Brad Barritt wants Saracens to kick on in Europe
England centre Brad Barritt wants Saracens' European campaign to reach another level this season after recent near-misses in the northern hemisphere's flagship club competition.
Saracens, European runners-up in 2014, Champions Cup semi-finalists last term and last-four contenders in 2013, face an immediate test of their credentials when French heavyweights Toulouse arrive at Allianz Park on Saturday.
Wasps were the last English club to be crowned European champions eight years ago, since when the tournament has been an exclusive tale of Irish and French dominance.
"We have gone very close to it," said Barritt, who will captain a Saracens team shorn of key flanker Jacques Burger's services this weekend due to suspension.
"We've been in the final and semi-finals over the past three years, and this is our year to take it to another level.
"It is definitely time we had an English winner. The Aviva Premiership is getting more competitive every year, and it's now time for us to show that a few English teams can get through.
"In the past couple of years we've been the only ones, but I am pretty certain that the others will go a bit further this year, too."
Saracens and Toulouse are joined in Pool One by French newcomers Oyonnax and 1999 European champions Ulster, with the group winners guaranteed a quarter-final place.
Saracens rugby director Mark McCall added: "The lesson that all the teams have learned, really, is that you have to pick up every point you can when it is available.
"Last season, we qualified for the quarter-finals as the eighth-placed team, but we got that by virtue of a losing bonus point that we got away from home, and you have just got to fight for every point in the competition.
"Toulouse are a great European team with a great European pedigree, but they are also playing very well this season.
"They have won six games out of seven in the Top 14 already this season, and they beat Montpellier in Montpellier, so that shows you they can win away from home as well."
For Toulouse, Saturday's game will be their first European fixture without new France coach Guy Noves at the helm, but they appear as powerful as ever, with Les Bleus skipper Thierry Dusautoir leading a team to Hertfordshire that also includes players like Maxime Medard, Gael Fickou, Luke McAlister and Louis Picamoles.
"It has been an easy transition," full-back Medard said.
"We have a lot of the same players as last season, and we have not changed the Toulouse game-plan. We are playing as we have done for a long time. We put the fundamentals in place and build from there."
Northampton, after experiencing an indifferent start to their Premiership campaign, host Pool Three opponents the Scarlets on Saturday knowing that they cannot afford to come unstuck, given a tough group which also includes Glasgow and Racing 92, who meet in Paris on Saturday.
Wales wing George North will line up for the Saints against his former team, while the Scarlets will arrive in the east midlands after winning six out of seven Guinness Pro12 games this season.
"We are going in with an open mind," Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac said. "We have got everything to gain and nothing to lose.
"We're probably seeded last in the pool on last year's results, but we are going to take it game by game. We will look at each opposition in its own right, and each will be a huge challenge in different ways."
Three English clubs will be in Champions Cup action on Sunday, highlighted by Bath facing a demanding opening Pool Five assignment away against European title holders Toulon.
After a European build-up dominated by the Sam Burgess saga and his return to rugby league in Australia, Bath can now get back to business, with South Africa World Cup flanker Francois Louw captaining a team that sees him pack down alongside back-row colleagues Matt Garvey and Leroy Houston.
In the same pool, Wasps will be without England flanker James Haskell, who has a knee injury, for a Dublin appointment with Leinster, while Exeter visit the Ospreys in Pool Two, minus the services of Thomas Waldrom, Geoff Parling, Ben Moon and Phil Dollman, but England backs Jack Nowell and Henry Slade both start.