Comment: Saracens remain in a strong position despite late heartbreak in Aviva Premiership semi-finals
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Sarries may have been beaten by Exeter Chiefs, but north Londoners will challenge for top honours again next season
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall described it as one of the great kicks of all time. It was Henry Slade’s huge penalty kick to touch for Exeter Chiefs that would lead to heartbreak for Saracens in the Aviva Premiership semi-finals.
Having taken the lead with five minutes remaining through Mike Ellery’s acrobatic try in the corner, McCall also added that if you’re going to lose, then it’s better to lose in those circumstances.
However, it would provide no consolation to a team who, just one week previously, were perched at the summit of European rugby.
The way Chiefs defied the odds against Saracens, at times showed glimpses of Sarries themselves. Knowing how to win under extreme pressure and finding that extra 10 per cent isn’t a feat that comes easily to most sides, but Exeter have shown since their final defeat last season that they have been a team fully deserving of their position.
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The efforts in striving for European glory clearly took its toll on the north Londoners, whose defence at times lacked the reliable and resistant force it has been during the campaign. Sarries’ togetherness prevailed before Slade’s and Sam Simmonds’ hammer blow halted the reigning champions of further glory.
Yet, it was not to be. The familiarity of Sarries’ situation has proved in the past that they are a team who have the ability to bounce back — to use defeat as a positive to become stronger to win.
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In doing so, the business already confirmed for next season signals the intent in which Sarries will approach the new term.
With Dominic Day, Christopher Tolofua, Calum Clark, the returning Will Skelton, as well as Liam Williams’ imminent arrival at Allianz Park, it shows the strength McCall and co. are adding to the squad even before the off-season has begun.
But there’s plenty to celebrate for Saracens this season further to their Champions Cup crown. Six young Sarries academy players — Ralph Adams-Hale, Ben Earl, Jack Nay, Max Malins, Ali Crossdale and Dominic Morris — will attempt to win back-to-back World Rugby Under-20 Championships for England in Georgia.
Further afield, Mako Vunipola, Owen Farrell, Jamie George, George Kruis and Maro Itoje are set to feature in a British & Irish Lions tour looking to win a series against the All Blacks in New Zealand for the first time since 1971. However, they will have to do it without Billy Vunipola following his withdrawal earlier this week due to a shoulder injury.
And finally, Sarries’ Alex Lozowski, Nathan Earle and Nick Isiekwe will join Eddie Jones’ England squad to tour Argentina.
The strength of Saracens at all levels shows that success isn’t just determined by the silverware that adorns the trophy room.