Belfast Telegraph

European Champions Cup Ulster v Saracens: Dangerous visitors out to conquer

By Staff Reporter

They won't admit it but finally triumphing in Europe has morphed from an aspiration into an obsession for Saracens.

Not unlike Munster's odyssey over a decade ago, Sarries feel there is destiny to be fulfilled by taking ownership of the Champions Cup with each year of close-in failure fuelling their determination.

The last four campaigns have seen Mark McCall's squad make it through to the knockout stages with last season's narrow semi-final defeat away to Clermont now rubbing shoulders alongside other painful memories such as being put away by the same club in the 2012 quarters. And there is Toulon, who were victorious in the 2013 semis before beating them in the following year's final.

It's eaten away at them and their desire has been heightened by accepting that they can still champion the cause for a not so much star-laden squad, but one bound together by organisation and structure, to scale the European summit.

Under McCall, Saracens operate with a ruthless efficiency whether in accumulating wins through power plays or suffocating opponents with their 'Wolf Pack' defensive structure being so well embodied by veteran flanker Jacques Burger.

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It's not pretty but they do rack up wins and after taking last season's Aviva Premiership title, Sarries have already hit the ground running this year and are topping the league with four victories from four.

But then they have always been about winning games through substance rather than style. It's not that they don't have plenty of talent - the backline contains Owen Farrell, Alex Goode and Chris Ashton while up front they have forwards such as rising star Maro Itoje along with Billy and Mako Vunipola - rather they have a game-plan founded on a gut-busting work-rate.

Their first steps in this season's European venture were interesting. Toulouse - who couldn't have been in a good place mentally given recent events in France - were torn asunder in last weekend's clash and Sarries' third try then put them 32-0 up after the break.

And yet the home side failed to secure the bonus point.

But Sarries had the win and, with Toulouse having revived, we saw the other side to their play with flanker Michael Rhodes managing a tackle completion in all 17 hits that he made.

There is little alteration tonight with Schalk Brits in at hooker for Jamie George and Burger at seven for Will Fraser.

Much will depend on the power of the Vunipolas and the accuracy of Farrell while the strong-running Brad Barritt is certain to make an impression.

The pace of Chris Wyles, Ashton and Goode can cause damage, but they'll just want to win and take full control of Pool One, so get ready for the crusher to be deployed.

Belfast Telegraph


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