The squad for Saracens’ Champions Cup group stage game against Munster today all but confirms the understanding that this season their number one priority is the preservation of their Premiership status. Nine players have dropped out of the side from last Friday’s 25-12 victory away to Bath, including four of Saracens’ England stars.
Owen Farrell, Mako and Billy Vunipola, Elliot Daly and Maro Itoje were all in the team that won at the Rec last week, but for today’s trip to Thomond Park only Itoje remains in the starting XV.
Meanwhile, Munster have made alterations of their own, reverting back to their strongest team and changing 14 players. This comes after suffering their first home defeat in nearly two years after fielding a largely inexperienced side in the Pro14 tie versus Edinburgh.
This will provide a massive boost to Munster, who already had the stats on their side. The Irish side are unbeaten in the last six pool games against Premiership opposition, and similarly haven’t lost in their last eleven home games in the pool stages of the Champions Cup.
Meanwhile, defeat today for Saracens will likely see them knocked out of the competition after a 30-10 defeat away to Racing 92 in the opening game of the campaign.
This demonstrates how Sarries have had to reconsider their priorities after the £5.4 million fine and docking of 35 points for exceeding the salary cap earlier this season. They seem now to understand that all their efforts must be placed on the Premiership if they are to avoid relegation this season.
Arguably, this is sensible. Being relegated from the Premiership is far more disastrous for the London club that being knocked out of the Champions Cup at the group stages. Whilst the latter represents a one-season blip, the former would be catastrophic and potentially lead to an exodus from the players and staff.
However, what Saracens must not do, is get into the habit of losing. This is a dangerous trend, and not a mentality you want to engender in an elite club. If Saracens lose this afternoon, then that will be the first time they have lost consecutive games in the Champions Cup since 2005/6. Losing, just like winning, is a habit, and throwing away one game does not specifically mean you will come back stronger in the next.
One short losing run this season could be enough to make the gap to great for even Saracens to make up, and therefore they cannot allow for a losing culture to develop. Sarries have a mountain to climb if they are to retain their Premiership spot this season, and if they are to do this, they will have to get their tactics spot on.
By Will Sewell.