SA look to formidable Saracens team

2014-01-09 00:00

TWO former Sharks — England centre Brad Barritt and lock Alistair Hargreaves — are among the many South Africans included in a formidable Saracens 23-man squad to face their former team-mates in the north versus south clash at Allianz Park in London on January 25.

The Sharks will face England’s leading club side in one of two pre-season friendlies over the next month before opening their Super Rugby campaign against the Bulls in Durban on February. Their second build-up game is against the Lions at Ellis Park on February 7.

The battle-hardened Saracens are in the middle of their season and top the Premiership log, beating Leicester before Christmas and then Gloucester on their home turf at the weekend.

Some 10 of the Saracens squad that was named yesterday have strong South African links and three — Hargreaves, hooker Schalk Britz and scrumhalf Neil de Kock — are former Springboks. Kearsney College product and British Lions tighthead Matt Stevens is also in the team. England lock Steve Borthwick has been named as captain.

Other familiar South African names in the squad are Ernst Joubert, Justin Melck, Nick Fenton-Wells and lock Mouritz Botha, who has also played for England.

The Sharks will be playing their first game under new coach Jake White and he concedes his players will be under the cosh.

“Playing Saracens on the artificial turf at Allianz Park is just about the toughest match we could have organised as we conclude our preparations for the new season, but we are excited by the challenge.

“Saracens have been one of the most consistently successful clubs in Europe over the past few years and, with their close SA connections both on the field and in the boardroom, they are followed and supported by almost everybody associated with South African rugby.”

Sharks CEO John Smit spent his final seasons as a player with Saracens while Brendan Venter, who helped the Durban-based team to the Currie Cup title last year, is the London club’s technical director.

Saracens’ director of rugby Mark McCall said yesterday that the club would field their strongest available team.

“The Sharks are one of the strongest teams in Super Rugby and we’re really looking forward to the challenge. Our match against the Springboks four years ago was one of the greatest occasions in the club’s history, and this will be a similar kind of one-off event with the Premiership leaders against the Currie Cup champions,” he said.

A large Sharks squad is expected to travel to London, with White’s high-profile Springboks likely to see only limited action after just three weeks of pre-season training.

The teams will play for the Sanlam Private Investments Shield.

Saracens squad

Backs: Chris Wyles, David Strettle, Michael Tagicakibau, Marcelo Bosch, Brad Barritt, Duncan Taylor, Sam Stanley, Charlie Hodgson, Neil de Kock, Richard Wigglesworth. Forwards: Richard Barrington, Nick Auterac, Schalk Brits, Jamie George, Matt Stevens, Petrus du Plessis, Steve Borthwick (capt), Alistair Hargreaves, Mouritz Botha, Jacques Burger, Nick Fenton-Wells, Justin Melck, Ernst Joubert.

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