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Barritt upbeat after Clermont loss

England centre Brad Barritt says that Saracens will use their European Champions Cup semi-final heartache as "a galvanising force" during the domestic season run-in.

Seven days after bowing out of Europe following a gripping clash against French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne in Saint-Etienne, Saracens head to Milton Keynes for an appointment with long-time Aviva Premiership leaders Northampton at stadium:mk.

Victory for Saints would confirm qualification for next month's title play-offs, but Saracens can move to within striking distance of Northampton if they claim only a second win from the last six Premiership starts against their fierce rivals.

And there is added motivation provided by last season's Premiership final extra-time agony when Saints beat Saracens with an Alex Waller try in the final minute of extra-time, while Northampton remain the only team this term to have toppled Saracens on home territory at Allianz Park.

"This group is extremely ambitious," said Barritt, who signed a new long-term contract with Saracens earlier this week.

"And we have used last weekend's disappointment as a galvanising force for the rest of the season.

"There is obviously a Premiership title to play for, and it starts this Saturday against Northampton, who are formidable opponents.

"We relish the challenge, and we are looking to bounce back after last Saturday's result."

Barritt is now firing on all cylinders two games into his comeback following an injury-hit campaign, and he added: "It's just great to be back.

"Obviously it has been very frustrating. In the Six Nations, I had three injuries on the bounce, but the body is feeling really good, and feeling very good in the games.

"We have a huge amount to play for, and I am looking forward to the challenges ahead."

Saturday's game is expected to attract a new record crowd for stadium:mk, surpassing the 27,000 attendance when MK Dons beat Manchester United 4-0 in the Capital One Cup last August.

Northampton welcome back England lock Courtney Lawes as they look to recover quickly from defeat against Exeter last time out, while a much-changed Saracens side features starts for wing David Strettle, scrum-half Neil de Kock, hooker Schalk Brits, prop James Johnston, plus back-row forwards Ernst Joubert and Kelly Brown.

Leicester, one place and three points outside the play-off zone, could climb back into the top four if they claim an expected five-point maximum against hapless Welford Road visitors London Welsh on Saturday.

And seventh-placed Sale Sharks can afford no slip-ups against AJ Bell Stadium visitors Harlequins if they want to keep the heat on top-six rivals Wasps.

"We are in that position where we know we've got to win all of our games," Sale rugby director Steve Diamond said.

"They've got their England players back, and it's going to be a very difficult game for us."

Elsewhere on Saturday, Gloucester host Newcastle, while Sunday's Premiership action sees a key clash between Wasps and Exeter in Coventry. Exeter are currently fourth, but Wasps lie just five points behind them.

"Exeter have been a team that we have had trouble beating over the last few seasons, so we know exactly how tough it will be for us on Sunday," Wasps rugby director Dai Young said.

"They have played some very good rugby this season, and their ability to run teams around has seen them move up into the top four with some well-deserved results.

"We are going into the game in decent form and with bags of confidence. We didn't play as well as we could against London Welsh (two weeks ago), but we got the result that we needed and we know where we need to improve this weekend."


From Belfast Telegraph