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Saracens squad 'excited' ahead of first meaningful fixture in 8 months

By PA
(Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)

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

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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.”

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.

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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.”

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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Shaylen 36 minutes ago
Jack Willis' Champions Cup masterclass proves English eligibility rules need a rethink

If France, Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland got together and all changed their eligibility laws in the same way SA has it would be absolutely bonkers. All players from all nations involved in Europe would be fair game as would their coaches. The investment in rugby would be supercharged as teams would rush to create dream teams. Transfer markets would be super charged, salary caps may change, private investment would grow as rich backers first buy clubs and then put money into their clubs in an effort to land the best players. The richest clubs and franchises would benefit most but money and players would move across borders at a steady flow. Suddenly countries like Wales and Scotland would have a much larger pool of players to select from who would be developed and improved in systems belonging to their rivals within superstar squads while their clubs receive large sums in the transfer market. The Six Nations would experience a big boost as the best players become available all the time. The Champions cup would become even more fiercely contested as the dream teams clash. Fan engagement would grow as fans would follow their favourite players creating interest in the game across the continent. Transfer markets and windows would become interesting events in themselves, speculation would drive it and rumours of big transfers and interest in players would spread. All of this is speculation and much of it would not eventuate straight away but just like in football the spread of players and talent would create these conditions over time. The transfer markets in European football is proof of this. Football had the same club vs country debate eons ago and favoured an open system. This has made it the largest game in the world with global interest and big money. Rugby needs to embrace this approach in the long run as well

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Jon 6 hours ago
Waratahs 'counter-culture' limits Wallaby options for Joe Schmidt

This is a bit dramatic for me, I think the Rebels and Force cultures would be very strong, and if a player is chosen from either, you can be confident they are in a good head space and ready. Whether they quite have the technical or tactical foundations of the other two states is where one would way their risk of selection. I see no need for Schmidt to worry about that risk in this squad. The main reason I could see a predominance of players from Brumbies and Reds, is simple cohesion. What might the coaching group make of what’s lacking in the Tahs, and to a lesser extent Rebels and Force’s, franchise? Certainly sides (players) that are running irish plays like we saw from that lovely McDermott long ball with have a head start. I hope the players can continue it at International level. Really liked what I saw of Wright (don’t know player focus and just hadn’t seen a lot of him anyway) in that game, can see him being a glue in a Wallaby side too. A with the similar worry of selecting players like Ryan, I think it unfounded to worry so much about forward balance at the moment. Including both Wright and Skelton in the same lineout is not going to lose you games gainst Wales. Nor will any unknown weakenss Wales might find in Ryan be exploited to any great extent. It is the perfect time to introduce such a young player. What other shortcuts might Schmidt want to make now, just a year out from hosting BIL? When Gamble came on the scene I thought he had a Pocock ability to break game apart along with performing the role of a openside well. I would be very keen to drop Leota/Hooper for Gamble, and in your squad make up, include Uru as a lock. Did you forget to remove Vunivalu from your team? Would you have Meafou in your squad if you could?

114 Go to comments
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