Brad Barritt’s diplomacy instantly kicked in the second RugbyPass dared to mention the Saracens’ salary cap saga.
Wages and how they were accounted for by the Londoners in recent years became the main Premiership story that deflected some focus away from the Six Nations around the same time England’s title chances were severely dented by their costly defeat in Wales.
Headlines were created. Rebuttals issued from on high. For Barritt, though, the hot topic wasn’t something that overly concerned him. “It’s not a focus for us and it’s something that I have been asked not to comment on, so I better not comment,” he said.
“It’s very much focused on what is inside our bubble. Anything that is on the outside is irrelevant. It’s just all about what is inside the four white lines, focusing on what makes us think gets the best out of each other every day and making sure we reach our potential every Saturday.”
The salary cap controversy was a pity in that it took the sheen off the good that Saracens have achieved lately on the pitch minus some of their biggest earners.
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A quick glance at their team line-up for this Saturday’s stellar fixture versus cross-town rivals Harlequins at the London Stadium is a sharp reminder of just how many stars they actually have on their roster.
Five start at the Olympic ground – Grand Slam winner Liam Williams, Sean Maitland, Ben Spencer, Jamie George and Billy Vunipola – with a plethora more to come back in for next weekend’s Champions Cup quarter-final at home to Glasgow.
But while their coach-load of internationals were away, the competitive fires were kept burning in a searingly hot fashion that serves as a warning to rival teams in England and Europe entering the business end of the season.
Your Saracens team to take on Harlequins at @LondonStadium on Saturday.
Come on Sarries! ?? pic.twitter.com/1EOgr9A5XK
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) March 22, 2019
The points taken by Saracens during the six rounds of Premiership fixtures played during the two internationals windows underlined the increasing strength in depth that exists in Mark McCall’s trophy-hungry squad.
Whereas last season, the Londoners checked in with just two wins and a mere 10 from 30 points haul that was only ninth best of the league’s dozen sides, they came through this campaign’s Test windows with four wins from six, a 20-point harvest that was only bettered by their top-table rivals Exeter whose number of international call-ups was much less.
Saracens’ improved ability to cope minus their biggest hitters left Barritt chuffed. “The focus from the media might not be there (during these windows) but the focus doesn’t change here. You may not see all the names that are mentioned week in week out during big Premiership weeks, but the opportunity it has given our wider squad has been fantastic.
PREMIERSHIP TABLE IN SIX-MATCH TEST WINDOW
1. Exeter 24 points (5 wins)
=2. Saracens 20 (4)
=2. Harlequins 20 (4)
4. Gloucester 19 (4)
5. Northampton 17 (3)
=6. Bath 15 (3)
=6. Sale 15 (3)
8. Bristol 14 (2)
9. Wasps 13 (2)
10. Newcastle 12 (3)
11. Worcester 11 (2)
12. Leicester 6 (1)
1. Wasps 24 points (5 wins)
2. Leicester 21 (4)
3. Exeter 20 (4)
4. Gloucester 19 (3)
5. Worcester 18 (4)
6. Bath 17 (4)
7. Sale 15 (3)
8. Newcastle 14 (3)
9. Saracens 10 (2)
10. London Irish 7 (1)
11. Northampton 6 (1)
12. Harlequins 4 (1)
* Tables constructed from the six rounds of matches during the international window, two rounds in November and four in the Six Nations
“Between the autumn and Six Nations breaks we picked up more Premiership points than we have ever, so it has been a very successful block for us. We also had a very young development team that went all the way to the final in the Premiership Cup and we are really proud of their achievements.
“There has been a lot of good done and we have unearthed some fantastic talent. Whether it is reported on, it doesn’t matter. We have learned a lot about the squad and the players we have at our disposal.”
Some of the newer names quickly roll off the skipper’s tongue. “It would be rude of me not to mention all of them, but you look at the likes of Matt Gallagher, Max Malins, Sean Reffell, Joel Kpoku, Ali Crossdale, Tom Whiteley.
“They are all guys who have been brilliant, guys who are in their first years as professionals, but they have all had fantastic campaigns and they after benefiting from these opportunities.”
What it means is the Saracens squad reunited post-Six Nations knowing there is a double to be won if they get their weekly prep on the money unlike a year ago when they were quickly dethroned as European champions when picked off by Leinster, the eventual winners, in Dublin.
“There were very different circumstances. This year we have qualified as the No1 seed, so we will have a home fixture. As a squad we’re in a lot healthier position than last year. We snuck in the back door to qualify and play Leinster who were on top of their game at home.
“But we learned a lot from that fixture and got better as the season went on, as the Premiership proved. We’re looking now to refocus. We have to hit the ground running and these next two games are huge in the context of our season.
“It’s always a very exciting time to have the whole family back in together, but we still have the benefit of the five months prior to the Six Nations. The team came on leaps and bounds and we had the learnings from that. We’ll now pick up the pieces as quick as we can. It’s all very much about getting people thinking and making sure we’re pushing in the same direction.
“We’re in a fantastic mood. Everyone is excited to be back together in what we call the final stretch of the season. We have a good bit to go but there is a potential of 10 games. We have spent the first seven months giving the opportunity to capitalise on these last 10 weeks and we’re now in a very fortunate position. We’re very excited with what is to come.
“There has always been an appetite to get better as a squad, recognising that you’re never the finished article and are constantly evolving. We keep coming in energised, positive and enjoy what we do. It makes for a very healthy atmosphere. The squad has grown considerably, both from the highs and lows of the last couple of years, and we’re able to react to situations that maybe others can’t.”
Barritt was a youngster when he made his own Saracens breakthrough, arriving as a raw Emerging Springbok in 2008. He has seen first-hand the organisation transforming from a constant state of flux to an entity where everyone knows where they stand with the now long-serving McCall.
“It has been an unbelievable ride to have been here from the beginning and it has been gratifying to see where the club is today,” said Barritt, the 32-year-old who quipped he has “at least 10 years” left yet in a playing career where is still unsure where to settle when it finishes.
Watch @bradbarritt lead Saracens out against Quins – it's not one to miss! ???
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) March 11, 2019
“This world is becoming smaller and smaller. England is very much my home and it’s a home to my soon-to-be four-year-old son. We’ll have to assess it when that day comes.”
That hopefully won’t be for a while yet. “You’re constantly inspired by the people around you. That’s what we aim to do at Saracens. You have an inert respect for the player here before you and you look to grow as an individual while you are here.
“Mark sets the level from the top down in terms of his hard work, in terms of his analysis, in terms of his leadership and what he brings to the job. He inspires everyone through his actions and he’s as hands on as any director of rugby is. In terms of the things we ask for as a squad, the leaders at the top have to amplify that and he most definitely does that.”
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