Saracens start a season defining six game run with one of the toughest assignments in World rugby when the mis-firing European Champions Cup holders face Top 14 champions Clermont Auvergne in France on Sunday.
Mark McCall, the Sarries director of rugby, believes the remaining three Cup pool games (Clermont, Northampton and Ospreys) and Premiership fixtures with Leicester (Dec 23), Worcester(Dec 30) and Wasps (Jan 6) will shape the club’s faltering challenge for a third successive Champions Cup triumph and another Premiership title.
After six successive defeats in all competitions, including Clermont’s record 46-14 win at Allianz Park on Monday, England full back Alex Goode knows the vultures are circling and Sarries need something from their trip to France to help their bid for a quarter-final qualification place.
Sarries will look to Goode to provide the attacking spark from full back and he is adamant that club is not in the doldrums and will, once again prove the detractors wrong. He said; “ We have never worried about what people on the outside say about us. We judge ourselves by our own standards and in previous years people have written us off for playing negative rugby or being an average side. That is fine by us and what we can control is how we put ourselves back on the front foot and there are no panic stations or feelings about it being the end of the World.
“ We know that the best way to come out the other side is show real clarity in what we are doing and there is no better challenge than going to face one of the best team’s in Europe. Seven days is a long time in rugby and if we want to prove we are a top side then going to Clermont in the most hostile atmosphere in rugby against a team that barely loses at home, is how we can showcase how mentally strong we are as a group.
“In most of the defeats we haven’t played badly-we have just made poor mistakes at the wrong time. The Clermont game was just poor defending from us and if you give them momentum they are devastating. If you then chase the game all you do is hang yourself. ”
Former Lions captain Brian O’Driscoll believes Saracens have turned losing into a habit and predicts they will face a brutal afternoon in Clermont and told BT Sport: “Clermont is one of the most difficult places to play in Europe and they have a phenomenal record there and Saracens are in a real rut at the moment.
“ Their culture turned winning into a habit and now losing is a habit and they need to break that habit . They are unsure and bewildered as to how this has happened. They are without Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje and when your backs are against the wall you look to those calibre of players to get you out of that hole. Clermont is a brutal place to go to and you are going to need the leadership of guys like Owen Farrell who are going to need to play outstanding games.”
Since losing their 2015 semi-final to Clermont in Saint Etienne, Saracens have gone unbeaten in 11 away games and the loss to Clermont on Monday ended their 20 game unbeaten run in the competition. Those statistics highlight the club’s domination of the Cup – until that record defeat by Clermont, who go into Sunday’s game have won both previous home matches against Saracens.