Saracens out for revenge

Saracens out for revenge

“A whiff of revenge in the air” was how French rugby newspaper Midi-Olympique previewed Saturday’s Investec Champions Cup Round of 16 tie between Union Bordeaux-Bègles and Saracens at Stade Chaban-Delmas.

Basic stats show that the last time Saracens headed into France’s wine capital, in a Round 3 Pool 1 tie in January, they were crushed 55-15.  

That is not even the full story. England’s flagship team, usually so proud of their unrelenting defence, were sliced, diced, seasoned and flash-fried by some cooking Union Bordeaux-Bègles attacking play, which racked up nine tries, 19 clean breaks and beat 33 defenders, reducing Saracens’ tackle success rate to 67 per cent.  

It led a number of media outlets to declare once and for all that the Saracens generation which brought three EPCR titles was well and truly over. 

Recent form also speaks for the TOP14 club this time around. Leaving aside last week’s defeat to Lyon, when a number of front-liners were rested, Union Bordeaux-Bègles beat Stade Toulousain in a scintillating domestic game a fortnight ago, with the full spectrum of their attacking brilliance on display. 

So, they should be confident. But head coach Yannick Bru is circumspect. “It would be a trap to look back on a performance in which we put in a lot of intensity but also had a lot of lucky breaks,’” he told Midi-Olympique of the pool stage win. 

“That won't happen again, that's for sure. Just like the England team, which has regained its self-confidence, Saracens are often a copy of the England team, so I think we'll be facing a completely different Saracens team with a different physical and mental dynamic, who will inevitably have a bit of anger in the pit of their stomachs. We know how it works.” 

Since that pool match, Saracens fly-half Owen Farrell has announced he is heading to France, while the non-international players have been on a mini off-season. It showed as they destroyed Harlequins 52-7 the week after the Six Nations Championship, but last weekend’s 41-30 defeat at Northampton Saints was disappointing enough for director of rugby Mark McCall to say: “(Northampton’s) ability to cause us problems was caused by some workrate issues, by some people not the whole team. And that’s never a good thing to have to say. We pride ourselves on being the opposite of that.” 

Saracens have also lost Scotland flanker Andy Christie for the rest of the season with a broken arm but expect to welcome back England lock Maro Itoje for the match. 

Backs coach Kevin Sorrell, who was at the club for all of the EPCR successes in 2016, 2017 and 2019, also reminded us that Saracens have a history of bouncing back and conquering seemingly impossible tasks in Europe. 

“It was almost a bit of an opportunity to come together and go back to the basics of us and what made us strong. We had a good chat after that game (in Bordeaux in January) and had a couple of good results off the back of it,” he said. 

“We have spoken about that previously about games like the one way back, when we beat Toulouse over there and then we beat Toulon in 2016, when no one had beaten them there, the Leinster game in 2020, the quarter-final there. We are relishing the prospect of going back there and challenging ourselves in that atmosphere.” 

The tie begins at 17:30 BST and can be watched on beIN SPORTS, TNT Sports, SuperSport and FloRugby. 

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