Barritt: We are smarter now
April 7, 2012
Sarries' Brad Barritt faces France's midfield combination of Rougerie and Fofana on Sunday © Getty Images
England centre Brad Barritt believes Saracens are tactically smarter than when they last attempted to knock over French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne.
Clermont stand between Saracens and a place in this season's Heineken Cup semi-finals. The clubs meet at Vicarage Road on Sunday just over a year after Clermont beat Barritt and company home and away in the blue riband tournament's pool stages.
Since then, though, Saracens went on to lift their first Aviva Premiership title and also won five out six group Heineken Cup group games to book a place in the last eight.
"We are a lot more experienced and we've improved a lot tactically," Saracens star Barritt said. "We went to Clermont last year and went out to really impose our game on them. I think in terms of ball in play, it may have looked pretty, but it was probably a little bit tactically naive. I think we had 65 or 70% possession, but they got tries off the back of our naivety.
"I think we've come a long way in terms of how we impose the Saracens way on teams, and that is definitely something that will stand us in good stead going into this game. It's a massive opportunity for us now at home to proceed to a Heineken Cup semi-final. It is a huge chance to take that next step in Europe."
Barritt faces a quickfire rematch with Clermont's all-international midfield pairing of Aurelien Rougerie and Wesley Fofana, their latest meeting coming just four weeks after England toppled Les Bleus 24-22 in Paris.
"Both Rougerie and Fofana are terrific players. They've formed a great combination for club and country," Barritt added. "We do our studies and analysis, but when it comes to a game like this you've got to focus on what you want to do as a team first.
"We obviously have our defensive principles, and that is one of our strengths. They are both great players, like I say, but it's about us imposing our game on them as well. Clermont are a terrific side. They were the Top 14 champions two years ago and they are splattered with great talent."
Scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth makes his first start since being injured last October, with Barritt and Wales prop Rhys Gill also returning to a Saracens side captained by Steve Borthwick. Saracens and Clermont will conclude the weekend's Heineken quarter-final schedule after Irish challengers Munster and Ulster have got to grips with each other in Limerick.
Munster, European champions in 2006 and 2008, start as favourites at Thomond Park, but Ulster's 41-7 demolition of pool stage opponents Leicester this term underlined their quality.
"No matter who you get in the knockout stages it will be tough, and there can't be many bigger asks than Munster away from home," Ulster centre Paddy Wallace said. "There is a massive mystique about Munster, but that isn't as big a factor for us as it perhaps is for French or English clubs.
"We know them well, we mix with their players and there is that familiarity with them which other teams don't have."
In the second tier Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals, the Scarlets head to Brive with Wales Grand Slam stars George North, Jonathan Davies and Matthew Rees spearheading their victory bid.
"We've had a reasonably successful season to this point, but we have to cap it off by achieving something notable," Scarlets head of rugby Nigel Davies said. "We know Brive are a very good team. We've had a good look at them the last few weeks, and we will have to be right on top of our game and bring a physicality to match them.
"We also know what to expect from French sides, and that means we have to be on our game for 80 minutes. You can't switch off and you have to maintain 100% focus."
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