Future’s bright for Saracens as young guns steal the show against Toulon’s Galacticos
- Credit: Archant
Saracens are one step closer to defending their European crown after progressing into the quarter-finals following their thrilling 10-3 victory over French giants Toulon at Allianz Park on Saturday.
The Hendon-based club produced the superior defensive display to halt the French onslaught, recording their 12th consecutive home win in Europe and reaching the quarter-finals for the sixth successive season.
Toulon were at full strength but were unable to break through a Sarries defence that, not for the first time, refused to buckle.
The hosts showed their character once again, and their resilience even outshone the resolve so superbly demonstrated one week previously, in the 22-22 draw against Scarlets in the Welsh cauldron of the Parc y Scarlets.
It was an outstanding defensive display that complemented the attacking panache shown in the reverse fixture at the Stade Felix Mayol on the French Riviera earlier this season.
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Indeed, Saturday’s win seemed that bit more accomplished, offering real signs of what is still to come from this team in the Champions Cup.
It was an occasion that once again showcased the ability of Sarries’ young guns, who stole the limelight from the Galacticos in the visiting ranks.
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Centre Nick Tompkins, standing in for captain Brad Barritt, delivered yet another performance that underlined his continuing development and growing maturity at Saracens.
Unfazed by his opposite number – the towering All Black centurion and legend Ma’a Nonu – Tompkins had the tenacity on one occasion to waltz his way around the former New Zealand centre, breaking the defensive line and launching an attack from his own half.
He is only 21 and yet he plays like an experienced international who has been on the circuit for a lot longer than he actually has.
Similarly, number eight Jackson Wray put in a man-of-the-match display in the loose. It is performances like these that leave Saracens standing head and shoulders above the rest.
Ten members of the starting 15 on Saturday were under the age of 30, compared to Toulon’s five, and the hosts’ line-up had an average age of 28 – two years younger than their visitors’ side.
Nonetheless, Mark McCall’s side came out on top and have now secured home advantage in their quarter-final against Glasgow Warriors at the start of April.
There is talk that the capacity of Allianz Park could be temporarily increased to 15,000 for the match, which would only add to the occasion.
Sarries will entertain a club that has reached the knockout stages of a European competition for the first time in their history – but they will present a stern test.
With Scottish rugby on the up and players keen to force their way into the Lions squad ahead of this summer’s tour of New Zealand, this Glasgow side are certainly capable of causing an upset.
Their 43-0 victory away against Leicester Tigers on Saturday certainly shows they are worthy of respect and, following the draw for the last eight, McCall said: “There’s a really positive energy in their squad and they have a team packed full of internationals so it’ll be a huge test for us, but one we’re looking forward to.”
If Saracens emerge triumphant again, an even greater challenge probably awaits them in the next stage.
They may have beaten three-time European champions Toulon twice in the pool stage, but their draw against Scarlets last week means they have been seeded third in the quarter-finals and would therefore be away against Munster or Toulouse in the final four.
But the size of such hurdles will surely only inspire the Champions Cup holders, who are unbeaten in their last 15 European matches and have won their last 12 home games on the continent.
Fortune favours the brave, and as Saracens have shown time and again in recent weeks – not least on Saturday against Toulon – there is bravery in abundance at Allianz Park.
Follow me on Twitter @AaronTillyer