Saracens face another stiff test on Sunday when they travel to an inconsistent Newcastle side, who, nevertheless have earnt enough points to put themselves in contention for an overdue return to top flight European competition with an ambitious attacking style that is starting to yield results
The sides last met on Christmas Eve when Saracens prevailed 21-6 in NW4. Although a comfortable result in the end, the Falcons had the advantage in possession and territory, although didn't make as much ground as the home side, who prevailed through tries from Marcelo Bosch and Chris Ashton. 2016 was rounded off by a 34-30 home loss to Wasps as the hosts went very close to forcing a notable win leading 12-0 after just four minutes as slick attacks brought tries for Sonatane Takulua and Marcus Watson, bound for Wasps next season, and two bonus points were earnt by tries from Rob Vickers and Mark Wilson. There was better news in the first match of 2017 as Bath were defeated 24-22 in the North East as late tries from Wilson and Ben Harris added to an early try by Vereniki Goneva.
January's European Challenge Cup double header brought a double defeat at Grenoble and at home to Ospreys to halt the chance of progress, although this tournament was used more as a development opportunity, as was the Anglo Welsh Cup to an extent which finished with two straight wins, although this wasn't enough for semi-final progress, as an 18-6 win at Newport Gwent Dragons, earnt by tries from Mark Wilson and Belisario Agulla, was followed by a younger side defeating Bath again at Kingston Park, 16-15. Their failure to close out games proved costly as a Goneva hat trick, and one from Juan Pablo Socino, were only enough for two points as they lost 26-24 at Sale Sharks. However, they bounced back with an important 46-31 home win over Northampton Saints, having been nine points down at the break, but scrum half Takulua, the reigning Tongan player of the year, claimed a hat trick as the Falcons collected seven tries in all. In contrast, last Saturday's trip to Exeter saw the visitors well in contention at the break, trailing 17-14, only for 19 unanswered points to be conceded in the second half.
The growing attacking threat of Newcastle is clear, not only through assured handling and a commitment to attack, but through forward power too, as Saracens had to be at their best to deny the visitors in the face of sustained pressure. Whilst the Falcons are making fewer handling errors, helped by the high quality finishing and play of Goneva, Sinoti Sinoti, Socino and Takulua, there are still opportunities likely to emerge on the counter attack. For Sarries, as they did last week, they will need to hold their shape and wait for opportunities as the visitors still have some improvements to make in defence, particularly away from home, although could point to away wins at Gloucester and Northampton.
A possible line up for Saracens sees Duncan Taylor at full back, with Sean Maitland and Chris Wyles on the wings, and a centre partnership of Bosch and Brad Barritt, and the half back combination of Alex Lozowski and Richard Wigglesworth. Into the pack, Richard Barrington may resume at loosehead, alongside Schalk Brits and Petrus du Plessis, with a second row of Michael Rhodes and Jim Hamilton, and a back row of Kelly Brown, Schalk Burger and Jackson Wray. Newcastle could start with Alex Tait at full back, Goneva and Sinoti on the wings, with Chris Harris and Fred Burdon in the centres, Joel Hodgson at fly half and Takulua at scrum half. The pack could see a front row of Rob Vickers, Scott Lawson and David Wilson, with Calum Green and Evan Olmstead teaming up at lock and a back row of Callum Chick, Will Welch and Ally Hogg
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