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Saracens well set for testing run of matches

Saracens boss Mark McCall has backed his squad to thrive during what he admits is a "very demanding" phase of the Aviva Premiership campaign.

The current Premiership leaders will be without England contingent Owen Farrell, Alex Goode, Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, George Kruis and Billy Vunipola for Saturday's Allianz Park appointment with ninth-placed Bath.

While England and their new head coach Eddie Jones focus on the RBS 6 Nations Championship, which starts next week, Saracens' mission is purely a relentless pursuit of more Premiership points.

"Our attention is solely focused on a challenging block of Premiership games throughout the Six Nations," Saracens rugby director McCall said.

"From the beginning of the season, we knew this period of the season would be very demanding, and we are confident that we have the calibre of players across the squad to thrive during this run of games.

"Bath will be a real test of where we are at squad-wise, as they are a quality outfit and we know that they possess some very good players who are capable of winning big games."

Saracens go into battle with a three-point advantage over fellow European Champions Cup quarter-finalists Exeter, who visit Worcester on Sunday, while fellow play-off contenders Harlequins and Leicester will also look to consolidate top-four places this weekend.

Quins are away to Newcastle on Sunday, with Leicester in action at Gloucester 24 hours earlier, where they will be without England centre Manu Tuilagi, who is sidelined by a hamstring injury after just three comeback appearances following serious groin trouble that meant he was unavailable for 15 months.

"Manu has just tweaked a hamstring, which will probably mean a couple of weeks out," Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill said.

"He has done well since his return from a long-term injury, and we are looking after him."

For their part, Gloucester return to domestic action following an unbeaten march to the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals, and victory could take them into the Premiership's top six.

"It is going to be a huge test for us," Gloucester rugby director David Humphreys said.

"They (Leicester) are a team who have been going well. They were obviously successful last year, finishing in the top four, and have added new attacking threat to their game with some new coaches and players.

"We've played 15 games this season, and we've only lost four times, so we are in a good place statistically. What we've got to do is bring a consistency to our performance."

Sale have lost just one of their last six games heading into Saturday's home encounter against London Irish, who are currently in 11th spot, and rugby director Steve Diamond wants more of the same from his players.

"London Irish are a side going through a bit of transition, with new coaches," Diamond said.

"But they seem to have got their act together with a couple of good wins against Newcastle and Northampton, and they've won games in the European Challenge Cup, so they will be coming confident. We have got to carry on the way we've been playing.

"We are not too far off where we want to be.

"In the last couple of weeks, Danny (Cipriani) has been on top form with his kicking and directing the team, and the forwards have turned up, so if you have got those things, you've got a good chance of winning."


From Belfast Telegraph