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'He's the top tackler in the Premiership... he's a devastating attacker as well'

By PA
Ben Earl /PA

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Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall praised the efforts of Ben Earl after the flanker played a key role in their 18-12 triumph over Sale Sharks.

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Earl inspired his side, both with and without the ball, as he touched down twice and produced a superb defensive effort to help the Londoners move closer to securing a play-off place.

Despite earning 13 England caps, the back-row has not featured for the national team since their humbling 32-18 defeat to Ireland last March.

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He was not part of the group for the recent Six Nations and was not even called up when injuries ruled out players such as Tom Curry.

Instead, opensides Tom Pearson, Sam Underhill and Jack Willis were all brought into the squad ahead of the discarded Saracens flanker.

“He’s on top of all parts of his game,” McCall said. “He’s the top tackler in the Premiership this year. The quality of his tackling has improved but he’s a devastating attacker as well. He’s like having an extra back on the field.

“He did a lot of important things on the field for us today and he’s done it all season.”

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McCall was also pleased with the team’s response to last weekend’s performance against Bristol.

Although they emerged triumphant against the Bears, it was a disjointed display from Sarries.

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“We felt we were a bit individual in some of our actions last week,” McCall said. “We wanted to play together and have that cohesion which we maybe didn’t show last week, and I felt we had that today.

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“Often if you lose, you get a response from your team. We won last week but when we came in on Monday it didn’t feel like we had won because our players are very demanding of each other, in terms of the standards that they want.

“We have high expectations and we didn’t meet those expectations last weekend.

“Even though it wasn’t perfect rugby from us today – far from it – I thought we were on the same page.”

McCall’s emotions were in stark contrast to Saracens great Alex Sanderson, who is now the boss at Sale.

After 17 years at the Londoners, Sanderson left the club in January 2021 to take charge of the Greater Manchester outfit and duly led them into the play-offs last season, but it looks like they will miss out this time around.

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The Sharks’ director of rugby has not given up hope on reaching the top four but admits a lot will have to go their way for it to happen.

“Frustration doesn’t come into it, I’m gutted,” he said. “I’m gutted because the hopes of proving our worth has just become that bit harder to take hold of, in terms of controlling our own destiny.

“We’re not going to stop fighting, there’s no point throwing the towel in… but clearly we have to be better.

“For all the effort, for all the physicality, for all the territory and for all the possession we had in the first half, we needed to convert that into some points.

“Our aim remains the same, as it has been since Christmas, which is to win every game and pick up every bonus point we can.

“I’m sure it will come down to that last game which will keep the Premiership exciting and keep us very motivated. But we’ve just made it that bit harder for ourselves.”

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