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McCall is blessed with a wealth of quality stars


All in hand: Chris Ashton is back in England squad

All in hand: Chris Ashton is back in England squad

David Rogers/Getty Images

All in hand: Chris Ashton is back in England squad

Heading into a game as 12-point underdogs is hardly a common occurrence for Ulster in recent years but such is the situation at Allianz Park today (3.15pm kick-off).

Saracens have been the most impressive team in northern hemisphere rugby this season, sitting top of the Aviva Premiership, a competition they won last year, while also winning four from four in the Champions Cup.

The north Londoners have the squad to achieve a domestic and European double and, with Schalk Burger already lined up to join next season, there is no sign of their lofty ambitions abating.

Saracens provide the bulk of Eddie Jones' first England panel as they aim to win a first Six Nations since 2011.

Eight players will be involved with the Red Rose over the next two months with the return of Chris Ashton and a call-up for the uncapped Mario Itoje grabbing the headlines.

Young flanker Itoje is seen as an England captain in waiting and will once again be at the heart of the Sarries pack today.

Bringing dynamism to proceedings that draw comparisons with Ulster's absent Iain Henderson, the reigning Premiership Player of the Month is a star of the future still very much capable of making a huge impact.

In a pack that also contains the likes of Mako and Billy Vunipola, Jamie George and George Kruis, there are plenty of individual battles to catch the eye up front while, behind the scrum, Ashton will be a handful for Craig Gilroy on the wing.

Having been discarded from the panel ahead of the World Cup, the former league stand-out is among the names selected for Jones' first Six Nations and drew praise from England's new defence coach Paul Gustard.

"Chris' all-round game is pretty solid," said the man who will end a 10-year association with Saracens at the end of this month. "His try-scoring is something that sets him apart."

With the danger posed by the likes of Ashton and USA international Chris Wyles on the opposite wing, Ulster's star scrum-half Ruan Pienaar admits his side must be improved from their meeting last November.

"We have to be a lot better and play really clever to get a result over there," warned the Springbok. "They're a really good side.

"They're well organised and their kicking game is sensational.

"We'll have a look at the game from the last time we played them and what we can rectify."

Upon naming his side, former Ulster captain and coach Mark McCall was reverential when talking about his former side.

"They have players who are capable of winning games on both the domestic and international stage," he said. "Ulster have always been tough opponents, and have made real strides under Les Kiss.

"Earlier this season they provided us with a really difficult game at the Kingspan Stadium and we are expecting the same again."

Belfast Telegraph