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Saracens bring back England stars in bid to ignite title defence against Leicester

Saracens will welcome a host of England internationals back for Saturday’s meeting with Leicester Tigers, eight days after they defeated Argentina in Paris to claim third place at the Rugby World Cup.

Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Ben Earl, Billy Vunipola and Elliot Daly line up in Mark McCall’s starting XV at the StoneX Stadium with another member of Steve Borthwick’s England squad, the hooker Theo Dan, among the replacements. Saracens lost their first two Premiership games before kickstarting their title defence with a 24-3 victory at Gloucester in round three last Friday.

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“It has been fantastic to be back at Sarries this week,” said Farrell, the Saracens and England captain. “It is always nice to come back after a while away, and we are now really excited to get stuck in to the season all together.”

The Tonga wing, Solomone Kata, is named on Leicester’s bench and is in line for his first appearance after joining from Exeter during the summer. But Leicester’s own England contingent will not be involved in north London, with the full-back Freddie Steward, prop Dan Cole, second-rows Ollie Chessum and George Martin and scrum-half Ben Youngs given more time to recover from their exertions in France.

The Leicester head coach, Dan McKellar, quashed speculation in midweek linking him to the vacant Wallabies job following the departure of Eddie Jones, while the Tigers announced the re-signing of the England international wing, Anthony Watson, who will arrive next month. Watson was included in England’s Rugby World Cup squad, despite then being without a club, but was ruled out of the tournament by injury.

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Leicester edged a dramatic encounter last week against Bath thanks to Jamie Shillcock’s late penalty, and will have their work cut out against opponents brimming with international quality.

Bath, meanwhile, welcome the England back-row Sam Underhill back for Saturday’s encounter with Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens but there is no place in the 23 for the Scotland fly-half Finn Russell, with first-choice scrum-half Ben Spencer named on the bench.

Despite last week’s loss at the Recreation Ground, Johann van Graan’s side led the standings after round three, having secured bonus-point victories against Newcastle and Saracens. The South Africa prop, Thomas du Toit, starts for the second week running while Tom Dunn is set for his 200th Bath appearance from the bench. The England back-row Lewis Ludlam returns to the Saints’ starting lineup having come off the bench in the bronze-medal win over Argentina.

Exeter host Bristol Bears at Sandy Park on Sunday having amassed 108 points in two home games – they thrashed Saracens 65-10 on the opening day and defeated Sale 43-0 last weekend, along with a defeat at Harlequins in round two.

The Chiefs’ director of rugby, Rob Baxter, makes five changes including a fresh front row with Scott Sio at loosehead, Ehren Painter at tighthead and Jack Yeandle captaining the side from hooker. For Bristol, Sam Grahamslaw will make his Premiership debut at hooker having arrived after the collapse of Jersey Reds.

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Sale’s Arron Reed breaks through the tackle of Jake MorrisSale’s Arron Reed breaks through the tackle of Jake Morris to score his second try against Gloucester. Photograph: Jan Kruger/Getty Images for Sale Sharks

Reed double gives Sale win over Gloucester

In Friday night’s game, Arron Reed’s first-half double earned Sale a hard-fought 24-10 victory over Gloucester. Alex Sanderson’s side put some early discipline struggles behind them to hit the front through wing Reed, who scored his second try just after the half-hour mark to put the hosts firmly in the ascendancy.

Tries from the returning Ben Curry and the debutant Agustín Creevy then put the finishing touches to a fine performance, before Freddie Thomas grabbed a late consolation score for Gloucester.

Victory on a wet night at Salford Stadium moves Sale to the top of the league before Saturday’s fixtures, while another disappointing loss for the visitors leaves them languishing in sixth. Back-to-back defeats adds to the pressure on Gloucester before a derby with high-flying Bath next Friday.