Saracens need to right the wrongs if they are to avoid an away semi-final
PUBLISHED: 17:30 22 February 2017
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Reigning champions Saracens suffered a second successive defeat after a 31-23 loss to Gloucester – and with it the increasing likelihood of an away semi-final in May.
The Cherry and Whites hooker Richard Hibbard dived over in the 76th minute to deny the visitors a losing bonus point with seven games still to play in the Aviva Premiership.
And Sarries are now tied on points with Exeter Chiefs, after the Devon side secured their eighth try bonus point in their victory over Worcester at Sixways, with Bath a further two points behind.
But as Mark McCall, Saracens’ director of rugby, echoed after the game, there would be no cause for concern if an away semi-final were to be the outcome.
So much so that Saracens have won two of their last three away semi-finals in the Premiership – most notably during their recent winning campaign in 2014/15. The North Londoners overcame Northampton Saints 29-24 at Franklins Gardens on the way to defeating Bath and lifting the trophy at Twickenham. That in a season where Saracens finished in fourth place.
Likewise, Sarries progressed to the final in 2010, again defeating Northampton Saints in an away semi-final tie following their third-place finish in the league.
Of the remaining league fixtures this term, four of which will be at Allianz Park where they are yet to lose, Saracens will be favourites to secure nothing short of a victory in each.
And at the business end of the season, securing bonus points will be hugely significant in determining where a prospective semi-final will be played.
It will also set up a mouth-watering clash at current league leaders Wasps on the final day of the season, by which time Sarries should be back to a full-strength contingent for McCall to select from.
Wasps have undoubtedly been the form side this season, justifying their position at the top of the league, but having only picked up a losing bonus point against Sale at the weekend, it increases the significance of the final league fixture at home to the title holders.
That said, Sarries won’t be thinking too much about other teams and results just yet, with their own fate still in their hands. McCall’s men will want to right the wrongs that have been their undoing in their previous fixtures against Gloucester and Worcester.
One of the wrongs they will certainly want to right is the set piece – a key area they will want to regain their dominance in. The absence of key players has certainly impacted on their set-piece assertion and with veteran Springbok Schalk Burger the latest addition to the injury list.
But for now, focus will turn to Saturday’s opponents Sale Sharks at Allianz Park and a strong winning performance should be enough to erase the despair of the last couple of weeks and push on for a solid finish to the domestic campaign.
But Saracens will need to be wary of the threat Sale will bring, particularly after their strong showing against leaders Wasps. With their strong ball carriers and finishers, discipline in defence will need to vastly improve given the nature of how they have lost their previous two league fixtures.
Two losses on the bounce will have surely dented confidence, but if there’s one thing this Saracens team has it’s resilience – shown in abundance on a number of occasions of late.
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