Battling Sarries delight McCall
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall praised the determination of his side after they came from behind to beat Benetton Treviso 26-20 and book themselves a home tie in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals.
The Aviva Premiership heavyweights were well below their usual standards as they struggled to deal with their Italian opponents, who led 17-13 at half-time. But McCall's men dug deep in the second half and eventually ground out a result which will see them have a home tie against Clermont Auvergne when the knockout stages commence in April.
"I thought we were miles off where we normally are, and especially in the first half," McCall said. "The intensity wasn't there, and neither were the standards we normally expect. I was pretty disappointed at half-time. But then in the second half we dug in, and I have nothing but admiration for the way we got the job done."
Saracens had gone into the game chasing a bonus-point win which would have absolutely guaranteed their status as third seeds behind Munster and Leinster.
But in the end they managed just two tries, one apiece for Mouritz Botha and David Strettle, with the rest of their points all coming via the boot of Owen Farrell.
Treviso also managed two tries courtesy of Robert Barbieri and Tommaso Iannone as well as well as 10 points from place-kicker Kris Burton, and they were unlucky not to score more as they dominated for long spells.
Indeed, this was very much a backs-to the-wall effort from Saracens, characterised by one outstanding tackle from Peter Stringer to hold up 6ft 4in lock Antonio Pavanello when a try seemed certain.
"Peter has been a great signing for our club," remarked McCall of the diminutive scrum half.
"He's been here for three months and has showed all his experience.
"He was one of the better players today. His work-rate and his aggression on our line was brilliant."