Saracens aim to go one better

Date published: October 8 2014

Saracens will try to build on last year’s final defeat to Toulon as they prepare for the first edition of the European Champions Cup.

Saracens will try to build on last year’s final defeat to Toulon as they prepare for the first edition of the European Champions Cup.

In the last Heineken Cup, Sarries reached the final for the first time in their history, but had no answer to Toulon who claimed back-to-back titles.

This season, in the revamped ECC, they face one of the toughest pools, alongside losing semi-finalists from last season, Clermont and Munster.

Arguably Saracens best-ever performance in Europe came when they dismantled Clermont in the final four last year, but Les Jaunards sit second in the Top 14 as things stand.

The French side will travel to Allianz Park for the opening round of the competition next weekend, but despite last year’s success, coach Mark McCall has warned his team to expect a much tougher game.

“This is a new season and what we did last season against them in the semi-finals is almost irrelevant,” said McCall.

“They had beaten us in the quarter-finals the year before, so it’s hard to pin your hopes on what you did to a team six or seven months ago.

“It’s a very new challenge – they’ve got a new coaching staff, Vern Cotter has left; they’ve got a few new players.

“They’ve been incredibly consistent in the Top 14 this year and they’ve won a couple of away games already this season. We know the quality of their squad so it will be tremendously difficult start.

“They’ve had their fair share of semi-final and final disappointments in both competitions down the years but they keep coming back for more. They are a very good organisation and a very good team because of those things.

“They’ve shown an incredible resilience all the way through. Hopefully that’s something we’ve shown, too, over the last couple of years.

“We’ve been knocked out in the quarter-finals and semi-finals of both competitions but we pressed on last year and now we’ve got the hurt of the finals last year as well.

“It’s all part of the journey and we’ve got to use that in some kind of way. I’m sure they will, too.”

Sarries captain Alistair Hargreaves has taken over from Steve Borthwick, who retired at the end of last season, and he knows that a huge challenge awaits his team.

“The more you play in these competitions the more familiar you are as to what’s required to do well in them,” said the South African second row.

“Reaching the final last season has given us huge confidence going into this campaign.

“There’s a real physical nature to European rugby. After playing in Europe for a few seasons I know every game is a real, physical battle. That’s what you have to prepare for.

“We’re really looking forward to be testing ourselves against the best sides Europe have to offer.

“You get to see these world class players, playing for clubs they’re very passionate about playing in unique venues. You never know what you’re going to get in these matches.”