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21st Century Schizoid Men – an introduction to Saracens

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  • 21st Century Schizoid Men – an introduction to Saracens

    (Article courtesy of eamorugby.com)

    Try as I might, I cannot find a theme to hold this article together, other than dwelling on Saracens' startlingly ability to do the unexpected. I cannot build a frame within which I can adequately describe Munster’s next opponents, so please bear with the contradictions and hopefully you will enjoy what follows.


    Saracens are special. Saracens are unique. They are like no other club playing in England at the moment. These are the men who think nothing of heading to a bierkeller to bond when the received wisdom demands shuttle runs and dead lifts.

    Most rugby clubs have a home, Sarries have a suite of home grounds. Wembley, Twickenham, Watford, Heysel (yes, the one in Brussels) have all hosted the Fezheads this season and at one stage Munster’s leadership were calling up cousins in New York because that was where Saracens wanted to play their “home” game against us. NYC in December? My wallet screamed “no”, but the craziness of the idea appealed. The audacity to even suggest it excited. One of these days Sarries will get the go ahead to play a game in Cape Town. Cape Town for a rugby weekend? I’ve done it for an Ireland Springboks test and it was a blast.

    Saracens hold the Aviva Premiership record for the longest spell without scoring a try (over three games). They have scored only nine tries in ten leagues games so far this season and four of those were on the opening day. Yet in the HCup Sarries have touched down 8 times, five against Edinburgh and three against Racing. Saracens are the club that doesn’t score tries, but Ashton, Strettle, Goode, Tomkins and Barritt are a back division simmering with potency.

    Sarries are supposed to be the team that will pressure you into conceding penalties and they’ll then kick you out of the game. If that is the case, why do they have three of the flakiest out-halves in the Northern Hemisphere? Nils Mordt cost Saracens the game against Worcester with a woeful kicking display. Owen Farrell had an absolute shocker against Leicester off the tee (missing four out of five kicks) and yet was 100% against Harlequins two weeks later.

    Charlie Hodgson is having a fine season and looks to be the best bet to start in Limerick on Saturday night, but against London Welsh he gifted the Premiership new boys a try and his career is littered with attacks of the yips that would drive most golfers to give up. He looks to be Saracens’ form fly half, if you ignore what Farrell did for England against the New Zealand last weekend.

    Saracens’ are rightly known for their healthy South African contingent, including Justin Melck (remember him?). But behind the Boer hard heft of Brits, Botha, Joubert , du Plessis (don’t worry its neither Springbok Bismarck nor Jannie nor Namibia’s Tinus but Petrus, a tighthead signed from Nottingham) and Smit (the world cup winning captain) and the boy band charms of Farrell, Ashton and Strettle there is a deep thinking rugby intelligence at work. Testing orthodoxy at every hands turn, accepting nothing based upon assumption, Munster can expect to be stretched to the limit over the next two weeks as Saracens bring their all singing, all dancing, all kicking, all grinding game to the HCup party.

    Occasionally referred to as the Sarrieboks, Saracens also boast some of English rugby’s rising stars, not just Owen Farrell, but Alex Goode at fullback, Andy Saull on the flank, Mako Vunipola and Nick Auterac in the front row. Richard Wigglesworth is still a fine scrum half even if Stuart Lancaster no longer thinks so and Steve Borthwick, Matt Stevens and Charlie Hodgson are all proven performers at the highest level.

    What can Munster attack this weekend? Firstly it should be noted that for all their considerable prowess, Saracens are not immune to acts of rash indiscipline or just plain stupidity. Ashton’s yellow card for a shoulder charge upon his return to Northampton earlier this season is my favourite act of lunacy so far this season.

    Looking at the two defeats and one draw this season I suspect that for all their considerable experience, this is a team that might not be as strong as its individual parts. In fact it is just possible that applying enough pressure up front can crack this bunch. Maybe more time in the beirkeller is needed?

    A glance across the starting fifteens of Saracen’s so far this season and you also get a sense that Ulsterman Mark McCall is still not sure who his best XV is. Goode looks certain to wear the fullback jersey and Ashton will hold onto one wing spot you’d think but whether the American Wyles, Strettle, Short or Taylor is the last piece of the back three, I have no idea. The midfield will probably be Tomkins and Barritt, unless Farrell wears twelve, which would push Barritt out to the thirteen channel. I suspect that Hodgson will start at out half, which in some ways is laughable given how well Farrell ran the English win last weekend. Confused yet? Wigglesworth and de Kock seem neck and neck for the scrum half spot and the only certainties up front appear to be Brits, Borthwick, Joubert and Kelly Brown.

    The closer I have looked at Saracens this week the more I have seen a club still looking for its identity. Once the new stadium opens and the nomadic home games end (assuming they will) Saracens may well be a team with greater conviction. Winning at Franklin Gardens and the Stoop are no mean feats but a Saturday evening kick off in Thomond Park will be a step up again. If Munster creates enough pressure on Saracens, the imponderables inherent within Saracens may be enough to prevent them winning.
    Do I expect as close a game as in 2000? Yes, I think it will be tight and in Limerick at least, I expect Munster to just get over the line.

    For more Munster-based musings, head on over to www.eamorugby.com
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