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Quiet build-up as quiet man McCall looks for Saracens to get job done

The English side defend their Champions Cup title against Clermont tomorrow in Murrayfield.

WITH THE WORLD Cup pools draw taking place, Lions hype building, awards nights, and – most relevant of all – no Irish sides involved, the build-up to tomorrow’s Champions Cup final could be kindly described as quiet here in Ireland.

Some people even appear to be unaware that the decider of this competition takes place in Murrayfield at 5pm tomorrow.

Mark McCall Mark McCall and Saracens got the better of Munster in the semi-finals. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It’s understandable that other issues have taken greater focus on Irish soil, but even in England and France – the home nations of finalists Saracens and Clermont – the hype certainly hasn’t been getting out of hand.

A quiet build-up? Saracens’ head coach, the quiet Irishman Mark McCall, will have loved every second of it.

The former Ireland centre is a man who you feel wouldn’t complain if the media were to drop completely off the radar for rugby. Not that he’s rude, it’s just that he is utterly focused on the actual performance of his team. Everything else is a sideshow.

McCall’s media dealings often leave journalists straining their ears to catch his words, but his softly-spoken, to-the-point manner does nothing to mask his deep rugby intellect and powerful leadership.

The ex-Ulster head coach, who guided the northern province to the Celtic League in 2006, has been a central figure in Saracens’ rise from being a bunch of misfits and South Africans to one of the best club sides in the world.

They are the defending Premiership and European champions, and given their steely assurance in play-off games in recent times, many would bet on them completing another double this season.

First up is the challenge of Top 14 outfit Clermont, who should not be dismissed in the slightest, but who simply don’t have the same kind of suffocating defensive edge that Sarries posses.

Camille Lopez celebrates after the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The French side can rip teams apart in attack – Leinster will tell you – but then Saracens’ quality with ball in hand is in little doubt either, even if it comes in a different form and with different tactics.

Clermont have class and, apparently, the kind of composure they have been previously missing in out-half Camille Lopez, giving them hope of finally breaking their duck in this competition, but Saracens deserve their status as favourites.

Unafraid of spending money to aid their cause, they will never be popular in some quarters and perhaps that explains the relative lack of clamour around the achievements of McCall.

While other coaches are happy to sing from the rooftops about their methods and ideas, McCall is said to have turned down more interviews than most in recent years, content to simply work hard on improving Saracens.

Initiatives like the Personal Development Programme, launched in 2009, have been instrumental in creating a strong off-the-field culture at Saracens, one that very literally translates onto the pitch.

Few sides in the game work as hard as the English club, who never cease physically. That kind of consistent effort from players is almost always indicative of a happy environment off the pitch, as well as a group that believes in their coaching staff.

A second consecutive Champions Cup title tomorrow would be warmly welcomed by this ambitious group of Saracens players, but it is not the be-all and end-all for them either.

Duncan Williams clears the ball under pressure from Maro Itoje Maro Itoje and Saracens will look to put the pressure on Clermont, as they did with Munster. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

If Clermont upset the odds, we can expect McCall’s men to bounce back and be in contention next season again. Their pride comes from that aforementioned consistency of effort, minute-to-minute, day-to-day, season-to-season.

As Munster’s Rassie Erasmus said before their semi-final, everyone else in Europe is aspiring to match Saracens.

McCall is the man leading them impressively as they look to stay ahead of that chasing pack.

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