Tuesday, 2 September 2014

2014/15 Season Preview: Saracens

Founded: 1876
Years in Top Tier: 23
Last Year: 1st in Prem (87 Points, Lost Final), Heineken Cup beaten Finalists, Anglo Welsh Cup Semi Final
Europe: Champions Cup
Director of Rugby: Mark McCall

In: Juan Figallo (Montpellier), Jim Hamilton (Montpellier), Kieran Longbottom (Western Force), Aaron Morris (Bedford), Henry Taylor (Loughborough Students),  Theretton Palamo (San Francisco Golden Gate), Phil Theil (Life University), Mike Ellery (England 7s),
Out: Steve Borthwick (Retirement), Matt Stevens (Natal Sharks), Joel Tomkins (Wigan RL), Justin Melck (Unknown), James Short (London Irish), Nick Auterac (Bath), Max Crumpton (Bristol), Tom Jubb (Plymouth Albion), Nick Fenton-Wells (Bedford), Sam Stanley (England 7s), Michael Tagicakibau (Llanelli)
Ins: 8
Outs: 10

After setting a 22 game season Premiership record of 87 points and thrashing Clermont 46-6 everything was coming up Sarries in April.  Unfortunately the trophies are handed out in May.

A Jonny Wilkinson inspired Toulon beat them in the Heineken Cup final before a heart breaking, last play, extra time defeat to Northampton in the Premiership Final a week later.  Some fans blamed the TMO, I can hardly blame them, but a harsher analysis says that in normal time Hodgson had a conversion then an opportunity to drop a goal to win the game that he refused to even take.

Tigers learned the hard way that you can’t rely on sensible or fair refereeing after the Lander final of 1996, Sarries will now know that being good enough is not enough.  You have to be so much better so that nothing and no one can stop you.

Tigers also suffered Euro final heartbreak to a French team in Cardiff, and again that loss was part of the folklore that drove us on to be the best team I’ve ever seen.

Can these twin defeats become part of the Saracens legend as they strive to win and be dominant?

Time will tell but moving onto this season Saracens have again incurred the wrath of Angry Internet Man by making some decent looking signings, “blatantly breaching the salary cap” and generally having a lot of chaps with South African accents.  Jim Hamilton didn’t take to the south of France, who on earth could have guessed that?  Returning to England after just one season he replaces Steve Borthwick.  Hamilton is a better tight player around the fringes than Borthwick but won’t carry the same influence and leadership within the group.

Matt Stevens is the other prominent leaver returning to South Africa.  His replacement is Argentina international Juan Figallo, released from Montpellier after a spine injury that the French authorities ruled career ending.  Whatever the merits of the move let’s just hope the English doctors are right and he is safe to play.

Henry Taylor was the star of England’s U-20s world cup win, with another Saracen Maro Itoje impressing, but will stay with Loughborough this season to complete his studies.

Owen Farrell is apparently out for the first few weeks, Mako Vunipola won’t feature until December and Schalk Brits is missing the first 5 games with the Springboks.  This will test their resources early while games against Leicester and Northampton in April may be season defining or may be shadow boxing for the play offs.  As Sarries fans will agree; bloody great these play offs, don’t ruin what would be fascinating league games or anything.

Prediction: 1st

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