Saracens v London Irish, Aviva Premiership, January 9
Sarries look to heap woe on Irish
January 7, 2011
London Irish boss Toby Booth has seen his side slump to nine straight defeats in all competitions © Getty Images
Saracens will target a winning send-off for Brendan Venter when they tackle London Irish at Vicarage Road on Sunday.
Venter is heading home to South Africa after a headline-grabbing stint as Saracens' director of rugby, but he will not be lost to the club completely. The outspoken World Cup winner is now set to act as a technical director.
His last duty as Sarries boss will be to orchestrate a return to winning ways following their shock defeat at the hands of Sale last weekend, a result that extended a patchy run of three wins and three losses in their last six games.
But Sarries' woes pale into insignificance when compared to the fortunes of Irish, who are riding a run of nine defeats in all competitions. Toby Booth's side went close to ending their losing streak on their last outing only to see Bath snatch a late victory and must regroup once again. Despite their disastrous run they remain in fifth place in the Premiership table but need to stop the rot if they are to stay in contention for the post-season.
Saracens - Player to Watch: Andy Saull may be on the periphery of the England squad but the Sarries openside is one of the Premiership's most exciting young talents - keep an eye out for his tussle with Steffon Armitage.
Saracens - Team News: Michael Tagicakibau is recalled at outside-centre, relegating Gavin Henson to the bench, while Carlos Nieto and Kelly Brown both return in the pack.
London Irish - Player to Watch: Dan Bowden has been handed the reins at fly-half following the recent trials endured by Chris Malone and Ryan Lamb - he's got plenty of class as a playmaker and should get the Exiles firing.
London Irish - Team News: Delon Armitage is rested due to the EPS agreement, with Malone shifting to fullback as a result. Elvis Seveali'i and Seilala Mapusua form the centre pairing following Bowden's shift to No.10, while Malone could also retain the kicking duties.
Key Battle: The back-row confrontation will be huge and the Exiles will need to contain the ball-carrying of Brown from the base and the fractious work of blindside Jacques Burger if they are to prevent Sarries from getting on the front-foot too easily.
Trivia: London Irish have slipped from top of the table in round seven to their current fifth position - picking up just one point from their last five Premiership matches.
Stats: The Exiles won 33-16 when the two clubs met at the London Double Header back in September but have not claimed a league double over Sarries since the 2005-06 season.
"Brendan [Venter] is an unbelievable person and has had a big impact at this club. Luckily we've all known this was coming for some time and we all support him in the decision he has made." - Saracens prop Deon Carstens pays tribute to his departing director of rugby.
"The only thing we can do is work hard in the week, work hard on the pitch and try to earn the right to win the game." - Irish boss Toby Booth hopes for a a little luck.
Fantasy: Saracens hooker Schalk Brits has had a couple of relatively quiet games so he is surely overdue a return to form - time to get him in your ESPNscrum's Fantasy Rugby Game team?
Prediction: The Exiles will look to Bowden for inspiration but the Kiwi isn't a miracle worker - Sarries to edge a close one on their home track.
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