Saracens v Gloucester
Gloucester await Sarries' new boys
November 14, 2008
Former Bulls flanker Wikus van Heerden could make his Saracens debut at Vicarage Road this weekend © Getty Images
Gloucester scrum-half Dave Lewis will be rewarded for his game-changing cameo against Newcastle a fortnight ago with his first Guinness Premiership start against Saracens on Sunday.
The 19-year-old, who is part of Gloucester's Academy set-up, featured prominently from the bench during Gloucester's EDF Energy Cup victory over the Falcons and now gets his first opportunity to start alongside Ryan Lamb at half-back. He comes in for Welsh international Gareth Cooper, who moves to the bench.
There are other changes too as head coach Dean Ryan is able to welcome back four players from injury. Anthony Allen will make his first appearance since the opening day of the season against Leicester when he returns to the centre following damage to ankle ligaments, Will James comes back into the second row following a torn calf that has kept him out for seven weeks, while full-back Olly Morgan, who has not played since pulling his hamstring against Cardiff in the middle of October, wears the number 15 shirt.
Allen will be partnered by skipper Mike Tindall in the centre, while Morgan will complete a back three alongside Iain Balshaw and Lesley Vainikolo.
"I realised I would be moving up last season when Mike Prendergast left the club and I have just really enjoyed the opportunities in the last couple of games and hope they last a bit longer," acrum-half Lewis said.
"I understand there are two quality international players in front of me but I have an opportunity and just want to enjoy it. I want to try and get round the pitch and do my basics well and see what happens."
In the forwards, Ryan is able to welcome back two internationals. Alasdair Strokosch has returned from Scotland duty and will start at number eight, while England's Luke Narraway is fit enough following a hamstring injury to return to the bench.
The international period will deprive Ryan of prop Carlos Nieto and lock Marco Bortolami on Italian duty so he has again shuffled his options.
Nick Wood will form a front row alongside hooker Olivier Azam and tight-head prop Jack Forster. It will be Forster's first Guinness Premiership start of the season.
James will return in the second row alongside Alex Brown, while Peter Buxton wears six and Apo Satala seven - also his first Premiership start.
"We have had some clarity over some injuries this week which has been a significant help to us and we have been relaxed and focused on getting back to the style of rugby we played last season," said head coach Dean Ryan.
"I think we got caught up in a number of issues at the start of the season but have worked hard to resolve them and we want to build on what we do well with some confidence.
"Saracens are a very good, well organised side - it is always a significant test against them - but we have just worked hard on aspects of our game to get them right and hope to take them forward into Sunday."
World Cup winner Wikus van Heerden and Bradley Barritt are set to make their Saracens debuts after being named on the bench for th game.
The South African duo, who arrived in the UK two weeks ago after facing each other in the final of the Currie Cup, are thrown straight into the action as Sarries look to build on a run of results that has seen them win seven of their last eight matches and rise to fifth place in the Premiership table.
Barritt, van Heerden and fellow new signing Ben Jacobs started full training with the rest of the squad this week and Director of Rugby Eddie Jones has been delighted with how quickly the trio has settled.
"They've been training very hard and all three players will add depth and quality to the squad and help move Saracens on. Bradley Barritt and Ben Jacbos are very talented and skilful centres, while Wikus Van Heerden was the best back row in the Currie Cup and his strength and physical approach makes him ideally suited to the English game."
For van Heerden, who joined Saracens from the Blue Bulls, it won't be the first time he's played at Vicarage Road as he played in a friendly for the Cats in Watford in 2005.
"There was a great atmosphere inside the ground that night so I'm looking forward to the chance of running out from the home dressing room this time," added the 29-year-old. "I've had a good week of training, but now I'm just ready for the action to start. I've followed the Premiership closely and it's a fantastic competition - one that I can't wait to be part of."
In other team news, Neil de Kock returns to the line-up following paternity leave, while with Rodd Penney ruled out through a calf injury and with wingers Chris Wyles, Francisco Leonelli and Kameli Ratuvou three of nine players away on international duty, Kevin Sorrell is given a run on the wing. Andy Kyriacou completes his comeback to the first team after seven months out with a knee injury.
"Kevin is very experienced and clever player along with being one of the best defenders in the club, so we don't have any issues with him playing on the wing," explained Jones. "We're going into this game physically and mentally fresh ahead of a very important period in the season.
"This block of three Premiership matches in a row means teams have the chance to really cement a position on the top half of the table and I am expecting our squad to take that opportunity.
"Gloucester represents a strong test for us but they have changed the way they play this season and have adopted a more conservative style and have added more kicking to their game. They have won the last three games against Saracens and two of them by pretty big scores, so we're looking forward to facing them."
Saracens: Alex Goode, Kevin Sorrell, Adam Powell, Andy Farrell ©, Noah Cato, Glen Jackson, Neil de Kock, Nick Lloyd, Matt Cairns, Cobus Visagie, Kris Chesney, Hugh Vyvyan, Ben Skirving, Andy Saull, Michael Owen
Replacements: Andy Kyriacou, Tom Mercey, Tom Ryder, Wikus van Heerden, Mickey, Wilson, Bradley Barritt, Edd Thrower
Gloucester: Olly Morgan; Iain Balshaw, Mike Tindall (c), Anthony Allen, Lesley Vainikolo; Ryan Lamb, Dave Lewis; Nick Wood, Olivier Azam, Jack Forster, Will James, Alex Brown, Peter Buxton, Apo Satala, Alasdair Strokosch.
Replacements: Dave Young, Scott Lawson, Adam Eustace, Dan Williams, Gareth Cooper, Olly Barkley, Matthew Watkins.