Mark McCall admits a buzz of excitement has returned to Saracens’ senior players ahead of the club’s first meaningful match in months. Saracens were condemned to relegation from the Gallagher Premiership in January as punishment for breaching salary cap rules but have continued to fulfil fixtures in the competition.

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Interest in this season rests solely on the Champions Cup, with the competition holders set to continue the defence of their crown during a seismic quarter-final showdown with Leinster next Saturday.

Director of rugby McCall, whose side host runaway league leaders Exeter on Sunday before travelling to Dublin, revealed the upcoming European encounter has led to a perceptible improvement in the mood among his star men.

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RugbyPass brings you Game Day, the behind the scenes documentary on the 2018 Guinness PRO14 final at Aviva Stadium featuring Leinster and Scarlets

“I guess, if we’re honest, the most difficult thing for us has been, however we dressed it up, none of the games we have played to this point have been particularly meaningful. That’s the truth,” he said. “We tried to build those games up as much as we could for the playing group and we wanted to get into a run of form and get some cohesion.

“But the truth is we have got a really experienced playing group who get excited when there is something on the match and there has been nothing on the matches for a while now.

“You can feel today [Friday] – we had a training session this afternoon for the Leinster game – this excitement around the group because there is something to look forward to next week.”

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With only pride at stake for the majority of 2020, McCall has experimented with his squad in the Premiership while attempting to keep his strongest team prepared for the forthcoming titanic tussle with Leinster, which is a repeat of the 2019 final won by Saracens in Newcastle 16 months ago.

He will again give opportunities to inexperienced players during this weekend’s clash with red-hot title favourites Exeter, including a debut for inside centre Harry Sloan and first start for Janco Venter at number eight.

Chiefs have built a 14-point advantage at the top of the table and McCall accepts it is hard to envisage anyone stopping them.

“On the basis of how they’ve played since the game has resumed, it’s difficult to see them losing,” said the Irishman. “But I guess anybody on their day can have an off day and there’s also a couple of teams who, when they get everything right, can pose them some problems.”

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McCall expects to travel to the Aviva Stadium with “a relatively clean bill of health”, although England captain Owen Farrell will be banned following his dangerous tackle against Wasps last Saturday.

 

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