Saracens captain Brad Barritt has revealed the loss of key members of the club’s high-profile squad following their relegation to the Championship next season has left him deeply frustrated heading into their delayed Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against favourites Leinster in Dublin on the weekend of September 18.
Thanks to their well-documented relegation for breaching the Gallagher Premiership salary cap, Saracens have to complete the defence of their Premiership and Heineken Champions Cup titles with a much-depleted squad once the delayed season resumes next month.
Saracens were facing a formidable challenge against the top ranked team in Europe before the pandemic struck and took the season past its normal cut-off point for contracts. Now, they will head to Dublin without internationals Liam Williams, Nick Tomkins, Will Skelton, Rhys Carre, Nick Isiekwe, Ben Earl, Jack Singleton, Alex Lozowski, George Kruis, Alex Goode and Ben Spencer along with promising back Max Malins, who have all moved to new clubs in England, Wales, France and Japan.
Despite facing a season in the Championship, Saracens have brought in Wales scrum-half Aled Davies and agreed short-term deals to keep Barritt and Richard Wigglesworth, their two most experienced players, who have been kept on the books until October. Davies has been joined by a group of Championship players signed by Saracens to ensure that the remaining stars including Owen Farrell, Billy and Mako Vunipola and Maro Itoje do not have to play more than a handful of matches in the second tier of the English game when next season starts.
Those key international players will be on duty against Leinster to give Saracens fans some comfort and Barritt said: “It is incredibly frustrating. We would have loved to have had a final dance with everyone in the squad who got us there but we are in exceptional times and all the rule books have been thrown out of the window. At this point we are happy and lucky to just be able to play the game. A few months ago it looked as if this whole season was going to be scrapped.
“Fundamentally, I believe the ingredients are still there and we have an incredible hotbed of talent and the academy is still doing an incredible job. Saracens will be starting a new era and it will be about wiping the slate clean with a year in the Championship but it won’t be a walk in the park. There is still a strong core and ethos about what Saracens is about. The team doesn’t want to go into the Leinster game undercooked.“
Barritt believes the Lions would do well to look at what he describes as, “three core guys” when it comes to picking a captain for next year’s British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa. The former England centre said: “Owen Farrell is the England captain, Maro Itoje has been an integral part of that leadership group and so has Jamie George, so ultimately the captain is figurehead and you require leaders across the park. The Lions in 2021 will have a host of leaders.”
Barritt insists that Saracens’ draconian fine and subsequent relegation for breaching Premiership rules has not “tainted” his time at the club and while he has ruled out continuing playing in the UK, the inside-centre could take up a contract with a South African Super Rugby side that means he could face the Lions next year. He was called up as a Lions replacement on the 2013 tour to Australia. “I haven’t ruled out playing back in South Africa but my career playing in the UK is over.” added Barritt.
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