Mark McCall believes experience was the key to Saracens coming from behind to beat Newcastle Falcons 23-14 – securing an Aviva Premiership Rugby home play-off semi-final in the process.
Newcastle had gone into half-time 14-3 ahead on Sunday afternoon thanks to Marcus Watson’s brace, but two scores from Jackson Wray and another by Maro Itoje ensured Sarries will finish the regular season top of the table for the third time in four years.
It was an emotional afternoon at Allianz Park as Saracens’ fans said goodbye to flanker Jacques Burger following his last match before retirement, and Newcastle cemented their Aviva Premiership Rugby status with a week to spare.
And director of rugby McCall believes a break for his squad during the week paid dividends, as they returned from a group trip to Europe in style.
“I think we weren’t able to play the way we wanted to during the first half,” he said. “There are a few reasons for it. Obviously, last week took a lot out of us. Crucially we also didn’t train a lot this week.
“A lot of the players went to Europe for two or three days and had a phenomenal time and I think we showed our experience in the second half to turn the situation around; that’s the important thing.
“Where we were at the end of the match is a sign of the experience that we’ve got. We were able to fall back on some good fundamentals that we’ve had for a long time.”
On the club-organised trip to Dubrovnik in Croatia, McCall added: “We probably won’t do it before the Champions Cup final though!
“For us, our season will finish after the Premiership semi-final or the final. It’s been twenty straight weeks and we knew we needed to do something different and we needed to freshen it up.”
Newcastle’s 13-6 victory over London Irish two weeks ago put them in the driving seat in the race to avoid bottom spot in the Aviva Premiership.
And Irish’s 32-25 loss to Harlequins on Sunday afternoon meant Falcons were guaranteed a place in the Aviva Premiership next season even in defeat.
When asked if he was relieved, director of rugby Dean Richards replied: “Yes I suppose but at the end of the day, all along we’ve been looking at our performance.
“We had a torrid time in the autumn with 20-odd injuries and the young guys away and we didn’t get a win until Christmas until we started to get our boys back. But by then you’re right down at the bottom of the table.
“Since then, it’s been a lot better and that’s the frustrating thing. Had we started it off with the form like in the second half of the season then we’d have been nowhere near the bottom.
“The boys are desperate to go out there and play well and string good performances together. We did it in one half today and second half we weren’t quite so good, so next week hopefully we’ll put together two halves.”
Saracens: Ransom, Ashton, Bosch, Barritt (Tompkins 72), Wyles, Hodgson (Mordt 76), Wigglesworth (Spencer 56); Barrington (Vunipola HT), Saunders (Brits 56), Lamositele (Figallo HT), Itoje, Hamilton (Smith 72), Rhodes, Burger (Brown 53), Wray.
Newcastle Falcons: Hammersley, Tait (Penny 72), Harris, Powell, Watson, Willis (Catterick 71), Young (Tipuna 71); Vickers (Rogers 67), McGuigan (Hawkins 72), Vea, Botha (Mayhew 63), Robinson (Green 36), Welch, Temm, Wilson.
Replacements not used: Foster
Tries: Wray 2, Itoje
Penalties: Hodgson 2
Tries: Watson 2
Conversions: Willis 2
Referee: Ian Tempest
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