Can Saracens maintain their dominance in the Premiership and European Champions Cup?
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Saracens have been synonymous with success in recent years and have become the ultimate driving force in European rugby.
Last season was a double-winning one for the Hendon-based club as they won both the Premiership and European Champions Cup, joining an elite group who have pulled off such a feat. Only Wasps and Leicester Tigers had previously boasted an English domestic and European double.
Incredibly, Saracens have appeared in five of the last six Premiership finals, winning three of them – and they have also contested two of the last three European finals, coming out on top in the latest of them when they beat Racing 92, who went on to win the French Top 14 league.
So what does the new season hold for Saracens? The goal is to pick up where they left off and attempt to secure the ‘double double’, emulating Leicester Tigers, who won back-to-back domestic and European titles in 2001 and 2002.
With their current crop of players, they could certainly do it, and director of rugby Mark McCall has underlined his intent by securing the signatures of the likes of Schalk Burger from Super Rugby franchise the Stormers and Sean Maitland from London Irish.
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McCall used no less than 41 players last term, and he may well need to utilise a similar number this time around – Saracens are sure to dominate the England squad for the upcoming autumn international series as well as the Six Nations, which takes place in February and March.
Yet the club’s strength in depth looks second to none and, when key men are absent, there are always reserves ready to come in and perform.
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The Ulsterman’s confidence and trust in his fringe players is repeatedly rewarded – every player knows his role and the side maintains its cohesion.
Nonetheless, Sarries look set to face greater competition in the battle for the Premiership crown this campaign. Indeed, strange as it may seem, they might find their European title easier to defend.
A number of top-flight English sides have acquired world-class players during the summer and there will be some exciting talent on show. Leicester have signed Matt Toomua and JP Pietersen while Wasps have recruited Kurtley Beale and Willie le Roux. Both teams will have genuine ambitions of winning the trophy, and they look capable of knocking Sarries off their perch.
On the other hand, on the continent, McCall’s men could begin to establish an authority, replacing a Toulon outfit who have enjoyed an unprecedented level of dominance but bowed out in the quarter-finals last season and have not dictated the transfer market as in previous years.
Saracens will face the French side in the pool stage, along with Sale Sharks and Scarlets, and they will be expected to finish in pole position.
Toulon and Racing 92 both lost in the opening weekend of the new Top 14 season, and the need to solidify their positions could have a knock-on effect as the campaign progresses.
Sarries will be aiming to avoid a false start of their own when they kick off against Worcester at Twickenham on Saturday.
The new season looks set to be bigger and better than ever and Saracens will hope to be in both the Premiership and European finals again at the end.
With their never-ending pool of talent, you would not bet against it – but a couple of their domestic rivals might have something to say about that.
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