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'This is the year to win the league... I'd have Saracens as favourites to win next year'

By Liam Heagney

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Danny Care has one pressing reason for Harlequins to seal the deal and become Gallagher Premiership champions this Saturday – he is afraid that Saracens will arrive back in next season’s top-flight as the favourites to reclaim the title. Saracens had been crowned champions four times in five seasons before it was decided in January 2020 that they would be automatically relegated to the Championship for the 2020/21 season.

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The year without the London powerhouse resulted in Bristol topping the table at the end of the regular season with Exeter, Sale and Harlequins joining them in the playoffs. With Quins going through in the fourth and last position before going on to defeat Bristol in last weekend’s semi-final, Care is fully aware that the competition will be even more intense next season to qualify for the last-four with Saracens back on the scene following the completion of their tier-two season with easy wins over Ealing in the two-legged final.  

Asked about the imminent renewal of the feisty Harlequins-Saracens rivalry next season, Care said: “I saw Saracens’ two training run-throughs the last couple of weeks. It was never in doubt was it that they were going to come straight back. I knew they would come straight back and I’d have them as favourites to win the Premiership next year. 

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“I honestly would because the players that they have got, probably what they have gone through in the past year has brought them even closer together as a squad, their coaches have stayed fairly similar. 

“They lost Alex Sanderson to Sale but more guys that have worked there for a long time are coming through. They have still got some of the very best players in the world. I’m glad they weren’t in the league this year because the semi-finals would have been a lot harder to get into. They are going to be top of the tree next year and fighting for this Premiership. That is something I’m not afraid to say. This is the year to win the league because they are not in it.”

Few if any people would have predicted at the turn of the year that Harlequins would qualify for the Premiership final as a poor run of form culminated in the January departure of Paul Gustard as head of rugby. A December European pool defeat was the nadir, according to Care who is described by Harlequins as a social glue-type player. “If anyone was at that Racing game at home when we came off the pitch, that was one where we were seriously questioning what we were doing. I certainly was questioning whether I am a good rugby player or not. 

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“That was a really tough day. To lose the way we did wasn’t us. The turnaround has been amazing and it’s all been about a mindset about us going back to what we believe in and that there is a real belief throughout the whole club, everybody is fighting for the same goal and we have got to the big dance Saturday.”

They will hope that their renewed firepower will be too much for Exeter, especially on the back of last weekend’s incredible comeback at Bristol from a 28-point deficit. “Before the semi-final, the coaches and Billy Millard to put together a little bit of a compilation of feel-good videos of you doing good stuff, but the main thing he showed was the scoreline of the last six, seven games, the teams we played against and how many points we scored. 

“That hit home to us that we have scored an astronomical amount of points for whatever reason. We have massively changed the way we train, we’re not in as many days. You are going to get buy-in from lads if you offer them fewer days but when we train we train really intensely and we have fun.

“What we have done in training is gone back to the basics, getting players comfortable with the ball in hand – and especially our forwards – and that is correlated on the pitch. Definitely, what we have worked hard at in training is bearing fruit on the weekends and I just hope that when people now watch Quins they see the smiles back on our faces which is all we want to do.”

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'This is the year to win the league... I'd have Saracens as favourites to win next year'

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