While the Six Nations is still active, it can often spell ‘danger’ for Mark McCall and the Saracens rugby club. In Round 14 of the Aviva Premiership, and with so many of their stars away on international duty, it is crunch time for the London team. A blip per year can be tolerated; two though is trouble.
Saracens lost two of their five regular season games last year whilst the Six Nations was occurring and the year before that suffered their biggest ever defeat at Allianz Park when Wasps put 64 points on them.
They had to endure their worst run in seven years throughout October and November, in which they suffered defeats to Gloucester, Exeter, Harlequins and Clermont Auvergne ‘twice’ in Europe. They since appeared to have turned the corner with impressive wins at both Welford Road and the Ricoh Arena.
The return of Billy Vunipola lifted spirits but the England number eight sadly once again finds himself sidelined with injury. Ending any hope of participating in the Six Nations or, more importantly for Saracens, the on going battle for a top four spot. Although, an eight point cushion to fifth-placed Bath has eased the feeling in north London.
How to counter Difficult Aviva fixture list?
In the rounds that occur alongside the Six Nations Internationals, Mark McCall’s side host Newcastle, travel north to Sale before taking on Leicester and Exeter. Consulting the fixture list to gauge how Saracens may fare minus their English contingent, is only so valid.
Last year their defeats over the same time period were to; Worcester and Gloucester, the former only securing Premiership status a few weeks before the season’s end.
Newcastle and Sale could present similar challenges; they, like Worcester and Gloucester, provide little to none of the English squad allowing them to pick from a full squad. It also ensures a element of continuity exists in their team selection. Something that the sides nearer the top will not have the luxury of.
Ironically, hosting the Tigers and travelling to Sandy Park, as daunting a task as that may be, could well be easier fixtures for Saracens. Leicester, beyond misfiring and oozing inconsistency, will be without the likes of George Ford, Jonny May and Dan Cole. They suffered defeat to Worcester at home when without their star players over the Autumn which serves to demonstrate the standard of their reserves.
Exeter have had to deal with the negatives of a exponential rise as more and more of their players earn international recognition. Alec Hepburn made his England debut last weekend whilst Sam Simmonds staked his case further to become an England regular alongside Jack Nowell.
Saracens suffer more than most when Eddie Jones names his international squads, but with other sides suffering likewise the hope is that the perceived tougher fixtures get a little easier whilst the likes of Newcastle and Sale look that bit harder.
Saracens envious squad depth
It’s hard to pity a side who’s second row options consist of Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Will Skelton and Nick Isiekwe. But when you realise three of those four get called away by England twice a year, the levels of envy become somewhat less.
Couple that with losing both World Class fly-halves, a star front rower and a winger……and McCall’s job doesn’t look quite the easy ride it did back in August.
Round 14 squad changes
Richard Wigglesworth has been called up this week to replace Ben Youngs–who will miss the rest of the tournament leaving Saracens squad even lighter.
Their reliance on stalwarts like Brad Barritt and Alex Goode heighten; and their leadership roles also increase. Above the number of English players they provide Saracens supply Scotland with Duncan Taylor and Sean Maitland whilst Wales would call upon Liam Williams were he fit.
Saracens resources will no doubt be tested to the absolute maximum but, if any side can cope it is them. It serves to show, whilst Directors of Rugby back their players international ambitions, having them denied isn’t always bad news when you consider Saracens envious squad depth.
Just ask Dai Young at Wasps as he watches Danny Cipirani and Dan Robson go through their paces this week. The Coventry-based outfit currently sit six points behind Saracens; if that gap hasn’t decreased by the time Saracens are back to a full compliment consider it a very fruitful few weeks.
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