Saturday, 24 August 2013

Season's Preview: Saracens


Founded: 1876

Years in Top Tier: 22

Last Year: 1st in Prem (77 Points, Lost in Semi Finals), Semi Finals in Heineken Cup & Anglo-Welsh Cup

Europe: Heineken Cup

Director of Rugby: Mark McCall


In: Billy Vunipola (Wasps), James Johnstone (Harlequins), Michael Tagicakibau (Bristol), Tim Streather (Nottingham), Richard Barrington (Jersey), Marcelo Bosch (Biarritz)

Out:  Adam Powell (Newcastle), John Smit (Retiring – Natal CEO), Andy Saull (Newcastle), Carlos Nieto (Retiring), Joe Maddock (Retiring)

Ins: 6

Outs: 5

The haters from the other “London” clubs have been out in force following Saracen’s summer transfers.  Big name signings are England’s new cap Billy Vunipola, who joins brother Mako from Wasps, and James Johnstone who returns to his first English club after impressing so much in Quins title charge in ’11. 

With other big splashes in recent years like Chris Ashton from Northampton, David Strettle, from Quins, and Charlie Hodgson, from Sale, people are obviously going to question how that can fit all that under the salary cap.

However if you look at their squad in the round they don’t exactly have amazing depth compared to other clubs.  The strongest squad in the league probably but it’s not massively different to others.  They use players like Jacques Burger or Chris Wyles who are perhaps not as well rewarded as their talent deserves and pick up some gems from the Championship like Duncan Taylor or Petrus Du Plessis.

Saracen’s have a settled squad and are not really losing any first choice players, they dealt with an increase in international call ups with little difficulty and that should stabilise now as I can’t see many more players being required by England.

The signings of Vunipola and Johnstone should add more aggressive ball carriers to the Saracens pack, the Sarries coaches will probably consider a stronger carrying game tight to the ruck essential to create space further out wide for the likes of Ashton and Tompkins to exploit.  Heavy duty forwards are also essential to win the battle of the gainline in Europe and against teams like Northampton. 

Last year’s Semi Final defeats in both Europe and the Prem exposed this lack of power at the very highest level.  The coaches must have already known this potential weakness as they had recruited Johnstone and Vunipola before either game.

With a brains trust featuring Alex Sanderson and former Tigers favourite Paul Gustard Saracens are sure to feature heavily in the season’s final reckonings.

Prediction: 1st

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