The An­a­lyst

For­ward power and guile un­der­pins the Eng­lish cham­pi­ons, says Sean Hol­ley

Rugby World - - CONTENTS -

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.

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