As if their current challenge wasn’t hard enough already, Worcester Warriors will be without a host of influential stars as they prepare to face Saracens in their Aviva Premiership Rugby opener at Twickenham.
Worcester face the defending champions Sarries in the London Double Header – Harlequins also play Bristol at Rugby HQ – but Warriors boss Carl Hogg is refusing to press the panic button.
Full-backs Chris Pennell and Ben Howard, flanker Carl Kirwan, wing Bryce Heem, centre Ryan Mills and lock Will Spencer are all set to be ruled out with injuries, while experienced scrum-half Francois Hougaard has been called up by South Africa’s Test squad for two matches in the Rugby Championship.
Sarries scored 91 points against Worcester last season in the Aviva Premiership – they steamrollered Worcester 48-18 in last season’s London Double Header, before winning 43-19 at Sixways after Christmas.
And despite a plethora of talent missing for Worcester and the stiff of challenge of Sarries on the horizon, Hogg is optimistic of causing a shock.
Hogg said: “I think we have a solid group who want to work for each other and want to be involved at Worcester Warriors for the right reasons.
“Last season wasn’t without its challenges.
“We got through a 10-week period of back-to-back matches in the Premiership and picked up four or five wins.
“We built some confidence and momentum and intend to take that forward into this season.
“We get to play Saracens first up, who are the European and Premiership champions at Twickenham, and, as a player and a coach, you want to test yourself.
“You can’t get a better test than against Saracens on the opening day so we are just looking forward to the challenge.”
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall has called for concentration from his squad ahead of the clash with Worcester this weekend, believing they’ll be facing a very different animal this time around.
McCall is aware of the challenge posed by the likes of England-qualified powerhouse Ben Te’o for Worcester and he will be joined in the centres by Jackson Willison, a Maori All Blacks international.
“Our players enjoy playing at Twickenham, this year we’re against Worcester again and they’re recruited really well in the summer,” he said.
“They’ve got a really good core of experience now so it’s going to be a really tough fixture to start the season with.
“With Carl (Hogg) taking over from Dean Ryan they’ve got a new figure at the top, they’ve brought in some internationals and they’ve got Ben Te’o in the centres, (Francois) Hougaard at scrum-half. But also they have a deep, senior look to their squad now.
“These first six games are generally quite important, a tough run of games but we do have our full squad available to us and there are other times during the year that’s not the case and we have to do without a fair chunk of our players for a period of time. While we’ve got our full squad we have to capitalise on that.
“We’ve been really consistent over the last three years in particular.
“Three years ago we got into both finals and we lost them both, we lost the last one against Northampton in the last second.
“We did well to respond to that two years ago and last year was great for the club. But the aim is to always give ourselves a chance at the end of the season, and to do that we need to be reminded of things that are important to us.”
Referee: Matt Carley (46th Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Simon McConnell & Roger Baileff.
TMO: Graham Hughes.
Live on BT Sport