McCall grateful for harsh euro lessons
November 4, 2011
McCall believes last season's harsh lesson propelled his side to Premiership glory © Getty Images
Saracens boss Mark McCall believes his side's dismal Heineken Cup showing last season propelled them to Aviva Premiership glory.
The headline-grabbing club finished bottom of a challenging pool after winning just one of their six matches and were effectively out of contention by the end of round two. But McCall, their director of rugby, insists the experience fuelled their march to a first Premiership crown and will leave them well placed to challenge in Europe this term.
"What we noticed was that there are things you can get away with in Premiership matches that you can't get away with in the Heineken Cup," he said. "That was a big, big lesson for us. We'd become a little bit untidy in some areas.
"I thought we were prepared for the competition, but in fact we weren't prepared. We believe the reason we had a good end to the second half of last season was because the Heineken Cup highlighted some of those failings.
"Hopefully we're a year wiser and we go into this year's competition with far more belief."
It has been four years since an English club claimed the Heineken Cup and Saracens are determined to make their mark in the competition. "We haven't talked in terms of making a statement as Premiership champions. It's nice to be Premiership champions, but that's gone," said McCall.
"If you want to be a Toulouse, or Leinster or Leicester, teams who have been successful over a long period of time, then we must aspire to be much more than Premiership champions one year. We are ambitious and we want to do well in the Premiership, but we really, really want to do well in the Heineken Cup.
"We feel like we're getting there in terms of having the squad to compete on two fronts. You must be fortunate with injuries, but we do have strength in depth."
McCall believes the pressure rugby style adopted by Saracens should prove as effective in the Heineken Cup as it is in the Premiership. "The belief we have comes from an understanding of how we want to play the game," he said. "From one to 15 every player has a real understanding of what's expected from them in any given situation. The players enjoy that clarity.
"It's about understanding what we're trying to achieve in different areas of the pitch. We're about building pressure on teams. If you spend enough time in the opposition half, something will happen. We have to see if that's good enough for Europe. We're better at those things than last year and our understanding is clearer, but the proof is in the pudding."
Saracens will break new ground when they host their pool game against Biarritz in Cape Town on January 14, the first time a Heineken Cup match has been played outside Europe.
Skipper Steve Borthwick insists the move has the full backing of the squad. "It's a great, forward thinking idea by Saracens. It expands the brand and the brand of Heineken Cup rugby. It's a super move," he said. "But to make sure it's an important game, we need to make sure matches one to four go well. The idea has been very well embraced and it's a positive step."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
As Scotland decides its future, Scrum Sevens looks at a group of players who transcended rugby both for country and the British & Irish Lions
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup