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Mark McCall: Saracens driven by previous finals heartbreak

Mark McCall reflected on Saracens' finals misery of two years ago as they successfully defended their Aviva Premiership crown with a 28-20 victory over Exeter at Twickenham.

A fortnight after toppling Racing 92 in the final of the Champions Cup, the London club became the first team since Wasps in 2004 to complete a European and domestic double.

It was a different story in 2014, however, when losses to Toulon and Northampton helped provide the inspiration and experience to sweep all before them this season.

"We all remember what it felt like two years ago when we lost two finals in a row, the second of them here in the last second of extra time," McCall said.

"It was painful and as hard as it gets. Then to have the two seasons we've had since then...."

McCall refused to predict that Saracens have laid the foundations for a dynasty of success, but is confident about what the future holds.

"You can only play 33 games in a season and we've lost four. That's not a bad record and it indicates that we don't pick and choose our games, but front up all the time," McCall said.

"If we keep that up I don't see why we won't be back in these sorts of games. The age profile of the squad is good, is really good.

"Everybody is signed up for the next two to three seasons. The spine of the team is there, but the Premiership is always getting better. We've got to stay hungry and motivated and no doubt we will."

Saracens had established a 23-3 lead shortly after the half-hour mark with Duncan Taylor and Chris Wyles crossing, but Exeter struck back in the second half through tries by Jack Yeandle and Jack Nowell.

Trailing 23-20 with eight minutes to go, the Chiefs' leaked a superbly-worked try to man-of-the-match Alex Goode

"You get concerned when it becomes a three-point game. We just couldn't get our hands on the ball in the second half," McCall said.

"Give Exeter huge credit because all season they've become an 80-minute team and they're a resilient bunch who took it to us in the second half.

"We showed the necessary composure and resilience in the last 15 minutes. We had a couple of chances to win the game and our last try to win it was a great score.

"Alex has played like that all season and for me he's the best full-back in England by miles."

Exeter head coach Rob Baxter denied the Chiefs had been fazed by the occasion, instead pointing to their lack of experience in finals to explain their downfall in an entertaining climax to the league season.

"It wasn't about the size of the occasion - it didn't hurt us in our physicality or focus," Baxter said.

"The players were fantastically focused in the hotel this morning and coming here - no one was walking around the pitch taking selfies or thinking it was fantastic to be here.

"The guys were focused on playing a big game of rugby and that's what we did - there aren't many teams who have been within three points of Saracens late on at this stage of the season.

"We've done a lot right and worked really hard, the only negative was the first 15-20 minutes when we were behind the speed of the game.

"We fell into the danger of waiting for the next thing to happen rather than dealing with what was in front of us, but we grew as the game went on.

"I don't think there is anything we could have done differently before hand. We just needed that first half hour in the final, to see what it felt like."

Steenson was proud of first-time finalists Exeter, but could not help pondering what might have been.

"They're a good side," he said. "We take it on the chin.

"To get back as close as we did was a little bit disappointing.

"We just wanted to get back within seven, just to put a wee bit of pressure on them - that was the thought process when we were 20-odd points down.

"When we take a few days to reflect, it's been a good season. Now we've experienced this and we're going to want a wee bit more of it.

"It's tough to take right now when you see the trophy being paraded around. But we've got to be proud of what we've done. A lot of guys have put a lot of hard work in. We're all about the club going forward and this is another step along the ladder."


From Belfast Telegraph