Maro Itoje praises influence of Mark McCall at Saracens
Mark McCall's "passion and care" for Saracens' players can help set the Champions Cup winners apart from their rivals at home and in Europe, according to Maro Itoje.
Fast-blossoming lock Itoje could now cap a towering 12 months by helping Saracens retain their Aviva Premiership title - after underpinning England's Grand Slam and his club's European title.
The 21-year-old has quickly become a natural at batting away personal praise in favour of chasing yet more prizes for the collective, but hailed rugby director McCall as Saracens' driving force.
The understated McCall appears quite happy for his role to remain under the radar, but Itoje believes much of Saracens' successes start and end with the man at the top.
"He's a brilliant man-manager, he knows how to get the best out of his players," Itoje told Press Association Sport.
"He knows what boxes to tick, he manages his coaches well, he understands the club, he understands what the players need.
"He prepares us unbelievably well each week without fail.
"He's a very experienced coach and he's been doing this for quite a while now.
"And I think his efforts are paying dividends.
"I'm fortunate to be part of a special team I think.
"They are not only special players but magnificent people, who front up every week.
"They work unbelievably hard every week without fail, it's been a long old season with no breaks, it's been pretty consistent over the last year or so.
"And the coaches have been unbelievable with the way they've prepared the team, and the passion and care they have shown for the players."
Reigning Premiership champions Saracens host Leicester Tigers in Saturday's league semi-final battle at Allianz Park.
Itoje coupled downplaying his own quickly-growing impact in Saracens' ranks by insisting McCall's men will not relax despite seeing off Racing 92 to claim the Champions Cup in Lyon only last weekend.
"Individual awards or praise, that's not what motivates me," said Itoje, who scooped the Land Rover Discovery of the Season award at this year's Aviva Premiership awards ceremony.
"My motivation is to be part of a successful team, a team that continues to grow continually and consistently, and can compete for the highest honours.
"We move quite quickly past things at the club, whether it's an upset or a success we're quite quick to move onto the next job.
"Last weekend already feels quite a long time ago.
"So now we're very focused this week to put our best foot forward.
"We all know we're taking nothing for granted.
"You only have to look at Leicester's team sheet to see the quality they have in their team.
"They have phenomenal players, they are extremely well coached and they are a great side, so we know it's not going to be easy.
"It's going to be a dogfight for 80 minutes, but I think it's a challenge that we're prepared for."
:: Maro Itoje was named the Land Rover Discovery of the Season award winner at this year's Aviva Premiership Rugby awards. Follow @LandRoverRugby #WeDealInReal