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McCall: We are ready

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall believes his team have never been better placed to attack the business end of the season and convert strong positions in tournaments into silverware.

Sarries take on Irish giants Ulster in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals on Saturday while consecutive Aviva Premiership victories over Harlequins and Wasps have seen McCall's men open up a seven-point lead at the top of the domestic table.

Great expectations swelled around the club towards the end of last season before the campaign ended in anti-climax after a narrow loss to Toulon in Europe and a shock home defeat to Northampton in the Premiership semi-final.

McCall believes such experiences have only made Saracens stronger and insists his squad are primed this time round to capitalise in the campaign's latter stages.

"We added it up and there are around 3,000 caps between [the players] for Saracens and it smacks of a group who have been together and experienced a lot of things together over the last five years," McCall said.

"We've been through everything - ups, downs, triumphs, huge setbacks, last minute wins, last minute losses.

"I think we've been through everything and we think we're as ready as we've ever been to attack this part of this season and a game like Ulster."

Saracens beat Ulster 27-16 at Twickenham in the same round of the Heineken Cup last year but have struggled against top-level opposition in the past 12 months.

As well as the shock defeat to Northampton in the semi-final last year, Sarries were beaten home and away by Toulouse in the Heineken Cup pool stages, albeit by just a single point at Wembley in October.

Just two losses in 18 league games this season points to a high level of consistency overall but McCall admits his players need to find another gear on the big occasion.

"The one thing that we've been really good at for the last three or four years is we've been unbelievably consistent week to week," McCall said.

"I suppose it's about elevating your performance for a game like this [against Ulster] which is the next step.

"You have to be able to find another level and that's what we've got to go and do."

McCall spent three years as head coach at Ulster before joining Saracens in 2007 and knows as well as anyone the expectation surrounding the Irish side who have only won the Heineken Cup once, 15 years ago.

He said: "I know from talking to everybody over there that there is a weight of expectation on them.

"The expectation comes from themselves because they believe they've underachieved and it comes from the public massively.

"I suppose our job is to try and turn that expectation into something different which is a burden, pressure, stress and if we can do that we'll see what happens."

McCall added: "It's not like an international match - it's much more intense and much more hostile than what you get ironically in an 80,000 crowd.

"I don't want us to be surprised and when you're not surprised you can look forward to it and relish it."


From Belfast Telegraph