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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Sarries' scoring power to take toll on Saints by end

Quins new boy Smith ready to shine at Twickenham

Maro Itoje played in all three Lions Tests and starts for Saracens
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Saracens v Northampton
BT Sport 1, 2pm Saturday
London Irish v Harlequins
BT Sport 1, 4.45pm Saturday

The London double-header has been part of the round one of the Premiership since 2004 and Northampton make their debut at the big occasion against a team who traditionally open with a bang at Twickenham.

Saracens have won their opening match for the last five years, scoring an average of nearly 40 points a game, and although they face tougher opposition this time, director of rugby Mark McCall has not been slow to call his big names back into action.

Two of Sarries' Lions - George Kruis and Maro Itoje - go straight into the starting line-up, and while the Vunipola brothers and hooker Jamie George are still rested there's no shortage of bulk and power in the pack.

The Saints have their Lion in action too as Courtney Lawes starts in the second row, and a front row of Alex Waller, Kieran Brookes and England skipper Dylan Hartley won't take a backward step.

So this looks sure to be a physical contest but Sarries' extra scoring edge could tell as the game progresses.

With long-serving Stephen Myler and new signing Piers Francis, who made his England debut in the summer, both injured, 21-year-old Harry Mallinder starts at fly-half for the Saints with 19-year recent academy graduate James Grayson, son of club legend Paul, on the bench.

In part two at Twickenham London Irish make their return to the top flight against Harlequins, who have replaced world-class fly-half Nick Evans with a young man who is already being tipped to reach even greater heights.

Read more

Premiership season preview

Premiership top tryscorer

Premiership team guide

Marcus Smith, aged 18, is already being hailed by teammates and club insiders as a truly standout talent, has been unexpectedly parachuted straight into the starting line-up. 

"The kid is special," is the verdict of Quins teammate Danny Care, who lines up alongside him at scrum-half. "He's incredibly talented. He's going to be very, very good."

Quins need a playmaker who can unleash the pace and talent they have in their backline, as given their firepower it's disappointing they managed to score more than two tries in only eight of 22 league games last term.

Smith won't find the kind of gaps he is used to exploiting against Premiership defences. But he looks a tricky runner and in what could be an open contest against a team still getting adjusted to the intensity of the top flight, the 3-1 that he marks his debut with a try is worth a speculative wager.

Irish are a bit of an unknown quantity as they coasted through last season in the Championship although many of their players were part of the squad who were relegated in 2015-16 so they know what to expect. The Exiles are given a nine-point start.

In the day's other game Wasps are 12-point favourites at home to Sale. Springbok scrum-half Faf de Klerk makes his debut for the Sharks, while Denny Solomona also starts although Australian signing James O'Connor must wait for his debut.

Saracens -6 on second-half handicap
2pts 10-11 Hills
M Smith to score a try in London Irish v Harlequins
1pt 3-1 bet365

Saracens have won their opening match for the last five years, scoring an average of nearly 40 points a game
E.W. Terms
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