European Champions Cup: Saracens v Clermont Auvergne
|European Champions Cup Pool 1|
|Venue: Allianz Park Date: Sunday, 10 December Kick-off: 15:15 GMT|
|Coverage: Commentary on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and local radio|
Saracens will welcome Clermont Auvergne on Sunday in a repeat of the 2017 European Champions Cup final.
Saracens, who beat Clermont 28-17 at Murrayfield in May, are one point better off after the first two rounds.
But Mark McCall’s side have suffered three straight defeats in the Premiership and will be without Maro Itoje after he fractured his jaw.
Schalk Burger comes into the back row at open-side flanker with Calum Clark shifting to blind-side flanker.
Jackson Wray starts at number eight while Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Vincent Koch are named in the front row and Will Skelton comes in to partner George Kruis in the locks.
Saracens have not lost in Europe since they were beaten by Sunday’s opponents in the 2015 semi-finals – a run of 20 games – but they have lost their last five games in all competitions.
“Because of the way that the season has finished for us the last three or four years, we’ve always had a difficult period in each of those seasons or we’ve had something to respond to,” said director of rugby McCall.
“In all of the years we have had to contend with things and have generally emerged from these things stronger.
“Our players are very experienced, they’ve been through all of the highs and lows along the way and have very strong relationships, which become important at times like these.”
Both sides won their opening two matches against Ospreys and Northampton and the double-header could be crucial in deciding who finishes top of the pool, with only the group winners guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals.
But French champions Clermont are also struggling for form in their domestic league and lie ninth in France’s Top 14 – without an away victory in the league.
Winger David Strettle will once again face his former club on Sunday having lined up against Saracens in May as his side face an injury crisis of their own in the backs with Camille Lopez, Patricio Fernandez and Luke McAlister all out.
Clermont sporting director Frank Azema has named New Zealander Isaia Toeava at fly-half, ending speculation that Frenchman Scot Spedding or scrum-half Morgan Parra could have filled the shirt.
Spedding gets the nod at full-back and Parra will wear the captain’s armband at scrum-half in the absence of Damian Chouly. The number eight made his long-awaited return last week after undergoing back surgery in September, only to struggle with neck pain.
|CHAMPIONS CUP POOL 2|
Saracens: Goode; Maitland, Bosch, Barritt (c), Wyles; Farrell, Wigglesworth; Vunipola, George, Koch, Skelton, Kruis, Clark, Burger, Wray.
Replacements: Tolofua, Barrington, Figallo, Isiekwe, Earl, Spencer, Lozowski, Earle.
Clermont Auvergne: Spedding; Strettle, Lamerat, Fofana, Raka; Toeava, Parra (c); Falgoux, Kayser, Slimani, Timani, Vahaamahina, Cancoriet, Lapandry, Lee.
Replacements: Ulugia, Kakabadze, Aaron Jarvis, Van Der Merwe, Yato, Trussardi, Penaud, Abendanon.