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Saracens to focus on youth players

Saracens are set to bypass English rugby's marquee player market this year and maintain a grow-your-own policy that is flourishing at a spectacular rate.

All 12 Aviva Premiership clubs can recruit an extra marquee player for next season, whose wages will not be included in a salary cap of more than £5million.

Saracens, though, do not intend to go down that road, with current squad strength highlighted by five members of their starting pack against European Champions Cup semi-final conquerors Clermont Auvergne being aged 25 or under and all England-qualified.

Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, George Kruis, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola were at the forefront of a brave and battling semi-final display in Saint-Etienne as English representation in this season's competition came to an agonising end.

"The fact Clermont and Toulon always seem to be in semi-finals or finals gives you an indication that they're pretty powerful," Saracens rugby director Mark McCall said.

"But if someone ever took the time to go through our squad properly and understand where they've come from and where they are now, you can develop your own and make players better.

"We believe that we do that, and that we give ourselves a chance in these competitions because of that.

"We know where we would like to improve our side, and we are prepared to wait for the right person to make that happen.

"We don't want to jump in and get 'a name' just because he is available post-World Cup.

"It has got to be someone who has got the right kind of ambition and hunger, not just looking to see out his career. We are very, very careful who we're going to spend that kind of money on.

"It is difficult because players talk and understand that this guy (marquee player) has got to perform if he's going to earn that kind of money. For us, we won't be bringing one in for next season.

"I think you are always looking for something to add, and we have got to keep an eye on our back-line, but our pack is developing just nicely and is going to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

"The fact that our pack is as young as it is, it's incredibly exciting for us to think that they could be the mainstay of the club for hopefully the next four or five seasons."

France star Wesley Fofana scored the game's solitary try just after half-time as Clermont prevailed 13-9 to reach their second European final in three seasons.

Charlie Hodgson and Owen Farrell each kicked penalties, while Hodgson also dropped a goal, but Clermont triumphed in front of a capacity 41,000 crowd at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard through Fofana's sweet finish, plus a Brock James conversion and two penalties.

Clermont did not remotely have things their own way, though, having arrived in the semi-finals following a 37-5 rout of reigning Aviva Premiership champions Northampton a fortnight ago.

Saracens are now left to concentrate solely on domestic business - they face Premiership leaders Northampton next Saturday - as the play-off race enters its closing stages.

"We are excited for what we've got coming up," said Saracens' England fly-half Farrell, who featured off the bench for his first appearance since suffering a knee injury in January.

"We've got some big games coming up now to try and get a home semi-final so that we can hopefully push on in the Premiership.

"It was a close game, and it could have gone either way. We will have to look closely at the detail, but if we can get ourselves into a place like that, we will be tough to beat."

Saracens' semi-final display drew praise from Clermont forwards coach Jono Gibbes, who added: "Having faced Northampton and these guys, Saracens should be confident in themselves and their approach.

"I am not talking down Northampton, but Saracens have the ability to win the Premiership this year, no doubt. I have played both teams, and it's definitely more stressful playing Saracens."

And despite Saracens' exit ending English interest in this season's tournament, at least one England international will be at Twickenham for the final on May 2 in the shape of Clermont full-back Nick Abendanon.

"The last time I played there was my second cap at Twickenham over eight years ago," said an in-form Abendanon, who also confirmed he has received no contact from England's management about any Test career renaissance ahead of the World Cup.

"I have to keep playing well for Clermont. It's not an easy task to jump into an England team."


From Belfast Telegraph