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Mark McCall keen to start strong as Saracens target Premiership title defence

Mark McCall wants Saracens to target a flying start in their quest for another Aviva Premiership title.

McCall's champions face a league opener against Worcester at Twickenham on Saturday which is followed by five more Premiership games before they begin their European Champions Cup defence, and then England's autumn Test schedule will inevitably mean several players being summoned for international duty.

"These first six games are generally quite important," rugby director McCall said.

"It's a tough run of games, but we do have our full squad available to us, and there are other times during the year that's not the case and we have to do without a fair chunk of our players for a period of time.

"While we've got our full squad, we have to capitalise on that."

Domestic silverware for Saracens again this season would make them only the third club after Leicester and Wasps to complete a Premiership title hat-trick, and McCall added: "We've been really consistent over the last three years, in particular.

"Three years ago, we got into both finals (Premiership and European) and we lost them both.

"We did well to respond to that two years ago, and last season was great for the club. But the aim is to always give ourselves a chance at the end of the season, and to do that we need to be reminded of things that are important to us."

Worcester, now with Carl Hogg at the coaching helm following Dean Ryan's departure, will parade England midfield prospect Ben Te'o at Twickenham in what could be a fascinating early-season form pointer for red rose boss Eddie Jones.

Former rugby league star Te'o has arrived in the Premiership with a big reputation, and Hogg said: "Ben's winning mentality was one of his main attractions.

"Ben has won the NRL Grand Final with South Sydney Rabbitohs, and we will look to use his experience to help us with our task this season. Ben is a powerful, physical athlete who can take the ball to the line, but he can also off-load and he has got good distribution in the tackle."

Bristol will end their long Premiership exile when they tackle Harlequins in the second part of Saturday's Twickenham double-header, and rugby director Andy Robinson wants his players to embrace this season's challenge.

"We know to begin with we just have to be able to control what we can control, which is ourselves and the way we play the game and our tempo," Robinson said.

"We will also need a very strong set-piece, because that is a key element of the English game, but also be able to defend well.

"If we can put those elements together with a simple attacking focus and make sure we fight for 80 minutes, then we will get things out of games.

"We will get punished if we drop off at all in the Premiership because of the pace and physicality of it. The sides we are facing are quality teams, so we are under no illusions about the difficulties we face, but we are ready to face them head-on.

"It's all about embracing the Premiership from here on."

Bath, with New Zealander Todd Blackadder now in charge, open up against Northampton at Franklin's Gardens, where several intriguing individual contests are highlighted by Saints' new number eight Louis Picamoles going head to head with Wales star Taulupe Faletau.

Northampton missed out on the Premiership play-offs last term, and rugby director Jim Mallinder said: "Last season was difficult. We didn't have the best of pre-seasons, and that led to a start when we won one of our first four games. That really does put you on the back foot.

"We have been making sure everyone is fit, robust, ready to play and making sure our tactical game in attack and defence is prepared for a long season."

Sunday's Premiership action, meanwhile, sees Wasps and Exeter go into battle at the Ricoh Arena barely three months after they last met in a gripping Premiership play-off clash that the Chiefs won to book a Twickenham final appointment with Saracens.


From Belfast Telegraph