Last Hurrah

Saracens well prepared as they come to Dublin with 'nothing to lose'

Mark McCall’s men have an upset win over Leinster in their sights.

SARACENS MIGHT REFER to the “curveballs” that have been thrown their way over the last nine months or so, but others simply call it punishment for cheating.

Whatever about the details of their rule-breaking, Sarries are heading for the English Championship for the 2020/21 season.

Before they take their leave from the top flight of professional rugby for a year, the serial winners have one more big goal. They hope their last hurrah will be the successful defence of their Heineken Champions Cup title, starting with Saturday’s quarter-final against Leinster in Dublin.

Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster’s men are favourites to extend their winning run to 26 games, a streak that dates all the way back to last year’s European final, when Saracens were the winners at St James’ Park.

owen-farrell-mako-vunipola-maro-itoje-sean-maitland-and-liam-williams-celebrate-with-their-medals Saracens celebrate their title in Newcastle last year. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

But Sarries have been fixated on this quarter-final clash for months. While Leinster were busy retaining their Guinness Pro14 title in recent weeks, McCall and co. have been preparing for this European tie, with their involvement in the restarted 2019/20 Premiership season entirely meaningless.

“It’s been a weird old season, let’s be honest, with curveballs thrown at us the whole year,” says Saracens wing Sean Maitland. “These games we’ve been playing [in the Premiership] have been interesting, a weird old situation with no fans and midweek games.

“In the back of the mind, we’ve always had this Leinster game. It’s the only game that really means anything to us but in saying that, it’s been so good for our young lads to get experience.

“For the older boys like me, we’ve been building up to this game as the one with real significance.

“We’ve got nothing to lose and it’s going to be special.”

To be fair to McCall and Saracens, they have kept the show on the road despite the upheaval caused by their relegation for breaking the salary cap rules. While there have been permanent departures, several players have left the club only loan and will return for 2021/22, when Saracens are likely to be back in the Premiership.

Meanwhile, Maitland is one of a host of key men – also including Owen Farrell, the Vunipola brothers, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, and Elliot Daly – who have opted to stay put for the year in the Championship. Saracens’ spirit and togetherness haven’t been broken.

With the likes of club captain Brad Barritt and scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth set to bow out at the conclusion of this delayed 2019/20 campaign, Sarries have no shortage of motivation.

“We’ve got a couple of legends at the club and this is going to be their last season, so we’ve got a lot of things to play for,” said Maitland.

leinster-v-saracens-champions-cup-final-st-james-park Sean Maitland was a try-scorer for Saracens in last year's final. David Davies David Davies

“We want to win this competition, beat Leinster, but also do it for these lads who have given so much to the club.”

This latest tussle in the rivalry between the two clubs will be intriguing as they meet for the fifth time in European competition.

The English club were deserving winners of last year’s final on a 20-10 scoreline but Leinster had the better of them in the 2017/18 quarter-finals. Saturday night’s bout promises a few more fireworks.

“It’s massive… European rugby and what’s gone on with this club in this competition for the last four or five years,” says Maitland of three-time winners Saracens.

“I know there’s not going to be any fans which is a shame. We’ve played a quarter-final over there, then last year’s final, now this quarter-final again.

“I’m sure they have a lot of motivation to play us after last year. It’s a massive game, it’s European rugby, and it’s the only game that really means anything.”

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