Mark McCall: Saracens ‘fresh and excited’ ahead of final clash with Exeter

Mark McCall has described Saracens as “fresh and excited” ahead of their final push for a European and domestic trophy double.

Exeter stand between Saracens and Gallagher Premiership title glory tomorrow.

If McCall’s men repeat their success against the same opponents they faced a year ago, it would see them crowned Premiership champions for a fifth time.

And having won the Heineken Champions Cup earlier this month, a second double in four seasons awaits, matching Leicester’s two-time feat in 2001 and 2002 if they achieve it.

Although Exeter finished eight points above Saracens after the 22-game regular league campaign, they lost to their fierce rivals in English rugby’s Twickenham showpiece twice during the past three seasons.

“This last eight-week period has been really enjoyable for us,” Saracens rugby director McCall said.

“We’ve had the flexibility to rest players between the play-off games, so we are going into this game really fresh and excited about what we see as a brand new challenge.

“But you have to work hard on the day and deserve it on the day. Then you hope some of that experience we’ve got is in there somewhere and will make a difference somehow.

“We have a huge respect for Exeter. To be in a fourth consecutive final and to have had the growth they’ve had over a 10-year period – and they are getting better.”

Saracens won the Heineken Champions Cup earlier in the month (Richard Sellers/PA)
Saracens won the Heineken Champions Cup earlier in the month (Richard Sellers/PA)

Saracens displayed world-class quality and unflinching character in beating Champions Cup final opponents Leinster three weeks ago.

McCall added: “Against Leinster, if you are behind your own posts, you’ve lost your two props (to injury), Maro Itoje has just been sin-binned and you are 10-0 down against a team that have won three European finals fairly recently, the players have to look at each other and go: ‘We’re going to be OK here, and we’ll find a way’.

“And they did. That ability to respond to whatever the game throws at them is what I mean by growth. They are able to deal with these situations better and better.”

Saracens skipper Brad Barritt has overcome a hamstring injury that forced him off during last weekend’s play-off victory over Gloucester, and he starts the final.

Exeter, meanwhile, join their opponents in fielding an unchanged starting XV, which includes an opportunity for wing Tom O’Flaherty, who scored a spectacular solo try against Northampton six days ago.

The Chiefs, league champions in 2017 when they edged out Wasps after extra-time, are aiming to reclaim that status as English top dogs.

Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter said: “I wouldn’t say there is a danger of changing style, but there is a reality to the mistakes we have sometimes made against Saracens into feeling that you can’t do anything.

“That’s what they are great at defensively, and it is probably the regret that we had coming out of the last final. When we reviewed it, we felt there was more there for us.

“I look back on that first half (last year) and I regret that we weren’t just a little bit mentally sharper, because physically we were bang on.

“Mentally, there were just a few moments in the game where we could have really exploited, and that would have made it a really tight second half. As it was, that did us.

“We don’t feel we need to massively change, but we feel we need to play. And when we play, that’s what creates pressure.

“We don’t want to start kicking from the halfway line. We never have done and we never will. It won’t come to that.”

- Press Association

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