Clermont Auvergne vs Saracens preview: Brad Barritt 'refreshed' to help Sarries record part two in European memories chapter

Barritt returned from a five week absence in last weekend's win over Munster but knows Saracens must emerge from their Clermont Auvergne clash on Sunday

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The Independent Online

This time last year, Saracens required a victory in their final Heineken Cup pool game to ensure they qualified as the second and final best-place runner-up. A bonus point victory, at home, over Connacht ensured that and they went on to reach the final before coming unstuck to a mighty Toulon performance. But this time around the task is much tougher, in that they face Top 14 leaders Clermont Auvergne. Not difficult enough? The battle will be fought at the ferocious Stade Marcel Michelin.

Pool 1 of the European Champions Cup couldn’t be tighter, but despite the top two now clear of Munster and likely to be one of the three best runners-up to qualify for the quarter finals, neither side will want to leave that to chance. Luckily the Allianz Park outfit have one of their linchpins back in midfield, with England centre Brad Barritt making his return to action in last weekend’s memorable victory over the Irish provincial heavyweights Munster.

The last time we saw Barritt prior to last Saturday’s victory, he was bloodied, battered and bruised – yet still smiling – as England saw-off Australia at Twickenham at the end of November. Little did Barritt know that he had damaged his calf enough to keep him out for five weeks.

 

But he’s back in action, and as the South African-born England international explains, he’ determined to make up for lost ground.

“With every rugby player you have to take injuries on the chin,” said Barritt. “They happen, obviously it was very fortunate and I loved being out there for England beating Australia, it was a fantastic game and memory.

“What I didn’t think or realise the next day I’d be out for five weeks, but you have to roll with the punches, train immensely hard to get back to where I am now and I’m in a good place, relishing being back on a rugby field. The other added benefit you can take is you’re that much fresher than everyone else that has gone through another five weeks of Premiership grind and now big European games. So my excitement and energy levels are probably even higher right now.”

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Barritt is an ambassador of new joint pain gel FLEXISEQ

Barritt is speaking at the home of Saracens shortly after being named in the England training squad, 23 of which who will face Wales in Cardiff on 6 February when the Six Nations gets underway. It’s hardly a new experience now for the centre, who has amassed 22 caps since his debut back in 2012, but it still means something when he gets the nod from head coach Stuart Lancaster.

“As with every selection, it’s never a given being selected with England so I’m immensely proud and it’s a privileged place to be in and a huge opportunity,” said the 28-year-old. “Each time you get named, it’s equally special.”

But Barritt is refusing to get carried away. Before the hotly anticipated Anglo-Welsh clash on the first Friday night in February, he must come through the Clermont encounter. Having returned from injury against an off-form Munster, Barritt admits that while it was good to enjoy the victory last weekend, the entire squad knew it was only part one of Saracens’ two-part challenge.

“You have to enjoy your wins as a rugby player, because that’s what it’s all about – training hard in a week culminating in a big win against a big team,” added Barritt. “So we enjoyed the win, but I think in the back of our minds we all knew we had an even bigger task to achieve the weekend after. That’s the thing, it’s always about the next week and we came in on Monday equally as energised and had a huge part to play in making this week a success.

“They’re huge games. In terms of who we’re playing, especially Munster who are a team renowned for their European pedigree and then of course Clermont Auvergne away is going to be a huge task, and one for as the Saracens team, to win the pool but also to make a massive memory at the Stade Marcel Michelin, which is obviously renowned for being quite a hostile environment to play in.”

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Barritt returned to action in last weekend's victory over Munster

It’s this time of the season when the big games do seem to come thick and fast. Back-to-back European Champions Cup games are followed by the first two rounds of the Six Nations, and no sooner is the northern hemisphere tournament finished than the quarter-finals in Europe get underway. Sometimes it’s hard to see the difference in intensity between club and country games, and Barritt admits the level of domestic rugby continues to step up a gear each season.

“The gap is closing and closing,” he says. “The game in the club environment is often 12 games going on at the same time whereas international the focus is narrowed and there might only be two games a weekend. Again, expectations are bigger at international level, players are obviously of the highest pedigree so your opportunities are that much fewer and mistakes are heightened to a greater expectation. So there’s obviously the added pressure of an international but these European club games are as close as the club game is going to get to it.

“It’s the crème-of-the-crème of English rugby and French rugby and Irish rugby all playing towards each other. I guess the added bit of international rugby is it’s the pick of those players all playing against each other again. But I think in terms of Saracens v Clermont, you’re not going to get any closer to an international fixture.”

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Barritt was left bloodied and bruised from England's win over Australia

In a week when Manu Tuilagi, forever England’s go-to-yet-regularly-injured-centre, revealed he could miss the Six Nations in its entirety, Barritt will have another opportunity to show he is the man to play in the middle in England’s horribly mixed-up midfield. A dominant showing on Sunday might just show Lancaster who should be running out at the Millennium Stadium come the 6 February.

Brad Barritt was speaking at the launch of FLEXISEQ® Sport, the new drug-free treatment for professional athletes and other active people wanting to avoid joint pain and stiffness. www.flexiseq.com/sport.

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