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Season Review: Saracens

Season Review: Saracens

Saracens reinforced their status as England’s standard-bearers in the 2018/19 campaign as Mark McCall’s formidable side achieved a second domestic and European double.

The Men in Black came from behind against Irish province Leinster to win their third Heineken Champions Cup title in four years with a stunning 20-10 triumph at St James’ Park.

Another thrilling final then followed against Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham, where Saracens claimed their fourth Gallagher Premiership Rugby title in five years with a 37-34 victory.

Their success this season did not end there, though. McCall’s men also reached the Premiership Rugby Cup final, while Saracens Storm lifted the Premiership Rugby Shield.

Season summary

The reigning Gallagher Premiership Rugby champions began the season like a house on fire as they kicked off their title defence with nine consecutive wins in the top flight.

Their winning run was eventually ended in Round 10 by Exeter Chiefs, with the Devon side leapfrogging Saracens at the summit of the table with a 31-13 triumph at Sandy Park.

Meanwhile, their progress in the Heineken Champions Cup provided no stumbling blocks as they sailed through to the knockout stages with six wins from their six Pool 3 games.

On their return to domestic action, Saracens then took advantage of Exeter’s slip up at Gloucester to top the standings once again with an impressive 33-10 victory over Leicester Tigers.

Defeats to Gloucester Rugby, Bath Rugby and Bristol Bears ultimately saw them finish behind Chiefs at the end of the regular season, setting up a semi-final with Gloucester.

Before they could turn their attention to that, though, Saracens first had a European final to worry about after beating Glasgow Warriors and Munster to reach the competition’s showpiece.

And despite trailing Leinster by 10 points, they became the first English side to win three Heineken Champions Cups after coming from behind to defeat the Irish province in Newcastle.

With their tails up following another European success, they saw off the Cherry and Whites at Allianz Park before beating table-toppers Exeter in the Gallagher Premiership Rugby final.

Star moments

The sheer brilliance of this Saracens side came to the surface time and again during the season, especially when the pressure was on at the business end of the campaign.

Their performance against Munster in the semi-finals of the Heineken Champions Cup was particularly impressive as Saracens powered to a dominant 32-16 triumph.

Owen Farrell kicked 22 points in addition to tries from Michael Rhodes and Billy Vunipola, meaning Darren Sweetnam’s score for the Irish visitors proved to be in vain at the Ricoh Arena.

Vunipola was also in the thick of the action in the final, crashing over for Saracens’ second try as they fought back against Leinster to be crowned European champions once again.

But it was in the closing stages of the Gallagher Premiership Rugby season where McCall’s charges really showed their class with a scintillating display against Gloucester.

They crossed the whitewash six times in the 44-19 victory to reach the final, where they overturned  an 11-point deficit to beat Exeter and retain their Gallagher Premiership Rugby crown.

Tries from Liam Williams, Sean Maitland and Jamie George saw Saracens come from 27-16 behind with just over 20 minutes to go – a comeback that defied the record books.

Main men

One of the main messages from the Saracens camp during their ascension to the top of the club game has been an emphasis on the team rather than individual superstars.

Even when their roster of internationals are called away by their countries, the players who fill the void often rise to the occasion and show the remarkable depth of talent at the club.

That said, there are several heavyweights who always make a difference for Saracens. Maro Itoje is one of those players – leading from the front with his blockbuster performances.

England teammate Billy Vunipola also produced the goods when it mattered on the European and domestic stage, while Owen Farrell orchestrated the attack with relentless precision.

Then there’s Alex Goode, who was named European Player of the Year for his role in their third Champions Cup victory, beating off the challenge from clubmate Mako Vunipola.

Breakthrough heroes

Having come through the Saracens Academy and made his senior debut back in 2012, 24-year-old Nick Tompkins enjoyed a season he will never forget as he helped him team to the double.

Despite his appearance in the Gallagher Premiership Rugby semi-final marking his 100th for the club, Tompkins has struggled to hold down a permanent place in the midfield.

But his super sub performance against Gloucester at Allianz Park changed the course of the game, scoring a blistering second-half hat-trick to blow away the Cherry and Whites.

His treble took his Gallagher Premiership try tally to 11 for the season, with only Northampton Saints’ Cobus Reinach and Sale Sharks’ Denny Solomona scoring more (12).

Another player who enjoyed a breakthrough campaign was prop Titi Lamositele – voted Young Player of the Year at the club’s annual Big Bash – while Will Skelton also made a huge impact.

Who’s in for 2019/20?

The biggest new arrival for next season will see British & Irish Lions and England international back Elliot Daly swap Wasps for the Gallagher Premiership Rugby champions.

A utility player who can play centre, winger or full-back, Daly has penned a three-year deal with the Men in Black and will only bolster their already talented attacking backline.

There will also be a familiar face returning to Allianz Park in the shape of Jack Singleton, who has rejoined Saracens on a three-year deal after coming through the academy.

Hooker Singleton, who left for Worcester Warriors in 2014, is not the only incoming forward either, with Harlequins prop Josh Ibuanokpe and Cardiff Blues loosehead Rhys Carre also joining.

Who’s out for 2019/20?

With a number of new arrivals on board for the new campaign, Saracens will also wave goodbye to several players who have played a key role during the club’s unprecedented success.

David Strettle has announced his retirement from professional rugby, having helped Saracens win two league titles in his first spell with the north London club between 2010 and 2015.

He rejoined Saracens last summer following a stint with French side Clermont Auvergne and concluded his 17-year club career on a high with another Gallagher Premiership medal.

Argentine Marcelo Bosch is another player who has decided to hang up his boots, while South African international forward Schalk Burger was released at the end of the season.

Elsewhere, Frenchman Christopher Tolofua departed for Toulon, Sione Vailanu joined Wasps and both Reuban Bird-Tulloch and Henry Taylor signed for Northampton Saints.

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