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McCall names the Saracens players who have most caught his eye on their tier-two Championship adventure

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Mark McCall has listed off some of the unheralded names at Saracens who have so far caught his eye in the London club’s attempt to earn promotion from the Championship back to the Gallagher Premiership for the 2021/22 season. Rather than work solely with a who’s who galaxy of star Test player names, as was the case when Saracens were winning Premiership and European titles, this has been a very different season for McCall at the club he first joined in 2009.

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Most star names have either been loaned out to other clubs or taken less of the burden in the delayed Championship campaign, leaving McCall to lean more on players who are only building their reputation in the game.

Saracens are currently third on the Championship table with six wins from seven outings in the ten-match regular season campaign before the top two teams playoff for the right to be promoted to the top-flight. Next up for McCall and co is their home game next Monday versus Ampthill and while an opening day defeat at Cornish Pirates wasn’t in the plan, he has been pleased with how some of the lesser-known talents in his squad have progressed in recent months.

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“It has been quite interesting because us not having our loan players not here and the international players not available has really opened up a window of opportunity for quite a few players, to be honest,” explained McCall when asked who has impressed him most in Saracens’ second-tier adventure.

“Andy Christie, Sean Reffell in the back row have had a lot of game time and they have done exceptionally well. We have had KP at hooker (Kapeli Pifeleti) who has played for us when Tom Woolstencroft was injured. Callum Hunter-Hill is back from a really bad injury, Sam Crean, Dom Morris has stepped up, he has had a really good year. He had played a little bit of senior rugby at the end of last season and he has continued to do that in the Championship. Elliot (Obatoyinbo) at full-back as well.

“It has really been a window that we hoped would be like this because our loan players have had some significant rugby away from the club and we are very grateful to the loan clubs that they went to. They are starting to drop back into the group now and then we will welcome Alex Lozowski, Max Malins and Ben Earl back in due course. The international players you know about but this young group – and I didn’t mention Joel Kpoku – it’s just there is a lot of good young players who have come through our academy that we are very excited about.”

Saracens’ journey so far has taken place behind closed doors but a limited number of fans will be at the StoneX next Monday before the former kingpins of England and Europe get to experience their first Championship away day in front of a crowd when they face Coventry on May 23. McCall has so far enjoyed the adventure.

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“All that has been good, it has just been such a shame that there haven’t been crowds. We would have loved to have gone to all of these places in front of crowds but that hasn’t been the case for anybody. We will do against Coventry on Saturday week, so that is one to look forward to.

“It has been a really short sprint and we have tried to prepare like we would do if we were in the Premiership. We have tried to keep this a Premiership operation as much as possible. It just so happens that our games are in the Championship.

“I have been really impressed with the teams that we are playing against, really well organised, highly motivated and with a combination of players who have been there and done it in the Premiership before or didn’t quite get the break that they deserved and young hungry players who want to make their mark. I feel we have seen the best of each team. Sometimes you watch them on video against other teams and then the team you face against is a little bit better than that. That is what we have faced all the way through which has been great.”

McCall has named his team to face Ampthill and it heralds the return of Alex Goode on the bench following the completion of his loan spell in the Japanese Top League.

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SARACENS (vs Ampthill, Monday): 15. Elliott Obatoyinbo; 14. Sean Maitland, 13. Elliot Daly, 12. Nick Tompkins, 11. Ali Crossdale; 10. Owen Farrell (capt), 9. Aled Davies; 1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Jamie George, 3. Vincent Koch, 4. Maro Itoje, 5. Joel Kpoku, 6. Calum Clark, 7. Jackson Wray, 8. Billy Vunipola. Reps: 16. Tom Woolstencroft, 17. Ralph Adams-Hale, 18. Alec Clarey, 19. Tim Swinson, 20. Sean Reffell, 21. Alex Day, 22. Dom Morris, 23. Alex Goode.

 

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