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The 'no mean feat' that has pricked Saracens' European attention

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Saracens are back in European action this weekend following their one-season absence, the serial Champions Cup winners under Mark McCall preparing to play their first match in the second-tier Challenge Cup since the 2009/10 season when they featured in a pool containing Rovigo, Castres and Toulon. The London club didn’t make it to the knockout stages on that occasion, getting pipped by a point by Toulon, but one of the two French teams lying in wait for Saracens this time around will bring memories flooding back for McCall.

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Not long after he had resigned as the Ulster boss, McCall hooked up with Jeremy Davidson, his former Ulster, London Irish and Ireland teammate, in December 2007. The French outfit were under considerable pressure at the time and the assisting Irish duo didn’t last long there.

So hurt was McCall following his experience at Ulster that he even suggested during his time at Castres that he was likely to leave coaching and switch back into the legal world. However, Brendan Venter, another old London Irish colleague, tempted him to hook up with Saracens and the rest, as they say, is history, McCall at the heart of the transformation of the Londoners from also-rans to serial winners in England and at the highest level in Europe. 

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While McCall was creating a legacy at Saracens, Davidson’s coaching career took a different path. He spent some time at Ulster before heading back to France and taking a circuitous route to the Top 14, turning tier-two Aurillac into a competitive outfit before taking an assistant’s position at Bordeaux. 

That eventually led to the top job at Brive and he will now clash with his old pal McCall next April in the final round of Pool 3’s Challenge Cup, a group that also contains Pau, London Irish and Edinburgh, the Scottish outfit who are first up for Saracens this Saturday at the StoneX.  

Brive finished last term eleventh in the Top 14 with eleven wins from 26 games and while they are currently one place worse off, twelfth with four wins from a dozen matches, McCall has got the utmost respect for what Davidson has so far achieved at Stade Amedee-Domenech. “I know Brive quite well, they have got Jeremy Davidson who I coached with at Castres when I was in France. 

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“He is their head coach; obviously, Jeremy is from Ulster as well. And what Jeremy has done with the team over the last couple of years has been outstanding, where they won half of their games last year in the Top 14 which is no mean feat. 

“And all of those wins were at home, and we are playing them away from home. I haven’t coached in France for a couple of years but I know how strongly it feels for those clubs to win at home, and just how their supporters get behind the team. So, it’s going to be a really good experience for us to go to these difficult places and see if we can get the job done.”

Having reached the semi-finals of the 2019/20 Champions Cup, Saracens were missing last season from Europe due to their automatic relegation to the Championship in England following breaches of the Premiership salary cap.

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