March 9 2014 Latest news:
By James Cunliffe
Saturday, January 11, 2014
Richard Wigglesworth says Saracens cannot use Connacht’s shock victory in Toulouse as a blueprint for beating the four-time Heineken Cup kings on their own patch, as he believes the French side won’t let their guard slip again.
The Top 14 giants beat Sarries 17-16 at Wembley in October to take a firm grip on Pool 3, but a surprise 16-14 defeat last month on home soil to the Irish side shook the group up and leaves the cross-Channel rivals level on 15 points apiece.
By the current standings, that would leave the loser of Sunday’s clash as one the two best pool runners-up and still in with a shot at advancing to the quarter-finals.
But Wigglesworth, who was this week named in the England Saxons and EPS training squads for the Six Nations, says the situation remains the same for the Premiership leaders regardless of other results and possible permutations – they must beat Toulouse.
“We’re not looking at that result as some sort of beacon of hope,” the scrum-half said of Connacht’s famous victory. “We just know it’s a one-off game that’s going to be unbelievably tough and hopefully we’ll come out the right end of it.
“You want to top your group to give yourself the best chance of progressing in the competition. It’s changed it in terms of [possible] bonus points but we knew that, to top the group, we’d have to go to Toulouse and win to reverse the result they got at our place. That’s still the case.
“They’ve been a little bit hit and miss this year but what they have done is turned up on the big occasion and been a top team when they needed to be.”
The Hendon outfit prepared for their titanic European tussle with a 29-8 Premiership victory at Kingsholm on Saturday – their biggest ever win in Gloucester.
Their three tries edged them three short of last term’s league total at the halfway stage of the current domestic competition, and Wigglesworth believes Saracens have the weapons to hurt Toulouse.
He said: “If you look at the stats from a year ago, we started to improve the way we attacked and that has gradually got better.
“We hope that, in the really big games and tight situations, the little bit of quality that’s maybe needed to break down the toughest of defences is there.
“We’ve evolved as a team and got better so hopefully, if conditions allow, then we’ll be able to play some rugby and put them under a bit of pressure.
“We know that they’ve got awesome individuals and if we give them a sniff they’ll take their chances and put the game out of sight.
“We know that we’ll have to stop their big, heavy men on the gain line and get some momentum in our game that we didn’t get as much of in the last game.
“We’re learning all the time and hopefully we’ll have learnt from what they did to us last time and how effective it was. Hopefully we can turn it around.”
Unless a solution is found, Saracens and all the other English sides will not be involved next season’s Heineken Cup. That’s after they gave notice in June 2012 they would not sign a new agreement with the competition’s organisers European Rugby Cup (ERC), when the tournament contract expired in summer 2014.
“It’s disappointing at the moment but I’m sure the powers that be will fight it out and I’m sure something will get resolved, if not next year, then the year after,” Wigglesworth said.
“We’ll probably have to do something special in it this year.
“Whichever one of 10 teams that can win it, maybe it makes it a bit more special [to win it] but also, they’ll have the disappointment the next year of not being able to defend it.
“We are massively keen to do well in Europe to prove we’re a good team and that’s all it is.
“If the competition is not there next year then we’ll deal with that then but, at the moment, it’s a fantastic tournament that we want to do well in.
“A European competition without the English isn’t really a European competition. I think the French will admit that.
“If it’s top-level competition but six teams are taken out then I think it seriously devalues it. I don’t see a situation where I’m jealous of a competition that’s not got us in it because I think it will lack the quality that we [English teams] bring to it.”