Still labelled as ‘boring’ by some, Saracens may not be everyone’s favourite team, but they could well hold the key to England’s future success.
For anyone who still believes in the mantra that Saracens specialise in boring conservative rugby that strangles the life out of the opposition, think again. Anyone reading this who has watched Mark Mccall’s side this season will know that there is so much more to Sarries game than set piece dominance and penalties.
Yes, they do place a great deal emphasis on the scrum and line out, using them as a weapons to draw penalties from which they duly take the three points on offer, however this is just the foundation of what they are about. What they have done this season is build upon these foundations to great effect.
In fact, so effective has this approach been that they remain the only unbeaten side in Europe so far this season. And whilst they haven’t always been pretty, they have shown moments of sublime brilliance ball in hand that many teams can only dream of. This combination of supreme efficiency and forward dominance is now allowing the backs to expand their game somewhat.
At no point however does it feel forced, instead Saracens have become the masters of playing what is in front of them. This weekend against Leicester for example, they utilised their packs dominance to claim three penalty tries against the much vaunted Tigers forwards. Just a few weeks earlier however, Farrell, Ashton, Taylor and Brown were tearing up Oyonnax with quick breaks and sublime offloads in contact.
What’s even more important from an England perspective however is the fact that the core of the current Saracens squad is made up of young England players. Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Will Fraser and Billy Vunipola are all playing key roles in their packs total dominance.
It’s not so bad in the backs either where Ben Spencer, Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton and Alex Goode are all looking in the form of their lives, whilst the likes of Brad Barritt and Richard Wigglesworth are continuing to prove they may yet have something to offer England on the international stage.
The fact that England’s new coaching line up of Eddie Jones, Steve Borthwick and Paul Gustard all have such strong links with Saracens should also not be overlooked. They know the players, they know the system and they know the way the club works both on and off the pitch. Saracens success is not down to a recent run of luck, but has much more to do with the foundations that have been laid down at the club over the last 10 years, and are now coming into full fruition.
England need to adopt a similar approach ensuring that young stars like Maro Itoje, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly are all provided with the best possible foundation from which they can succeed on the international stage.
Whilst many fans are crying out for England to adopt a romanticised style of play they believe only occurs in the Southern Hemisphere, there must be a certain case of pragmatism involved in the team’s approach. The reality is that England play the vast majority of their games in the depths of winter meaning that flinging one handed offloads after every tackle tends to result in knock ons and turnovers rather than spectacular length of the pitch tries.
The reality is that even the much revered All Blacks side of late aren’t huge proponents of high risk running rugby. They are more than happy to kick for territory and tend to play what is in front of them. Much like Saracens, they play the percentages and have built upon their foundations with the highlight reel inducing offloads so many fans pay so much attention to.
Saracens have adopted a similar approach, focussing on dominating at the set piece and ensuring their defence is solid at all times. Only once they have become confident in these facets of the game have they then added the icing on top with some impressive play as backs and forwards begin to link up in open play.
A similar approach would do England no harm at all. A focus on rediscovering their set piece dominance would be a huge improvement from their World Cup showing. This combined with a new desire for defensive steeliness instilled by Paul Gustard will then mean they can begin giving their talented backline more freedom to play a more expansive game plan.
Given Saracens total dominance both domestically and in Europe, surely the sensible approach would be to follow suit, both in terms of style and personnel. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but I’m sure most fans would rather see England get back to winning ways then watch them lose in style.