The decision by Saracens to embark on a 36-hour “team bonding” trip to Barcelona straight after their Champions Cup semi-final victory over Munster last week may have raised a few eyebrows – particularly in the light of this error-ridden display against Bristol – but the club insist the excursion can have a key impact on their attempt to retain both the Premiership and European titles this month.
Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, said the trip may have led to short-term pain in order to achieve long-term gain but said the strategy behind their decision to go for bonding trips during the course of the season – even at the business end – was a successful one.
“We’ve done these kind of trips a lot over the last two years,” he said. “The players look forward to them and get to spend some time together away from the club.
“We believe that over time it’s a really strong way of making the relationships they have even closer and even tighter. If you get some short-term pain for long-term gain from that, then that’s OK.
“If you watched how our players defended in our 22 last weekend [against Munster] – we made 92 tackles in our 22 – you start to get a sense of the togetherness, the connections that exist and the fight that they have.
“Those things don’t just happen, they happen by spending a lot of time together at the training ground and going through days like this together, but also seeing each other socially. They’ve worked really hard down the years.”
Neil de Kock and Kelly Brown, who played their last games for Saracens after highly distinguished and trophy-laden careers at the club, both endorsed that view.
“We’re the first to point out that we don’t get everything right,” said De Kock, who is returning to his native Cape Town to forge a business career. “These trips sometimes go wrong, certain parts of them. But they were brought about in the beginning to create what we call social capital and to bond the guys.
“It’s not all brilliant. We get things wrong, we have frustrations, we have difficult individuals. We have guys who don’t get on at times and these trips add value to understanding who are the guys and how they tick and what motivates them and what brings them down.
“It’s not a stag-do, it’s not a jolly, yes we do have a couple of drinks on these trips but we do make an effort to bond with guys that we wouldn’t normally bond with outside of work.”
Brown, who will become a full-time academy coach at Saracens next season, added: “The trips are so important, all of the little conversations that you have.
“Day to day you can come in, train, and go home whereas on the trips you are with the guys all of the time so it can’t fail to bring you even closer as a squad. That’s why, while some people see them as a jolly, they are so important to us and to our culture.”
Saracens had to rely on two second-half tries from Petrus du Plessis, their outgoing prop, to clinch a bonus-point win that moves Mark McCall’s side to within two points of leaders Wasps ahead of their trip to the Ricoh Arena on Saturday.
Chris Ashton and Nick Tompkins also crossed for tries after Bristol had surprisingly but deservedly led 9-3 at the interval via three penalties by Gavin Henson.