Saracens boss Mark McCall has told his squad to erase last season’s Champions Cup final win against Dan Carter’s Racing 92 from their minds as they prepare to kickstart their European title defence.
McCall and Sarries enjoyed a stellar campaign last season, winning the European Cup and Aviva Premiership double after downing Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham.
This time around in Europe the defending champions have been paired in a tough looking Pool 3 alongside Sale Sharks, Scarlets and former champions Toulon and will begin the defence of their title in France on October 15.
The standout fixture in qualifying is undoubtedly the clash with a star-studded Toulon, but McCall is refusing to get carried away – insisting the focus is firmly on progression to the knockout stages presently and not on defending their crown.
“This is a new competition,” said McCall. “It is brand new; we have a different dynamic now and last season has gone.
“We have a tough group to try and get through and emerge from and that is the focus point for a while and nothing more.
“It is an exciting place to go (Toulon), I’m not sure if many of our players will have very played there before but it is one of the great grounds of Europe and we have the squad who will really get excited about that kind of challenge.
“It was a great journey that we went on in last year’s competition.
“In all of these things you need a bit of fortune along the way and looking back on the pool matches we had last year and the qualifying matches as well, we actually had a healthy squad from which to pick from the whole way through the competition.
“Just getting out of your group in this competition is very difficult on its own and that will be the immediate focus for us, to move on very quickly from last year and it does not get any bigger than our first game which is Toulon away.
“If you want to be successful you need to have good players, which we do have but you need a lot more besides.
“You need good fortune with injuries but then you need to be really resilient and with us it was not just last year, it was the three or four years before that where we have gained a lot of experience in the competition.”
It was not just last season where Saracens flexed their muscles on the European stage, having reached the final in 2014 only to lose 23-6 to Toulon at Principality Stadium.
And McCall insists all these experiences have helped him understand just what is need to be a success in the competition.
“If you want to be successful you need to have good players, which we do have, but you need a lot more besides,” he added.
“You need good fortune with injuries but then you need to be really resilient and with us it was not just last year, it was the three or four years before that where we have gained a lot of experience in the competition.
“We had to fight really hard to get through the pool and two years before we came eighth, we qualified by the skin of our teeth but we understood that you have got to fight for every point and we were good enough to go away from home and win in the quarter-finals.
“But we also had some setbacks in those two years as well but I think just as a group we are more experienced in the competition than ever before and I think that is probably the most important thing.”
European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) is the organiser of the European Rugby Champions Cup, the European Rugby Challenge Cup and the Challenge Cup Qualifying Competition. Follow all the excitement of another thrilling season of European action at www.epcrugby.com