Saracens boss Mark McCall hails returning stars in win over Sharks
PUBLISHED: 10:01 26 January 2014 | UPDATED: 10:18 26 January 2014
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Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall hailed the returning performances of a number of previously injured players as the Premiership leaders beat Currie Cup champions Sharks 23-15 in a one-off game at Allianz Park.
David Strettle opened the scoring with his fourth score in two games and Charlie Hodgson added an intercept try plus 13 points with the boot as the Hendon side took a 20-3 lead into the break.
Sharks scored twice in the second half through Andre Esterhuizen and Heimar Williams but Sarries held them off for a famous win.
The Londoners’ forwards were thoroughly dominant in the opening 40 minutes with Mouritz Botha, making his first start in two months, claiming the man-of-the match award, while Jacques Burger returned from minor knee surgery to put in a ferociously physical display, even by his standards.
McCall said: “One of the most pleasing things for me was we have a number of guys who haven’t been playing very much in the last four or five weeks though injury.
“Jacques Burger was playing his first game for five weeks, Mo [Botha] was playing his first [full] game for two months, Tagi [Michael Tagicakibau] was playing his first game for four weeks and Justin Melck playing his first game for a while.
“Those players got invaluable game time which is great.”
The friendly clash was a rare chance for a northern and southern hemisphere club side to face each other and McCall named a strong side despite Saracens having an LV= Cup clash at home to Newcastle Falcons today.
“It was different this week,” he said, adding: “We’ve had nine tough games prior to this – five Premiership games and four Heineken Cup matches – and the players deserve a bit of a break, but the they were really excited about this game.
“There was nothing riding on the result today but we’ve got a very competitive group who want to win things and we saw that competitiveness out there today, especially in the second half when things were difficult. We had to physically front up and I thought we were magnificent.”
Botha told the club’s website: “It was a brilliant performance.
“It is amazing to play alongside these boys. It was 15 mates playing alongside each other, it’s just great.
“I love it when big lads just run straight at you, and they had some really big, physical guys playing for them. It was just a great day and I really enjoyed myself out of there today.”
Burger said: “I am as proud of the team’s performance as I was my own. We were brilliant out there.
“We knew that their big guys would be coming around the corner out there pretty hard, and if you let these guys play then they will dominate you. So we knew they were going to be pretty physical and get off the line, which meant we had to get in their faces and not give them a second.
“We are really proud of our performance, everyone really stepped up today and we are happy with how we went out there.
On his return from surgery, the Namibian international said: “Being on the sidelines again for a few weeks means that every time I play I savour it, and I treat it if it were my last game of rugby. I just really enjoy playing rugby and to have that opportunity to battle against a great team was brilliant.”