Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

McCall insists Saracens have still to find top gear

Sarries star: Chris Ashton starred in Saracens win last weekend

For an organisation once described by former Ireland international Darragh O'Mahony as a "club without a real home and without any tie-in to the local community," there were over 80,000 in attendance to watch Saracens against Harlequins at Wembley Stadium on Saturday.

The record crowd saw Mark McCall's men return to the top of the Aviva Premiership thanks to a five-try, 39-17 demolition and, unless they suffer a defeat to Wasps in another London derby this weekend, they will travel to Belfast for their Heineken Cup quarter-final with Ulster the following Saturday as the pacesetters in their domestic league.

While the form of Mark Anscombe's men has been formidable of late – Ulster have yet to lose in 2014, reeling off eight consecutive victories in all competitions – Saracens have won 15 of their 17 Premiership contests to date.

Despite that impressive run of results, and their lofty standing in the league table, head coach, and ex-Ulsterman, McCall feels they have yet to hit top gear.

"At times we did some good stuff but I don't think we were at our very best today," he said following the Quins' game.

"Maybe that was because of not playing for a couple of weeks, when we got it right we were pretty clinical but there were some frustrations as well.

"It's a happy changing room but also a frustrated changing room. Every time we got our noses in front we let Harlequins back into the game, and give them some credit, but our discipline at times was pretty ordinary. We give them a lot of momentum from time to time and that's very unlike us".

The 13-times capped Irish international added: "At times there was some outstanding rugby, and we nearly got away a couple of times.

"Our intent to play was fantastic and it was just a little frustrating that we handed them momentum and field position through our ill-discipline."

Meanwhile, European rugby bosses are close to reaching an agreement on the elite club tournament to replace the Heineken Cup and an announcement could come today, it has emerged.

The 20-team competition is expected to see six Aviva Premiership teams, six clubs from France's Top 14 competition and seven of the RaboDirect PRO12 sides qualify. The final place would be taken by the winner of a play-off involving clubs from several competitions, including the second-tier touranment that is to replace the Amlin Challenge Cup.

There is also expected to be a new third-tier competition in September, from which two qualifiers would then take part in the second-tier tournament opening it up to clubs from outside the Six Nations countries such as Georgia, Russia, Spain, Romania, Portugal and Belgium.

It is understood an agreement is very close and, once signed, all parties can then chase a resolution between broadcasters BT Sport and Sky, both of whom have indicated a willingness to agree a compromise TV rights deal.

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