Saracens launch the defence of their European title without all their superstars but with Alex Lozowski warning: “We are the champions, we won’t just roll over”.

The Londoners, reeling from a 35-point penalty imposed for breaching the Premiership salary cap, have chosen to prioritise top flight survival over a fourth Champions Cup crown in five years.

That means omitting seven of their eight players who lined up for England in the World Cup final in Japan a fortnight ago.

Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Billy and Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, George Kruis and new signing Elliot Daly all miss tomorrow’s trip to Paris to face Racing 92.

 

Happier days: Lozowski is mobbed by team mates after scoring at Northampton

The exception is scrum-half Ben Spencer, who played four minutes off the bench in the defeat by South Africa.

The Londoners’ decision to rest their best players comes ahead of a decision on whether to seek a review of the punishment which leaves them 26 points adrift at the foot of the table and £5.36 million the poorer.

Until that is made the future of all concerned remains in limbo but England centre Lozowski insists such uncertainty does not make Saracens easy beats.

 

Chris Robshaw of Harlequins is tackled by Jesse Mogg of Montpellier
Chris Robshaw (above) and Exeter boss Rob Baxter (below) have had plenty to say about salary cap-busting Saracens


“When you play for this rugby club, when you pull on a Saracens shirt, you are expected to win,” he said. “That’s the standard we set ourselves.

“So while this weekend’s team is very different to the one which started the final in May, we are still the champions. We are not just going to roll over and let whoever else come along and dominate us.”

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Only Lozowski, Spencer, prop Titi Lamositele and lock Will Skelton remain from the side which came from behind to beat Leinster 20-10 at Newcastle’s St James Park in last season’s showpiece.

 

Sarries boss Mark McCall

When asked earlier this week if the ruling against Sarries tarnished the club’s achievements, boss Mark McCall replied: “I think in lots of people’s eyes it will.”

Lozowski will leave such judgements to others, reasoning that “if you let yourself think about anything other than the game you’ve got to play you’re going to run into trouble.

“The news broke last week and we had to find a way to focus on a massive game at Gloucester. We got the win but had we not prepared as well as we did we would likely have been taken to the cleaners.

 

Owen Farrell of Saracens goes on the attack
Owen Farrell goes on attack against Racing 92 in 2016 final. He is one of a host of stars stood down this weekend

“It is the same this weekend. We are aware how good Racing are, what great players they have. Also how important it is for us to start well in Europe.

“We also saw what happened with other results last week. Comments were made by certain people from other teams and the results didn’t go their way. That shows where getting distracted with the wrong things gets you.”

Lozowski says the potential for job losses or players being sold off has not been discussed. But he insists to a man they are ready to fight.

 

Saracens' players celebrate winning 2016 European Champions Cup final against Racing
Saracens’ players celebrate winning European Champions Cup against Racing 92

“If the points deduction remains I’d fully expect all the boys to roll up their sleeves and show that real competitive spirit which exists amongst everyone at this club,” he said.

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“It’s obviously not a position we would want to be in but we have to see good in every opportunity. It’s a chance to really show what we’re made of.”

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP POOL BY POOL GUIDE

POOL 1

This gets ‘pool of death’ status given Leinster are four-time champions, unbeaten in Pro-14 and tournament favourites – and are up against French Top 14 leaders Lyon and high-flying Northampton. Pity Treviso.

Player to watch: Cobus Reinach (Northampton).

Predicted pool winner: Leinster. 

Leinster coach Stuart Lancaster with 2018 Champions Cup

Northampton

Captain: Alex Waller/Teimana Harrison

Coach: Chris Boyd

Best finish: Champions (2000)

Formguide: 2nd Prem (W3 L1)

Odds (William Hill): 50

Leinster

Captain: Johnny Sexton

Coach: Leo Cullen

Best finish: Champions (2009-11-12-18)

Formguide: 1st Pro14 (Conf A: W6 L0)

Odds: 2

Lyon

Captain: Baptiste Couilloud/Felix Lambey

Coach: Pierre Mignoni

Best finish: Pool

Formguide: 1st Top14 (W8 L1)

Odds: 66

Treviso

Captain: Alberto Sgarbi

Coach: Kieran Crowley

Best finish: Pool

Formguide: 5th Pro14 (Conf B: W2 L4)

Odds: 150

Exeter star signing Stuart Hogg

POOL 2

Given Saracens travails this is the season for Exeter to stand up and they should not have too much to fear in this pool, though Sale and Glasgow will defend their home turf ferociously. Difficult start at La Rochelle. Must bounce back from last week’s collapse against Bristol.

