McCall: we will not fear French
Director of rugby Mark McCall insists Saracens should not be intimidated by Toulon's vast array of proven internationals when the sides meet at Twickenham in Sunday's Heineken Cup semi-final.
Jonny Wilkinson, Bakkies Botha, Frederic Michalak and Matt Giteau are among the household names scattered throughout the squad of the big-spending French club, who are all also chasing silverware on two fronts.
“It seems to me that Toulon have brought in the right kind of people this time around,” said former Ulster coach McCall.
“They have signed players who have been successful in other places but who are still motivated and ambitious.
“That's critical and when you bring together 15-20 very motivated world-class players, then you'll get some success.
“But at the same time we're in good form ourselves and have lots of great players and we're confident we can give them a run for their money.
“We've been on a great journey in this year's campaign. We beat Racing Metro twice, Munster once and then got a great win against Ulster in the quarter-finals.”
Saracens enter the match without openside Will Fraser, who has been sidelined with the shoulder injury sustained in last Saturday's 28-23 defeat at Gloucester.
“It's very unfortunate for Will because he's been instrumental in getting us to this stage,” the Ulsterman said.
“It's more of a loss to Will than the team, because he would have played. He's been fantastic all season and is a top young-age talent.
“But we have some really good back rows at the club, so we'll be able to accommodate Will's loss. We just feel for him.”
Meanwhile, France scrum-half Morgan Parra says that Clermont Auvergne have been working overtime in the video analysis room in a bid to ensure they don't get caught by Munster in Saturday's Heineken Cup semi-final.
Last year's 19-15 semi-final loss to Leinster in Bordeaux remains a painful memory for everybody at Clermont Auvergne, and 24-year-old Grand Slam winner Parra said they were leaving nothing to chance this time round.
“We watched them against Harlequins but they're a team we know already.
“They play a typical Irish game — a challenging style, where they try to break the opponent over several phases of play,” said Parra, who played for Bourgoin against Munster six years ago as a teenager.
“They're a team that are very strong when they keep the ball and they don't expose themselves too much in their own half.
“We've been warned and I think we have one or two more days of video analysis so that by Friday we'll have no doubt about how we'll set up and that by Saturday we can put in a big performance.”
His club is littered with a history of disappointments — they lost 10 finals before they finally won the Top 14 three years ago — and last season was the first time they got past the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup in four attempts, only to leave it behind them against Leinster.
“Last year we learnt a lot and now we hope that we won't fall into the same problems we had against Leinster, a bit of timidity and maybe a lack of lucidity at times.”