Saracens have set the benchmark, says Bath Rugby head coach Gary Gold
Gary Gold says Bath Rugby can expect few tougher tests of their credentials this season than the weekend visit of Saracens.
After back-to-back Amlin Cup victories over Calvisano, Bath return to Aviva Premiership action when Sarries visit The Rec on Saturday (1.15pm).
And although they have already played champions Harlequins and fierce rivals Leicester Tigers this term, head coach Gold believes Mark McCall’s side could provide the sternest challenge.
“It’s probably going to be up there with the ultimate test – Saracens are an outstanding team,” said Gold.
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“They are competitive in Europe and competitive in the Premiership. They were Premiership winners a few years ago and every single game they play, they expect to win.
“Saracens have put their plan into action since 2009 and are three or four years down on when they decided to turn their ship around.
“They’ve done it brilliantly and have really set the benchmark in English rugby.
“They’ve got the England ten, 12, full-back and wing, an international second row and front row. They’re a world- class, star-studded team, which is the reason why they are able to compete in all competitions.
“It’s going to up there with the toughest challenges we face all year.”
Bath have an impressive record at home this season, with Northampton the only side to beat them on their own patch.
Premiership kings Harlequins were sent packing during the last league outing at The Rec but Gold says his team will not be taking anything for granted.
“We’re very happy with what we did against Quins but it’s a new week now and Saracens are a team who travel well,” said Gold.
“They’ve got a good record on the road and are in a very good position, so we are going to have our work cut out. They’ll take a lot of confidence from beating Munster.
“But we are not ashamed to say how much we love playing at The Rec and how awesome the crowd is.
“We’ve got much a mad, passionate crowd and The Rec is a very special place for us. It does lift us.”
Hooker Lee Mears is expected to return to the Bath line-up after serving a two-week suspension following his sending off at Welford Road.
Matt Banahan is unavailable as he serves the final week of his ban for a red card in the same fixture but fellow centre Dan Hipkiss could make his return from injury.
“Lee is coming off his ban, so it’s encouraging that he will be available for selection,” added Gold.
“Dan Hipkiss is back, all our locks are fit and Ben Skirving is back as well.”