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The 13 days that have put Saracens back 'in the mix'

Owen Farrell beams - PA

Mark McCall praised his side for restoring the “Saracens fundamentals” following a 40-22 victory over Exeter Chiefs which lifted the champions into the top four.


Sarries have responded to a heavy defeat in Bordeaux with back-to-back victories, the latest of which featured two tries from James Hadfield and 15 points from the boot of Racing 92-bound Owen Farrell.

The Gallagher Premiership now takes an eight-week break for the Guinness Six Nations, but McCall’s side are well-placed for a play-off push when action resumes in late March.

“The last 13 days have been the most enjoyable of the season,” he said.

“It got a little bit better in the Lyon game and a lot better here, we were great in the last 25 minutes. It tells me there’s something good in the room.

“We’ve got a good group of players and staff, and when things got difficult we pulled together and have come out the other side for now.

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“We’ve gone back to some Saracens fundamentals on and off the field. We’ve had a really good balance in the last 13 days of a bit of play and some hard work, and that’s paid off.

“We’re in the mix now. It feels like there’s going to be a sprint to the line.


“There are eight or nine teams that can qualify for the top four and, hopefully, we can build on what we’ve done in the last two weeks.”

Hadfield and Ivan van Zyl crossed in the first half for Saracens, with Olly Woodburn and Greg Visilau responding as the sides went into the break level at 15-15.

Juan Martin Gonzalez pounced on a Josh Hodge error to put the hosts back in front but the Chiefs full-back quickly atoned by launching the counter-attack which led to a stunning try finished by Rusi Tuima.

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It was all Sarries from thereon in, though, as Farrell’s boot, along with tries from Hadfield and Theo McFarland, secured a bonus-point win.


Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter said: “In a lot of ways, it’s our best performance for a couple of years here.

“We were in the game but ultimately we made enough individual errors to deserve to lose the game.

“Conceding straight after half-time is such a sucker blow and it was a bit of comedy of errors to concede a try the way we did.

“We did well to fight back from that, but the way that try got scored started to repeat itself. Then Saracens can control their way into getting a decent lead.

“There was a big chunk of the game where we were a try away from two bonus points. That would have been a great return but we got a bit panicky and that multiplied the pressure on us.”



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Jon 29 minutes ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Sopoaga is going to be more than good enough to look up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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finn 9 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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