Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

McCall grateful for home advantage

Mark McCall hopes Saracens can continue their impressive home form against Northampton

Saracens will use the Allianz Park factor as a key ingredient in what they hope can be a recipe for success against Aviva Premiership play-off opponents Northampton.

Since they moved to their new base and its artificial playing surface in late January, Saracens are unbeaten at home. And if they keep that run going at Saints' expense, then a Twickenham final looms on May 25 against Leicester or Harlequins.

"We are grateful that we've got a home semi-final - down the years, that has been important," Saracens rugby director Mark McCall said. "It's not the be-all and end-all, as some teams have proved, but it's certainly an advantage. Our performances at home, at Allianz Park, have been really positive and strong this year and we want to continue that."

McCall has made two changes to the side that accounted for Bath last weekend and ensured that Saracens finished top after the 22-game regular league season. England full-back Alex Goode returns to action, while flanker Will Fraser has recovered from injury and packs down alongside back-row colleagues Kelly Brown and Jackson Wray.

Northampton, meanwhile, show one change following a narrow defeat at Quins last time out, with versatile back James Wilson featuring instead of George Pisi and partnering Luther Burrell in midfield.

"It is a big achievement (finishing top of the table) as Saracens have always struggled for consistency," McCall added.

"While you don't get a trophy for it, it does say that you've been very consistent over the course of the season. We've used 44 players, so it's been a real squad effort, a real group effort. It's the quality of the group, actually. You don't achieve what you achieve over 22 games just with 15 people, you do that with a lot of people.

"It's not just the playing group, it's actually the strength and conditioning team, the medical team. It is a long old haul, the Premiership.

"Northampton are in good form. They've won six out of their last seven, I think, and it is going to be a tough semi-final. Under Jim Mallinder and Dorian West, Northampton have been a very consistent side in recent seasons. Like us, they have regularly made the semi-finals of this competition and we have met many times along the way both in league and knockout rugby.

"Both teams know each other well, but both teams also have players who can turn a match in an instant from any part of the pitch and in any position. I am sure it will be a fiercely-contested encounter."

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