Player to watch: Stuart Hogg (Exeter).

Predicted pool winner: Exeter.

Exeter

Captain: Jack Yeandle

Coach: Rob Baxter

Best finish: QF (2016)

Formguide: 6th Prem (W2 L2)

Odds: 12

Sale

Captain: Jono Ross

Coach: Steve Diamond

Best finish: QF (2006)

Formguide: 4th Prem (W2 L2)

Odds: 80

Sale scrum-half Faf de Klerk in South Africa’s World Cup semi-final defeat of Wales

Glasgow

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Captain: Callum Gibbins/Ryan Wilson

Coach: Dave Rennie

Best finish: QF (2017-19)

Formguide: 4th Pro14 (Conf A: W3 L3)

Odds: 40

La Rochelle

Captain: Romain Sazy

Coach: Jono Gibbes

Best finish: QF (2018)

Formguide:  9th Top14 (W4 L5)

Odds: 40

POOL 3

A pool of ‘nearly’ teams, with Harlequins and Bath having long flattered to deceive. Ulster are overdue an extended run whilst surely Clermont, back after winning a third Challenge Cup last season, must soon deliver in the Champions Cup.

Player to watch: Damien Penaud (Clermont).

Predicted pool winner: Clermont.

Sam Underhill, man of match for England in World Cup semi-final win over New Zealand, starts for Bath today

Bath

Captain: Charlie Ewels

Coach: Stuart Hooper

Best finish: Champions (1998)

Formguide: 9th Prem (W2 L2)

Odds: 100

Harlequins

Captain: Chris Robshaw

Coach: Paul Gustard

Best finish: QF (1997-98-2013)

Formguide: 10th Prem (W1 L3)

Odds: 66

Clermont

Captain: Morgan Parra

Coach: Frank Azema

Best finish: Runners-up (2013-15-17)

Formguide: 6th Top14 (W5 L4)

Odds: 7

Ulster

Captain: Iain Henderson

Coach: Dan MacFarland

Best finish: Champions (1999)

Formguide: 2nd Pro14 (Conf A: W4 L2)

Odds: 50

Saracens captain Brad Barritt in Champions Cup final action in May

POOL 4

Saracens are reigning champions, winners in three of the past four years, but a 35-point Premiership deduction means their focus is on domestic survival. They will still be competitive, but Munster and Racing will expect to take advantage.

Player to watch: Joey Carbery (Munster).

Predicted pool winner: Munster.

Saracens

Captain: Brad Barritt

Coach: Mark McCall

Best finish: Champions (2016-17-19)

Formguide: 3rd Prem (W3 L1)

Odds: 3

Munster

Captain: Peter O’Mahony

Coach: Johan van Graan

Best finish: Champions (2006-08)

Formguide: 1st Pro14 (Conf B: W5 L1)

Odds: 16

Ospreys

Captain: Justin Tipuric

Coach: Allen Clarke

Best finish: QF (2008-09-10)

Formguide: 6th Pro14 (Conf A: W1 L5)

Odds: 250

Ospreys captain Justin Tipuric fends off England centre Henry Slade during Six Nations clash in Wales last season

Racing 92

Captain: Henry Chavancy

Coach: Yannick Nyanga

Best finish: Runners-up (2016-18)

Formguide: 10th Top14 (W3 D1 L5)

Odds: 20

POOL 5

French powerhouses Toulouse and Montpellier have made sluggish starts to the Top14 but are expected to come on strong in Europe. Gloucester are nobody’s fools these days but have their work cut out to qualify.

Player to watch: Ollie Thorley (Gloucester).

Predicted pool winner: Toulouse.

Gloucester

Captain: Willi Heinz

Coach: Johann Ackermann

Best finish: SF (2001)

Formguide:  5th Prem (W2 L2)

Odds: 28

Joe Simpson, pictured playing for ex-club Wasps, scored two sparkling tries in Gloucester’s 20-25 home defeat to Toulouse last night

Connacht

Captain: Jarrad Butler

Coach: Andy Friend

Best finish: Pool

Formguide: 4th Pro14 (Conf B: W4 L2)

Odds: 100

Montpellier

Captain: Louis Picamoles

Coach: Vern Cotter

Best finish: QF (2013)

Formguide: 7th Top14 (W3 D2 L4)

Odds: 33

Toulouse

Captain: Julien Marchand

Coach: Jerome Cazalbou

Best finish: Champions (1996-2003-05-10)

Formguide: 8th Top14 (W4 L5)

Odds: 7

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