Belfast Telegraph

Ulsterman McCall tells Sarries to seize their Euro dream

By Andrew Baldock

Saracens boss Mark McCall has promised that his players will "attack the game" when they face fellow English heavyweights Wasps today for a place in the European Champions Cup final.

And Saracens' considerable recent experience of knockout rugby - they are reigning Aviva Premiership champions and into a fourth successive European semi-final - could prove crucial at Reading's Madejski Stadium.

"Somebody said to me that we've had 19 knockout games in the last six years. This is the 20th," former Ulster player and coach McCall said. "That is a pretty good record, and we have had a lot of those knockout games in this competition.

"It's hard to get into the knockout stage, so to have played as many as we have is a good thing. Hopefully that experience is valuable, but if it gets us over the line, we will wait and see.

"We have talked to the squad about this European journey that we've been on. I remember losing to Clermont Auvergne five years ago, when it was men against boys. We were absolutely bullied off the park.

"A lot has changed at our club in those five years. We understood that physically we needed to be in better shape and our performance team has done a remarkable job and we've recruited well. This young pack that we have has all this experience and everybody is much more confident in these games."

Wasps have not reached this stage of the competition since 2007, when they went on to be crowned European champions, but rugby director Dai Young (right) has overseen some scintillating performances this season, including winning a Champions Cup pool that featured Toulon, Leinster and Bath.

Young's men also smashed Saracens in the Premiership this term, winning 64-23 at Allianz Park, although that came when both sides were without their international players due to Six Nations commitments.

McCall said: "He (Young) has done a brilliant job because four years ago they were on their knees. They were towards the bottom of the Premiership and not really contenders for the top four, and now they are playing as good rugby as any team in the Premiership for a long time.

"We don't want to be tentative or afraid of the consequences of losing. We want to attack the game and enjoy our rugby, because when our team enjoy themselves on the pitch, we are normally pretty good."

McCall makes one change following a quarter-final win against Northampton two weeks ago, handing Michael Rhodes a back-row start instead of Jackson Wray.

And Wasps, captained by 2007 European Cup winner James Haskell, show two changes from the side that accounted for quarter-final opponents Exeter earlier this month, with prop Lorenzo Cittadini replacing an injured Jake Cooper-Woolley and lock Bradley Davies in for Kearnan Myall, who has a knee problem.

Young said: "The players know how big this game is, so there hasn't been much that has needed to be said this week. We certainly don't need any extra motivation.

"Saracens have probably been favourites for the title from the word go. They are a quality team and have plenty of experience at this level, so we will have to be at our best on Saturday. If we achieve that and do play to the best of our ability, we know we can cause any team problems."

Tomorrow's second Champions Cup semi-final sees Leicester, the 2001 and 2002 champions, facing solitary remaining French challengers Racing 92 at Nottingham's City Ground.

Leicester Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill said: "No-one is hung up on the fact that it has been 14 years since we did win it (the European Cup). Lots of teams never win it at all.

"We have earned our right to be here, and on our day we know we can beat anyone. Racing, with their rock star players and their big budgets, are challenging opponents, but we know we can win."

Today, meanwhile, the second European Challenge Cup semi-final takes place, with tournament favourites Montpellier hosting Welsh side Newport Gwent Dragons.

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