Suggest to Saracens captain Schalk Brits it is a major gamble to rest key players when you are trying to defeat Premiership leaders Wasps on their own pitch and ensure a home play-off semi-final and be prepared for an abrupt answer.” We don’t care what other people say about our selection.”
The problem for Saracens is that they are fighting on two very important fronts as they attempt to win a second successive Premiership and European Champions Cup double with tomorrow’s game with Wasps followed a week later by the Cup final against Clermont Auvergne in Edinburgh.
As a result, Sarries have left the England and Lions quintet of Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Billy Vunipola, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola plus captain Brad Barritt out of the starting XV against Wasps. Patently, the Cup final is their priority which portrays Sarries as vulnerable against a Wasps side that boasts the most dangerous back division in England, featuring Christian Wade, Jimmy Gopperth and Elliot Daly who are all in the running for the Rugby Players’ Association Player of the Year award.
While Wasps will be delighted with the absence of those key players, Sarries insist they remain equipped to nullify the multitude of running threats and point to the tried and tested rotation system – first introduced by Brendan Venter, the former director of rugby – as proof that they have strength in depth. With George out, in comes Springbok hooker Brits and what the team may lose in scrum power, they gain in the form of Europe’s outstanding attacking hooker.
With Billy Vunipola rested, the back row will feature Springbok Schalk Burger while the No10 jersey is handed to Alex Lozowski, who left Wasps to try and prove he can follow father Rob into the England team. Lozowski is now rated the No3 outside half in Eddie Jones’s England plans, is up for the Young Player of the Year award and has proved to be a reliable kicker and talented runner in this Sarries squad.
Brits, who takes over the captaincy from Barritt, is bullish about how third placed Sarries operate and they are determined to earn a home semi-final. He said;” We believe in what we do as a club and if others don’t then that’s fine. Our mentality stays the same wherever we play.
“ Wasps are a great side, very dangerous and we have analysed them and will go there with a certain plan. It will be great to see where guys like Alex Lozowski are in terms of their development in this match and it is all part of the process.
“The idea of the rotation came from Brendan at our first meeting and he said we would have a rotation with three games, week on the bench and week off. I remember sitting with three other hookers and everyone said they wanted to start every game and Brendan said it was impossible to do that and stay on top form.
“It took a while for everyone to buy into the philosophy that when you weren’t in the team you were not dropped. The club treats us and our families unbelievably well and all they ask in return is for us to work unbelievably hard. During a season you will struggle more because of rotation, but in the long run you will gain a lot more benefits.”
Wasps flanker James Haskell is relishing the battle with the defending champions and a crowd of more than 27,000 will be at the Ricoh Arena. He said: “They have a very good side. What they are doing and what they have done over the last couple of years is pretty special. For us as a team it’s a real test.”
as seen in Evening Standard