After the Edinburgh v Gloucester game on Friday night, BT Sport aired a half-hour show titled Saracens XV, following Sarries in the days leading up to their meeting with Harlequins at Wembley in March.
The show was fascinating, showing interviews with coaches Alex Sanderson and our own Joe Shaw, and several players, including David Strettle, Jamie George, Billy Vunipola and Alastair Hargreaves. Sanderson talked about building relationships with the players as individuals, Jacques Burger showed his family, and Petrus Du Plessis said that the family side of Saracens really helps the players give their all for the club.
Saracens have been condemned over the past five years for bringing in lots of South African players, signing lots of star players, allegedly breaking the salary cap etc., but whatever they’ve done, it has worked and they have consistently been one of the very top teams in England and Europe in recent seasons.
One European final, several semi-finals, this season’s LV= Cup and the 2011 Premiership title. In the last four years, they have been knocked out of the Heineken/Champions Cup by one of Saturday’s finalists, Toulon (in last year’s final) and Clermont Auvergne (the 2012 quarter-final, and the last four in 2013 and 2015).
You don’t become that successful by simply buying in mercenaries; you do it by blending talent with work ethic and team spirit. Talent, you can buy. Work ethic and team spirit, you cannot buy, it has to be created by the right people.
In training for the Harlequins game, captain Hargreaves is shown talking to the squad about the importance of sticking together during the match, trusting teammates and backing them up. Later, Chris Ashton talked about not wanting to let people down. That is a culture Saracens have built and it is something every club should aspire to.
Not everything that Sarries have done I have agreed with. Talking about playing a competitive home game in South Africa, playing one in Brussels, that’s taking the games away from the bread-and-butter fans. I don’t see the real benefit of them, but I guess Saracens must have done their research and planned how the Brussels game would benefit them.
The move to Barnet, from the sterile concrete tower of Vicarage Road, has helped give Saracens a real identity. The atmosphere for the Falcons’ visit there in February was fantastic. The ground has its drawbacks, for example the athletic track and the disjointed stands, but it’s a good day out, from what you expect (to get a beer and a pie quickly) to what you don’t (the Pioneers everywhere, who are very helpful and genuinely seem to be loving their part in the Saracens family).
The vibe I got from the interviews during Saracens XV, was of a group of players who genuinely enjoy what they are doing, genuinely love being part of Saracens, and genuinely want to be successful. Fantastic. I’d love to think that Dean Richards is bringing this kind of culture to the Falcons, and I think slowly it is coming together.
When the Falcons get to the point where they don’t even worry about the result, because they have 100% belief in what they are doing, 100% belief in every teammate, and 100% belief that they can attack superbly and defend resolutely, leaving nothing on the pitch, then the results will take care of themselves. It takes years to get there. But we can get there, and God willing we will get there.
By the way, Saracens beat Harlequins 42-14.
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