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Saturday 10 December 2016

Quiet man McCall must tame beasts

Saracens will have to do to Racing 92 what they couldn't to Clermont or Toulon

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall during a press conference at Saracens Training Centre in St Albans, England. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall during a press conference at Saracens Training Centre in St Albans, England. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters

Mark McCall is the most successful Irish coach working in rugby.

Yet, the former Bangor, Ulster and Ireland inside centre's name was never really seen, or heard, when it came to, say, the new head coach of Leinster last year or the new Director of Rugby at Munster this season.

Or, indeed, as the next Ireland coach, whenever Joe Schmidt makes the inevitable choice to return to New Zealand.

Why is it Conor O'Shea is held up as 'The Prodigal Son' when McCall has the more decorated curriculum vitae?

The quiet man of rugby was even at the helm when Ulster won the Celtic League in 2006.

In his first season at Saracens, the coach guided them to The Premiership final in 2010, repeating the runners-up disappointment in 2014, while winning the competition outright in 2011 and 2015 as their Director of Rugby.

Recently McCall called on another Ulsterman, the revered Tony McCoy, to do his talking for him.

"It was magnificent to hear him, a 20-time champion jockey, talk about the sacrifices he had to make to be that consistent, not just week after week but day after day," said McCall.

The introduction of another voice, or different perspective, is not designed to add fuel to the motivational fire.

"We don't always bring someone from sport in," he continued.

"We brought the chief constable of the Met Police in recently and an MP too.

"Sometimes the players get sick of hearing from the coaches and it is nice to hear from people who have been successful in other walks of life.

Prepare

"We use them at the start of the week, not to prepare for games, but as a break."

A different perspective is always welcome at an English club with a strong South African financial backing underpinned by the English core of George Kruis, Maro Itoge, the Vunipola brothers, Billy and Mako, Jamie George, Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton, and Alex Goode.

England's recruitment of defence coach Paul Gustard could have destabilised Saracens ultimate goal to break from their European tag of 'nearly men.'

Instead, it may have provided the liberation.

For life without Gustard's 'Wolfpack' defensive mentality has freed up Saracens to take a more liberal view of the game under McCall.

This season, they have been all about tempo and flow. When they can get on the front-foot, there is a machine-like motion to their game with all parts working in harmony.

Saracens are anything but a 'racing certainty' for the Champions Cup final in Lyon on Saturday.

They have never been able to dominate in Europe like they have done in England, even though they have been on an upward curve.

This is their tenth season in the European Cup. They made the quarter-finals for the first time in 2008 when they had their wings clipped by Munster at the Ricoh Arena.

For the last four years, they have been to the quarter-final in 2012, the semi-final in 2013, the final in 2014 and the semi-final last season.

On each occasion, they were undone by Clermont-Auvergne twice and Toulon twice.

Those two French clubs share with Racing 92 a beastly power.

Saracens will have to establish their physical authority to break through the European ceiling.

After that, the sky is the limit.

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