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Saracens taking risk-free approach to Owen Farrell return

Saracens boss Mark McCall will not take any risks by rushing England star Owen Farrell back into action.

The Saracens fly-half has not played this season, and he will again be absent when the reigning Aviva Premiership champions tackle bottom club Bristol at Ashton Gate on Friday.

"Owen has a back problem which we are continuing to monitor," McCall said.

"It's really a day-by-day thing with Owen at the moment. It's a bit of an open-ended injury, which is always frustrating for the player and the club, but we won't risk him."

Saracens were knocked off top spot in the Premiership during the past two rounds of action, but a win in the west country would see them reclaim pole position.

Bristol, back in English rugby's top flight after a seven-year absence, have conceded 164 points in four league games this term, but McCall added: "Bristol have proved how competitive they are at home already this season.

"And we are well aware that a trip to Ashton Gate under the lights will be a tough examination for us.

"We are running low on a few bodies in the backs, but that gives us the chance to blood a few youngsters and we're looking forward to seeing how they meet the challenge."

Northampton slipped to 10th in the league following a home defeat against Wasps last time out, and they return to Franklin's Gardens on Friday for another difficult assignment, with last season's beaten Premiership finalists Exeter being their opponents.

The Saints are again without their injured England captain Dylan Hartley, and flanker Tom Wood is rested, but back-row forward Calum Clark returns from long-term injury trouble to pack down alongside Jamie Gibson and Louis Picamoles.

A third successive league win for Exeter, meanwhile, would take them into the top four, and Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter said: "Collecting 10 points in 10 days feels good, but now we have to add to that momentum we've generated.

"It's one of those fixtures that gives you a real opportunity to test yourself as not only a player, but also as a team as well.

"Yes, we are aware Northampton will be hurting after the Wasps game last week, but we have to take advantage of that. It means we have to go up there and play well, start well and keep some real pressure on them.

"In a lot of ways, that's almost the most important thing to take into the game - making sure we start well and put pressure on the opposition."

Northampton are currently just six points above Bristol, but Baxter added: "Looking at the Wasps game last week, I think Northampton will feel they bombed a few chances. They got close to the line a few times and lost the ball, plus they had a few gilt-edged chances which they didn't quite see off.

"Add in the fact that Wasps scored a length-of-the-field try, and it all adds up. In close games, those little things can really hurt you. I've been in the same situation in the past where you have done most things right, yet not come away with the score.

"At this level, it's hard to put together two wins, let alone three or four, but the teams that can do that are the teams that traditionally end up in the top six and the top four, and that's what we have to fight hard to achieve."


From Belfast Telegraph