Premiership final: Saracens back where they belong after spell in wilderness spent wisely

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 (PA)
(PA)

Much has happened at Saracens since June 1, 2019, and their last appearance in the Premiership Final, a stage on which they had stood in seven of the previous 10 seasons.

There was the shame of their salary-cap reckoning, relegation and fines; some players had to pursue careers elsewhere, others retired; staff behind the scenes left, too; at the first time of asking, they earned promotion, but it was not totally plain sailing.

Their first year back in the big time has gone well, though, and this Saturday, Sarries are back. Their softly-spoken director of rugby, Mark McCall, was in unusually candid mood after their staggering play-off win over Harlequins on Saturday. He praised his players for sticking around and “saving the club”.

Captain Owen Farrell said the unity they had built in previous years meant that there was a “core group that had been together a long, long time” which was never going anywhere. Farrell observed that “the biggest shock was a few younger lads going on loan as they tried to break into the international team”.

Well, look at those players fly. Ben Earl, named Premiership player of the season last week, scored a hat-trick on Saturday. Max Malins won the award for most Premiership tries, despite being away with England for much of the season. Nick Tompkins was also on the scoresheet on Saturday and has become a midfield linchpin to show there is life after Brad Barritt. Nick Isiekwe made a crunching impact off the bench, as Sarries’ pack defended for their lives.

In 2019, Earl and Malins — who spent 2020-21 at Bristol — were on the fringe of the Saracens side, but were not involved in the final. Tompkins (Dragons) and Isiekwe (Northampton) made the bench that day, but were some way off first choice.

Malins admitted that this game was the one “I’ve thought about more than any other”. At Bristol, he learned that Harlequins are never out of a knockout game — they overturned a 28-0 semi-final deficit last July — so felt “relief, excitement, and happiness” about the first final of his career.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “I can enjoy next week. This week was a weird one, as you are not sure if it’s your last week of the season or not. I had that last year.”

Malins felt it “fitting” that all-action Earl, who showed power for his first try, pace for his second, then bundled over in the final play of the game, was man-of-the-match after a “very special” season.

There are others who have stepped up. Theo McFarland has been a revelation, evidence of an enlightened approach to recruitment. Andy Christie, said McCall, “was just starting out” in 2019, but is now a Scotland international.

“[It’s great] to see them develop into the players they have become, and they were all hugely influential today,” said McCall. “That’s really pleasing that we have used the last two-and-a-half years wisely.”

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