Saracens coach kicks 'boring' tag into touch

 

On a dank day at Saracens' training ground, Mark McCall is throwing light on his team's try-scoring record, or should that be a lack of one. Saracens stand second in the Premiership table and are heading powerfully towards a fourth successive finish in the play-off places. Yet they have managed just 10 tries in 11 league matches, four fewer than the second and third bottom clubs, London Irish and London Welsh. It is an amazing statistic that has drawn accusations that Saracens, the 2011 Premiership champions, are boring.

That denunciation from, among others, two former England internationals turned BBC TV pundits, Jerry Guscott and Brian Moore, draws a passionate denial. "You could only say that's a factor if you've got an unhappy playing group," says McCall. "We've got a very happy, ambitious and motivated group. They know we don't set out to play in a boring way.

"They will tell you they don't feel shackled in any way. We have scored far too few tries in the Premiership. We'd love to score more. At the same time we have played some outstanding rugby."

Some context is called for. Saracens in the mid-Noughties were a mid-table team defined by a wretched tendency to lose matches from winning positions. They needed to change – and keep changing. "We had a sobering experience about two-and-a-half years ago," says McCall. "There were consecutive games against Leinster [a 43-20 loss away] and Clermont [24-14 winners at Watford] that exposed a few things that had been disguised in the Premiership: our physicality and set-piece issues. It was a bit of a water-shed. Since then we have had 56 Premiership/Heineken Cup matches and we've won 43. That means we're doing something right."

And here's some more figures: today's meeting of Saracens and Northampton at Vicarage Road will be the seventh in the Premiership this season among last season's four play-off clubs. The previous six have produced just four tries. So the business end is being tightly fought.

Saracens, while hampered by back-row injuries, have built victories on a committed kick-chase and dynamic attack in the breakdown and set-piece. McCall's point is that they are not the only ones. "Harlequins understand that as well as having the ball-in-hand stuff, other things needed to be put in place. Their set-piece now is outstanding and their defence is very good.

"You can throw the try-scoring stat at us, I can throw a stat at you. We've kicked 54 penalties this season, which means the opposition have given away 54 penalties in their half. In the same number of games, Northampton have had [only] 25 penalties they've kicked. That is not the same as saying we have a win-at-all costs mentality. We're building pressure and the only way for the opposition to stop us is illegally. And when you have Charlie Hodgson and Owen Farrell, you kick your goals."

McCall says winning with one try or no tries away to Harlequins and Northampton, and against Gloucester at home, and 22-0 at Bath last weekend, was just fine. "At Sale and London Welsh we could have scored five tries, then we wouldn't be having this conversation," he says.

Conceivably, a shortage of tries may hurt Saracens if they finish level on points and wins with a rival. But Alex Goode's counterattack try at Franklin's Gardens and the one from a line-out by Richard Wigglesworth at The Rec proved they can be exciting and incisive. They are top of their Heineken Cup pool. And England have picked their backs liberally: Goode, Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt and Farrell started in the win over New Zealand.

And McCall promises Saracens will not stand still. "Kevin Sorrell [Andy Farrell's successor as backs coach] is making changes," he says. "Our first-phase moves have become more important. We tried before to pass around teams, using a pod system. Kev has made us a lot more confrontational with our attack, more tidy."

Trying times for top four

Results between last year's top four this season, with tries in brackets:

Saracens 9 (0) Leicester 9 (0)

Leicester 9 (0) Harlequins 22 (1)

Harlequins 16 (1) Saracens 18 (0)

Northampton 6 (0) Saracens 16 (1)

Leicester 16 (1) Northampton 12 (0)

Northampton 9 (0) Harlequins 18 (0)

Total tries by Premiership top four:

2012-13 Harlequins 28, Leicester 23, Gloucester 19, Saracens 10.

2011-12 Leicester 70, Harlequins 53, Northampton 51, Saracens 35.

2010-11 Leicester 67, Gloucester 58, Northampton 58, Saracens 35.

2009-10 Bath 49, Leicester 46, Northampton 44, Saracens 39.

Hugh Godwin

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own