Forward power and guile underpins the English champions, says Sean Holley
SARACENS HAVE never really had the plaudits they deserve. Their rugby has failed to capture the imagination of many. Not me. I can see exactly what Mark McCall and his charges have built their foundations on and it is to be applauded, not just for the cups they win but the simplicity, execution and sheer bloody-mindedness of it.
They have powerful, explosive and athletic players. They have pace in the wider channels and a ten and 12 who pull the strings perfectly. But it is the force and guile of the forwards that allows them to prevail time and again.
The English champions’ game is based around hard, short carries by the likes of the Vunipola brothers, Jamie George, Maro Itoje and Vincent Koch. The bludgeoning nature of them wears the opposition down. The fact they’re content to play short carries, switching play but between the 15m lines, also disrupts the order of the defensive line and eventually shortens it.
The use of Brad Barritt to complement the forward carries helps significantly and he’s used a lot off first-phase possession, particularly off-the-top lineouts. Shortened lineouts bring in Billy Vunipola to carry alongside him and that combination invariably gets Saracens quickly across the gain-line.
The simplicity of their game plan is plain to see in many of their scores. Supported by a robust set-piece, it’s clearly effective as Sarries notched the most tries in last season’s Premiership.
The rapier nature of their play was typified by Alex Lozowski’s early try against Wasps in the semi-final…
Saracens are deadly on the front foot. Richard Wigglesworth is quick to get to the ruck and the possibility of a pick-and-go from Maro Itoje or George Kruis keeps the close defenders tight to the ruck. The runners come from depth and at speed and for this try, the two best ball-carriers in their team – the Vunipola brothers – approach in tandem.
Billy Vunipola is heavily marked as he gets the pass from his nine, so tip-passes to his brother. Mako now has more time and space to hit a hard-running line on the weaker inside-shoulder tackle of the defender and quickly crosses the gain-line. The close-quarter nature of this phase means the clearout at the ruck is dynamic and Billy is still on his feet after his pass and able to make an important clearout.