George: Saracens’ victory at Northampton was ‘a real statement of intent’ ahead of Premiership final
Jamie George says Saturday’s victory in the Premiership semi-final at Northampton was “a real statement of intent” as Saracens prepare for this weekend’s final at Twickenham.
And the hooker, who scored in the 29-24 triumph at Franklin’s Gardens, believes the fact that Sarries have been less dominant and had to fight for their place in the play-offs this season could help them to avoid last year’s heartbreak and go one better by beating Bath and lifting the trophy at Twickenham.
The Hendon club were in a different class last campaign, winning 19 of their 22 league games during the regular season and reaching both the domestic and European finals.
However, they finished empty-handed, with a 23-6 defeat to Toulon in the Heineken Cup being followed by an agonising loss to Northampton at Twickenham.
It has been a different story this term, with Saracens only just grabbing fourth spot and a play-off place on the final day of the regular season.
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That gave them a tough trip to face Northampton Saints, who had finished top of the table, in Saturday’s semi-final – but the north Londoners came out on top to book their second successive league final, this time against Bath.
“Obviously the journey to the two finals has been very different,” said George. “Last season we weren’t really tested if I’m honest, everything went fairly easily for us and it was fairly straightforward.
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“This season we’ve had to fight for it, which I think puts us in a better position going into the final.
“We’ve learnt from the mistakes we’ve made in our losses and we’re coming into form at the right time of the year. To put in a performance like that [at Northampton] is a real statement of intent of what we’re hopefully going to bring out in the final.
“There are a lot of perceptions in the media, and people with opinions, and they probably would have said we were underdogs, but we never felt like we were up against it at any time.
“The only pressure we put on ourselves is from within, and we can’t be putting pressure on ourselves by saying ‘we’re the underdogs’ and this kind of thing. We just made sure we went there with a huge desire to put in a good performance, and that’s what we did, which was great.”
Saracens’ victory over the Saints was even more impressive given their squad was struck by sickness in the build-up to the game.
“I wasn’t one of the ones who was ill but it must have been very difficult,” said George. “At the same time they know the expectation is that if they’re put on the field, no matter how they feel, it’s about bringing what they bring every week.
“For those lads to step up like they did was pretty special and just shows what a good place the group’s in at the moment. It shows the hunger, it shows the desire of how badly we want it and that can only be a good thing looking forward to this weekend.
“I think the performance in general was the most pleasing thing, the way we defended. The amount of energy we brought to the game was probably the most exciting thing about it and then to get up there with a try myself was great.
“It was off the back of a maul so it shouldn’t really go down to the individual – it was a hell of a forward effort – but I was happy to get on the scoresheet all the same.
“The most pleasing thing was that we got over from a set piece. We take pride in our set piece, our scrum was pretty good all day and to score from a maul against a very good Northampton pack was more pleasing than me actually getting on the scoresheet.”
Saracens were agonisingly close to winning the Premiership final against Northampton last year, leading in the last minute of extra time, only to concede a try and lose 24-20 – but George says there has been no talk of that heartbreak this week.
“It’s very important for us not to get held up too much on last year’s final,” he said. “The way that it went was very disappointing, and in the manner it happened, but we needed to get over that and I think we realised that very early. What’s happened in the past doesn’t really affect us now.
“The focus this week has purely been on Bath – it hasn’t been the fact that it’s a final, it hasn’t been on the fact that there are too many expectations. It’s purely been on the fact that we need to make sure we get our detail right and play as well as we can, and then hopefully everything will fall into place.
“We’re fairly evenly matched. We beat Bath at home this season and they beat us away, so I’d say it’s fairly even and the team that keeps their composure the most will probably come out on top.
“They’re very physical, they’ve got big runners up front, a good set piece and they’re very dangerous out wide. With the likes of George Ford pulling the strings any team would be very successful.
“We know they’ve got threats all over the field and we also know we’ve got to be at the top of our game to break down this top-class team.”