Over the past few years, on their way to two Champions Cup triumphs, Saracens have been faced with a number of daunting away trips.
In 2015, they went to French flyers Racing 92 in the quarter-finals and won with a last-minute penalty from Marcelo Bosch. Last year they travelled to Dublin in the semi-finals and defeated a resurgent Munster.
On the face of it, this weekend’s clash at the Aviva Stadium against a Leinster team unbeaten in Europe this season looks as though it could be Saracens’ toughest test in recent memory.
However, reflecting back on his club’s recent European ties, captain Brad Barritt has claimed a trip to Ravenhill against Ulster was more daunting than this Sunday’s match.
Just as they do this year, Saracens travelled to Ireland in 2014 after sneaking into the quarter-finals as the eighth seed.
Like Leinster on Sunday, Ulster were the number one seeds back then, but Barritt believes the atmosphere at Ravenhill for that match will be more intimidating than what awaits him and his team-mates at the Aviva this weekend.
“We had a similar challenge in 2014,” said Barritt. “We finished as the eighth seed and had to go to Ravenhill for Ulster, who were the top seeds.
“It was probably an even more daunting environment in terms of a passionate home crowd. Playing at the Aviva Stadium is probably a little bit in our favour in that it is not Leinster’s out and out home ground.
“It is a huge opportunity for this team to stake a claim. Win this game and you are in the hunt and you have a semi-final in your own country.”
Saracens ended up defeating Ulster 17-15 back in 2014, in what was an incredibly tight game.
Against the top seeds, in their own backyard, it was an impressive victory but one that is not out of nature for this Saracens side. Over the years they have made a habit of going into the lions’ den and winning away.
In October 2016, they became the first the side to win away at Toulon in the Champions Cup and there is a sense among the playing squad that they relish challenges like that and this Sunday.
“We know what’s on the line now, we know we’re playing against the form team in Europe,” Barritt added.
“However we know as the Saracens team when we are close to what we can do in terms of our performance, we go there with full confidence.
“This team has always thrived on these big occasions and going to these big stadiums. We got a taste for it last year, with the semi-final at the Aviva Stadium against Munster.
“We were outnumbered in fans and in not having the comfort you have at home. But this team is galvanised by these experiences and we’ve had enough of them in the past seven years to go there with full confidence.”
That is not to say Saracens are underplaying the task ahead of them, far from it. However, they are taking it head on instead of being intimidated by it.
They faced a similar challenge last year when they travelled to the Aviva Stadium for their semi-final with Munster. As winger Sean Maitland recalls, that day Dublin was a sea of red and this Sunday will be just the same – except the stands will be full of the blue of Leinster instead.
“We have got good memories of the Aviva Stadium,” said Maitland.
“We played Munster in the semi-final and had 50,000 Munster supporters cheering against us. And this is going to be the same – a sea of blue of this time – and it is great to be a part of. To squeeze in at eighth [seed] and get to play the top-seeded side, Leinster, it doesn’t get any better to be involved.”
As he tries to explain the exact reason his side have been so successful away from home in Europe, it is difficult for Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall to pin down a sole factor.
In truth, it is a number of causes that make the reigning European champions so effective on the road, but what stands out is their apparent lack of fear of any atmosphere or opponent.
“It’s a lot of things really. First of all, I don’t think we have any fear playing away from home really,” said McCall.
“I think our players relish these big occasions. It’s going to be an unbelievable occasion on Sunday.
“There’s going to be 50,000 Leinster fans and that’s something to look forward to and not be afraid of, and our players won’t be afraid of that.
“But you’ve got to in with a good plan and lots of little plans, which you’ve got to execute against a team like this. When you analyse a team like Leinster, there are no glaring weaknesses. They do everything pretty well.
“It’s a case of winning the little battles along the way. You’re going to lose some little battles along the way, but if we can win more than we lose then we give ourselves a really good chance.”
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