Premiership Semi-Final: Saracens v Harlequins
|Venue: StoneX Stadium Date: Saturday, 11 June Kick-off: 13:30 BST Coverage: Updates on BBC local radio and live scores on the BBC Sport website|
Saracens revert to their strongest possible side as they aim to beat reigning champions Harlequins in the first Premiership semi-final.
England captain Owen Farrell leads a Sarries side that sees Maro Itoje make his 150th appearance for the club.
Quins make two changes from the side that lost a 13-try thriller at Exeter.
Huw Jones returns at full-back, Tyrone Green moves to the wing in place of the injured Louis Lynagh while Cadan Murley replaces Aaron Morris out wide.
The winners will face either Leicester or Northampton in the final at Twickenham a week on Saturday, 18 June.
It is Saracens’ first play-off game since they beat Exeter to win the 2019 Premiership final.
The club were relegated at the end of the following season after breaching the Premiership’s salary cap rules and won an abridged Championship last season.
Saracens ‘back where they want to be’
This term Mark McCall’s side won 17 and lost six of their regular-season matches as they finished second in the Premiership, seven points behind Leicester.
After making 15 changes for a 54-7 loss at Gloucester last week., they recall a host of international stars including England quartet Mako and Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje and Jamie George, and Springbok World Cup-winning prop Vincent Koch.
Welsh scrum-half Aled Davies joins Farrell at half-back with Alex Goode, Sean Maitland, Elliot Daly and Nick Tompkins also returning to the backline alongside Max Malins.
“It’s something we’ve been thinking about or aspiring to be in this position for the last 18 months or so,” George told BBC Radio London.
“To be back in it, it’s where we want to be, it’s where we feel most comfortable, it’s where we feel most confident and generally it brings the best out of us.
“Things are looking pretty similar to years before. The intensity of training’s increased, as ever, but at the same time there’s a really good feeling in the camp.
“We talk about building towards something. We’re here now, it’s time to show up and it’s time to put everything together.”
Champions Quins ‘will stand their ground’
A year ago Quins won a dramatic semi-final 43-36 in extra time at table-topping Bristol.
They carried that momentum into the final a week later to beat much-fancied Exeter at Twickenham as Lynagh scored two late tries in a see-saw battle.
Whereas Saracens opted to rest their frontline players last week, Quins deployed most of theirs at Sandy Park, having played just once since the end of April.
All eyes will be on fly-half Marcus Smith as the 23-year-old goes head-to-head with England team-mate Farrell.
Lynagh’s absence because of injury will be a blow, but Scotland back Huw Jones will aim to end his Harlequins career on a high ahead of a summer move back to Glasgow.
Eleven of the starting side featured in last season’s Twickenham final, and there is experience aplenty provided by Joe Marler, Danny Care, Stephan Lewies and Alex Dombrandt.
“We know it’s going to be a ferocious atmosphere on the field,” Harlequins’ attack coach Nick Evans told BBC Radio London.
“You look at the way Sarries play, they love that confrontation led by Owen (Farrell), but we’re expecting that and we’ll stand our ground.
“The guys have talked about what that looks like and what we need to do, and when those types of things happen.
“It’s that controlled aggression, and at this time of the season cards can really cost you. We had one in the final last year which we got away with, but against a team like Sarries, if you’re down to 14 men it’s going to make it very hard.
“We’re acutely aware of what Sarries are about, they love to be in your face, and that’s great – we’ll be in their faces as well, that’s a part of the excitement as well with this game.”
Saracens: Goode; Maitland, Daly, Tompkins, Malins; Farrell (capt), Davies; M Vunipola, George, Koch, Itoje, Swinson, McFarland, Earl, B Vunipola.
Replacements: Pifeleti, Mawi, Clarey, Isiekwe, Christie, Van Zyl, Lozowski, Taylor.
Harlequins: Jones; Green, Marchant, Esterhuizen, Murley; Smith, Care; Marler, Walker, Collier, Symons, Tizard, Lewies (capt), Evans, Dombrandt.
Replacements: Gray, Kerrod, Louw, Jurevicius, Lawday, Gjaltema, Allan, Northmore.
Referee: Luke Pearce