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Ulsterman McCall is weaving his magic again


Try that: David Strettle crosses for Sarries
Try that: David Strettle crosses for Sarries

By Sam Peters

It's looking ominous for their rivals. Even without playmaker-in-chief Owen Farrell, Saracens still produced a quarter-final performance of such absolute dominance on Saturday they must now be considered the strongest of favourites to go on to win the Champions Cup for the third time.

The only blot on the landscape for Ulsterman Mark McCall's men as they look ahead to another potentially trophy-laden season climax was what appeared to be a serious ankle injury suffered by captain Brad Barritt during their impressive 56-27 win over Glasgow.

Barritt, who was his usual understated but effective self, sustained what Director of Rugby McCall described as a "potentially devastating" injury with the game long since won.

The influential centre will learn more about the extent of the injury today but he was clearly in agony and it seems unlikely he will feature again this season.

Saracens fans will comfort themselves in the knowledge they have midfield depth to spare in Barritt's likely absence.

With Farrell stood down by McCall less than an hour before kick off to be with his wife Georgie, who was in labour with the couple's first child, Alex Goode resumed control at fly-half and produced a performance every bit as good as his more celebrated team-mate would have delivered.

Goode, in the position he cut his teeth as a youngster before switching to full-back, pulled Saracens' strings so effectively they were out of sight long before replacement centre Nick Tompkins ran in his side's seventh try of a one-sided affair.

Glasgow had talked a good game but when the time came to deliver they fluffed their lines badly once again.

Just as it had been the case in 2017, a game built up to be Glasgow's for the taking proved to be nothing of the sort. They were outmuscled, outgunned and outclassed.

This was easily the most comprehensive of Saracens' three wins over Glasgow this season and with seven wins from seven European Champions Cup games so far, they are by some way the form horses.

With a fully-fit Farrell sure to return before their semi-final encounter with Munster at the Ricoh Arena on April 20, McCall's men have high-calibre replacements to ease the pain of Barritt's expected absence.

Tompkins would also provide robust back-up if he was called on to start, while youngster Max Malins has impressed whenever he's been given his chance in the starting line-up.

Goode's excellence at 10, combined with Barritt's injury, could well see Farrell slot in at inside centre for his club with Wales' Liam Williams consistently world-class at full-back for club and country.

The former Scarlets star scored two tries on Saturday, the first of which was created by Goode's brilliant chip, while outside centre Alex Lozowski ensured Farrell's absence was not too keenly felt by slotting nine kicks from 10 attempts.

Lozowski blotted his defensive copybook playing for England against Japan at Twickenham last November and has not featured at international level since.

Here, in front of the watching Eddie Jones, was a reminder he remains a young player of huge worth and potential.

It seems Goode's hopes of restarting his international career have passed but if 21 caps proves to be all he has to show he will at least take comfort from the fact he earned every one of them.

The 30-year-old was flawless again on Saturday and would be more than capable of steering Saracens' ship if he is tasked to do so.

The north London team reached their seventh European Cup semi-final on Saturday and on this evidence, allied to defending champions Leinster's slightly faltering form, they are well on track to repeat their triumphs of 2016 and 2017.

Munster stand before them in Coventry in three weeks but it is hard to look past Saracens.

With the Premiership also for the taking, it looks set to be another bumper end to the season for McCall and his team.

Belfast Telegraph


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