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Ulsterman Mark McCall is a win away from being number one with Saracens

By Stuart McKinley

Published 27/05/2016

Amazing season: Mark McCall’s Saracens have been outstanding
Amazing season: Mark McCall’s Saracens have been outstanding

Mark McCall feared that he and his Saracens team were about to experience the worst moment of their careers last weekend.

Even though they led all the way before seeing off the Leicester Tigers 44-17 in the Aviva Premiership semi-final, McCall would have liked a more comfortable and straightforward passage to the season finale against the Exeter Chiefs.

Now, seven days on, the Ulster-born coach is on the brink of his making this a dream season.

The 48-year-old has already led the London club to glory in the European Champions Cup and victory at Twickenham tomorrow would make him the most the most successful club coach in the northern hemisphere at present.

If that is to happen McCall, who captained Ulster before leading the province to Celtic League title success in 2006 - the last time Ulster won silverware - is demanding that his players need to improve on their play without the ball compared to the semi-final.

"At times our defence was exemplary, at other times it was sloppy," said McCall.

"If we are to beat Exeter, we will need to be better. We were pretty nervous when it was 31-17 with half an hour to go.

"It might have been the worst moment of all our careers if that (a Leicester comeback) had happened but thankfully we had enough class in the team to make sure it didn't happen."

McCall has a law degree and considered that as a career path when his career was ended at 31 years old in the late 1990s, even working part-time as a solicitor for a while.

He didn't, however, have to lay down the law to his players because of the standard or their defensive work against the Tigers.

He knew by their reaction that he didn't have to.

"It wasn't a jubilant changing room at the end of the Leicester match," McCall said.

"It was a changing room that recognised that we need to be better at certain things during Saturday's game."

Capped 13 times by Ireland, McCall has led Saracens to unprecedented success since taking over from Brendan Venter midway through the 2010-11 season.

After winning the Premiership in 2011, the north west London outfit repeated that success last season and added the Anglo-Welsh Cup.

Being crowned kings of Europe a fortnight ago made up for defeat in the 2014 final, when they were also Premiership runners-up.

As far as history is concerned they will enter tomorrow's game as favourites, after all Exeter have only been a Premiership club for six years and have only won one piece of major silverware in their history, lifting the Anglo-Welsh Cup two years ago.

McCall isn't fooled by those statistics though and is only interested in ensuring that his team performs on the day.

"We're under no illusions that Exeter are an absolutely quality side and we'll probably need to be better than we were against Leicester if we're going to win that game," he said.

Northern Ireland will be well represented at the home of English rugby. Up against McCall will be Exeter's Ulster-born duo Gareth Steenson from Dungannon and Lisburn native Ian Whitten.

Both men were mentioned in dispatches in Exeter's Player of the Year awards, with Steenson described as 'wonderfully consistent at fly-half.'

The 32-year-old, who helped the Chiefs to promotion in 2010, is hungry for more success, but is looking far beyond tomorrow's final as the club aims to fulfil its potential.

"The sky's the limit, this is a hot bed for rugby down and around Devon," he said.

"There are many things the team can achieve, even if we come out on top at the weekend, it won't stop there as there are many more things the club wants to do.

"This is just another moment in what's been a fantastic journey for the club."

Belfast Telegraph

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