The Rugby Debate: It is time to talk about Saracens with the same respect as the 2002 Leicester Tigers

Charlie Morgan
Will Billy Vunipola and Saracens be held in the same regard as the 2002 Leicester Tigers if they win the Champions Cup? - Rex

Stale, misinformed insults suggesting they buy success do not relent. The gags about their fan-base keep coming. Huge attendances at Wembley, introducing thousands to rugby for the first time, are dismissed as gimmicky. But Saracens keep winning.

Only three teams have ever managed to retain rugby’s premier European competition, now in its 21st edition. Leicester Tigers did it first, with tournament victories in 2001 and 2002. Leinster were next, winning both 2011 and 2012 deciders. Then Toulon got greedy, snaring three successive titles between 2013 and 2015.

Each of these golden eras are rightly considered as a European dynasties. The sides are synonymous with the trophy, just as Munster are thanks to four final appearances including two wins in 2006 and 2008.

Challenge Cup and Champions Cup team of the weekend

Though Toulouse are currently languishing in 12th on the Top 14 ladder, four European titles mean eternal reverence and respect. Given so much has changed for Wasps, their conquests in 2004 and 2007 feel as though they happened in a bygone era. Still, Lawrence Dallaglio and co. will be forever steeped in nostalgia.

Even winless Clermont, eternal bridesmaids set for a third final next month, are regarded with a degree of charm. It is the same for Stade Francais, Biarritz and Perpignan.

Saracens’ record over the past four European seasons reads as follows: semi-finalists, finalists, semi-finalists, champions. Given their dominance against Munster in Dublin, it is hard to see them faltering at Murrayfield in May, however impressive Clermont’s first-quarter performance against Leinster on Sunday.

So Saracens should be thought about in the same terms as the 2002 Tigers then, right? Do not count on it. A fortnight ago, Leon Lloyd tweeted a YouTube link to a documentary detailing the 2001 treble-winning season at Welford Road. Former players Austin Healey, Martin Corry, Neil Back and Lewis Moody jumped on the bandwagon to reminisce.

Although a Leicester were not particularly popular among neutrals, they were widely appreciated at the time as a team of hardened winners. Five members of their 2001 squad – Back, Corry, Healey, Martin Johnson and Dorian West – toured with the British and Irish Lions that summer in Australia.

It feels sacrilegious to say so, but Saracens could be even better than them. While comparing eras is futile, a time-hopping head-to-head would be fascinating . Just imagine how Johnson would react to Maro Itoje’s whooping. The result might depend on whether a television match official was on duty or not.

Despite a young age profile, vast contributions to the national team from a coaching and playing point of view – plus some eye-catching attacking play over the past few seasons – the general perception of Saracens is a bitter one.

As Billy Vunipola, one of six Saracens with realistic designs on a Lions Test place in 2017, said after the final whistle on Saturday: “Everyone hates us on the outside, but we don’t care.”

The final clause is the most meaningful. By paraphrasing supporters of Millwall Football Club, Vunipola hit the nail on the head. Saracens can stay indifferent to the bile. The haters are the only ones losing out. Refusing to open their eyes, they are missing clinics on how to win.

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