Mark McCall believes clear the air talks were key to ending a seven game losing run and has put Saracens back on track to register a third successive European Champions Cup triumph this season.
The holders, aiming to emulate three times winners Toulon, head to Ospreys on Saturday for the penultimate pool match knowing that defeat will effectively ruin their title defence. There is a mathematical possibility of Sarries still making the quarter-finals if they lose and then beat Northampton at home in the final pool game but McCall is only interested in a win in Wales.
Back-to-back losses to Clermont Auvergne, the team they beat to retain the trophy in last season’s final, came during their losing run which has now been ended in emphatic style with wins over Leicester, Worcester and then Wasps last weekend. The return from injury of Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola, Liam Williams and Michael Rhodes has also been vital although Scotland centre Duncan Taylor is now out with concussion and is being sent to see a specialist after suffering blows to the head in his last two games.
While the squad is starting to look similar to the one that dominated Europe last season, McCall is adamant the honesty shown during those in-house discussions involving coaches and players was the key to the improved form in recent weeks.
McCall wouldn’t got into the details of the changes that have been made but he admitted: ” It hasn’t been perfect and not without some difficult conversations. It has also been an invigorating period as well and we have been able to explore things a bit deeper and ask a few questions that we wouldn’t normally do. We had away games that were pretty daunting after the home match with Clermont (they lost 46-14). It has been Clermont, Leicester, Wasps away -Worcester at home- and now away to Ospreys. Given where we were on the night after the Clermont home defeat, I am very proud of how we reacted.
“For Ospreys it is the first time we have had some incredibly tough selection decisions to make with one back row who is missing out who has been outstanding; we have to pick three from four of our second rows as well and this is the first time this season we have had those kind of choices to make. Ospreys are a good side with experienced players at the core of their team and the weather forecast doesn’t look good. However, going away from home doesn’t bother us at all and we know we have to deserve it on the night.
“Our set piece has to be good against Ospreys and also be persistent like we were at times against Wasps and did the right things at the right time. The players want to be involved in quarter-finals. They want to be involved in those games. If we lose we won’t be. It’s as simple as that really.“
The last time McCall took Sarries to the Liberty Stadium in December 2011 they won 16-13 and there was a suicide on the train line which meant cancellations. They were in a packed carriage to Swansea and only arrived 90 minutes before kick off and the players had not eaten. “Peter Stringer was playing his first match for us and said Paul O’Connell would not have accepted travelling on the day of the game, but we did win. This time we are going down on Friday:” added McCall.
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