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Chris Ashton returns for Saracens following ban

Chris Ashton will make his first appearance since completing his latest suspension when Saracens host Newcastle in the Aviva Premiership on Christmas Eve.

Ashton has served a 13-week ban for biting the arm of Northampton prop Alex Waller incurred in September and takes his place on the bench for the visit for the Falcons to Allianz Park.

The 29-year-old England wing, who has agreed to join Toulon at the end of the season, returns to a team captained by Owen Farrell in the injury-enforced absence of Brad Barritt.

Australia giant Will Skelton makes his first start for Saracens while Maro Itoje is moved from second row to blindside flanker.

Vereniki Goneva and Marcus Watson return on the wings for Newcastle, who face a punishing Premiership schedule comprising of fixtures against double winners Saracens, followed by title challengers Wasps and Bath.

"You couldn't ask for anything more difficult than playing the top three teams back to back, and it is a challenge for the boys," Newcastle director of rugby Dean Richards said.

"We will take from it what we can, and we are certainly not approaching it with any degree of fear.

"Saracens are without doubt a quality side, as you would expect from the English and European champion

"They have got a squad which reflects that, so for us the challenge is to go down there and knock them off their perch. The boys are definitely up for it."

Danny Cipriani has recovered from a calf strain to resume at fly-half for Wasps as they face Bath in a clash between second and third at the Ricoh Arena.

Kurtley Beale makes his Premiership debut for Wasps, switching from centre to full-back, Elliot Daly returns in the number 13 jersey and Joe Launchbury makes his 100th appearance for the title hopefuls.

"We're two teams who have done well up until this stage in the league," Wasps director of rugby Dai Young said.

"We know points won and lost over the Christmas period can really make a difference. It's an important game for both teams.

"There's more pressure on us because this is a home game and you have to win your home games against the teams around you in the Premiership. It should be a great occasion because both teams will be desperate to get the points."

In Saturday's final fixture, Exeter and Leicester will duel for fourth place when they collide at Sandy Park with England prospect Mike Williams making his first start for the Tigers since breaking his arm in October.


From Belfast Telegraph