan and Matt Kvesic. For Sarries, after a difficult match last week, Matt Gallagher should still get another chance at full back, with Chris Ashton and Chris Wyles on the wings, and a centre partnership of Marcelo Bosch and Brad Barritt, as Alex Lozowski and Richard Wigglesworth continue at fly half and scrum half. Into the forwards, and Richard Barrington, Schalk Brits and Juan Figallo should form the front row, with a second row pairing of Michael Rhodes and Jim Hamilton, and the back row also unchanged as Will Fraser, Schalk Burger and Jackson Wray feature.
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