EXETER Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter has made five changes to his starting line-up for the Gallagher Premiership clash at reigning champions Saracens tomorrow (5.30pm).
With England internationals remaining in camp with the national side ahead of this year’s Guinness Six Nations, the youth of the Chiefs squad are brought more into the fold with two players in line for possible Premiership debuts.
Both Charlie McCaig and Arthur Relton are named on the replacements' bench as the outside back options at the StoneX Stadium.
Alec Hepburn returns from Scotland camp to start, with Jack Yeandle and Marcus Street in an experienced front row.
Newly-appointed Welsh international captain Dafydd Jenkins returns from his nation’s training camp to partner Rusi Tuima in the second row for a second consecutive week.
The space left by England-named Ethan Roots is filled by Lewis Pearson, shifting into the back row from a lock position to start on the flank with Jacques Vermeulen and Greg Fisilau at eight.
Stu Townsend swaps shirts with Tom Cairns as the latter moves to the bench to allow for the experienced scrum-half to start in partnership with Harvey Skinner at fly-half.
Josh Hodge will look to strike-up the try-scoring form he enjoyed against Saracens earlier in the season from full-back with Ben Hammersley and Olly Woodburn outside of him on the wings.
Zack Wimbush will then be able to rely on the guidance and knowledge of Ollie Devoto in a brand-new centre partnership with Henry Slade in England camp and Joe Hawkins currently suspended having received a red card last weekend.
Baxter has had his focus on ensuring his squad have made the most of every chance to prepare for this weekend’s clash in a shortened training week following on from their Investec Champions Cup game defeat by Bayonne in France last Sunday.
“This is our last big fixture in a block of Gallagher Premiership and Investec Champions Cup action. They’ve all been important games and they’ve all been pretty tough, so this weekend doesn’t feel like a shift," he said.
“We’ve had a truncated training week with such a tight turnaround after travelling back from Bayonne on Monday morning. Normally that’s good for us as short training week can bring high energy, which is what you need to play against Saracens.
“If we don’t turn up with energy and enthusiasm then the game is done before you even start. We’ll focus on that and then just nail down any tactical bits as well.”
Fresh from a European debut, Danny Southworth is named as a front row replacement alongside Dan Frost and Josh Iosefa-Scott. Ross Vintcent returns from his time in Italy with his international side to be named with Jack Dunne as further pack cover.
For Saracens, Logovi’i Mulipola keeps his place at loose-head prop, and he is joined by James Hadfield and Christian Judge in the front-row.
Theo McFarland returns to the second-row alongside Hugh Tizard, with Juan Martin Gonzalez, Andy Christie and Billy Vunipola in the back row.
Ivan van Zyl and captain Owen Farrell maintain their half-back partnership, with Olly Hartley and Nick Tompkins reuniting in the midfield. Alex Lewington comes back in on the left wing, with Rotimi Segun and Alex Goode completing an exciting and experienced back-three.
Saracens lock Tizard told the Londoners' website: “It is time for us to step up in the big games and against the big teams. This weekend is not just about fighting for points in the league table against Chiefs, it’s about making amends.
“We had a successful period last year during the Six Nations when the top players were away, and we want the same again this season."
Saracens: Alex Goode, Rotimi Segun, Nick Tompkins, Olly Hartley, Alex Lewington, Owen Farrell (capt), Ivan van Zyl Logovi’i Mulipola, James Hadfield, Christian Judge, Theo McFarland, Hugh Tizard, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Andy Christie, Billy Vunipola. Replacements: Sam Crean, Eroni Mawi, Ollie Hoskins, Ollie Stonham, Toby Knight, Gareth Simpson, Lucio Cinti, Tom Parton.
Exeter Chiefs: Josh Hodge, Ben Hammersley, Zack Wimbush, Ollie Devoto, Olly Woodburn, Harvey Skinner, Stu Townsend, Alec Hepburn, Jack Yeandle, Marcus Street, Rusi Tuima, Dafydd Jenkins (capt), Lewis Pearson, Jacques Vermeulen, Greg Fisilau. Replacements: Dan Frost, Danny Southworth, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Jack Dunne, Ross Vintcent, Tom Cairns, Charlie McCaig, Arthur Relton.
Referee: Karl Dickson.