AFP / File / ANDY BUCHANAN
Saracens’ fly-half Owen Farrell looks to pass the ball during their rugby union European Champions Cup Final match against Clermont, at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh, on May 13, 2017
Director of rugby Mark McCall brushed aside Saracens’ five-match losing streak as the European champions prepare to host last year’s beaten finalists Clermont this weekend. Top spot in European Champions Cup Pool 2 at the Allianz Park on Sunday after two sides against Ospreys and Northampton.
They have the advantage of having an extra bonus point in the quarter-finals, both sides of the game. And Sarries come into the game of a shocking five-match losing run – two of those defeats came into the Anglo-Welsh Cup in which they fielded a second string outfit. McCall, though, insists he’s unworried. “Because of the fact that we have had a hard time, we have always had a hard time in that,” he said. “In all of the years we have had to contend with things and get stronger from these things. “Our players are very experienced, they’ve been through all of the highs and lows along the way and have become very important at times like these.” Saracens will be without British and Irish Lions forward Maro Itoje, who suffered a broken jaw against Harlequins last weekend. But Clermont are themselves in the midst of an injury crisis, particularly in the half-back positions, yet South African lock Flip van der Merwe says injuries will not play in deciding the outcome on Sunday. “Saracens are a good team, they’re not just about one guy,” said the 32-year-old Springbok International. “They’ve got a good job and they’re doing a lot of mistakes.” – ‘Clinical’ – In last season’s final, Saracens got off to a fast start and Clermont never recovered from the English side. “It’s always been their philosophy, they’ve built their game around that,” said Clermont sporting director Franck Azema about Sarries’ pressure game. “The statistics show that they’re going to be more than a little bit more of a culture and the desire to go beyond themselves and to perform on the pitch.” Despite their recent blaze, with three straight league defeats, Saracens are still third in the English Premiership when they hit the top of the list. It means Sarries are clear favorites in London, but Van der Merwe insists it’s not a lost cause for the French champions. “It’s really hard, but it’s impossible, it’s another match, another thing, and we’ll be able to try to win – it’s possible,” he said. Their Sunday clash is one of three this weekend between two sides of the house. On Saturday, three-time winners Toulon host 1998 champions in a Pool 5 match between two sides domestically struggling for their best form. Bath was hammered by English champions Exeter last weekend, when only a late try splurge gives the flattering gloss for the beaten side. Toulon, meanwhile, ended a three-match losing run as they beat Lyon 39-11. On Sunday, Exeter host Leinster at Sandy Park with pool 3 up for grabs. Pool 1 leaders La Rochelle, who have a 100 percent record, host second place in the pool. Munster have a win and a draw but no bonus points while Leicester have picked up two bonuses despite losing to Racing 92 last time out.
AFP / File / ANDY BUCHANAN