'Silver spoon' Saracens take relaxed approach to Premiership play-offs

Contrast in attitudes as Saints try to avoid fourth semi-final defeat in row

Saracens are the only top-flight club in Britain and Ireland to be unbeaten at home this season, but if they fail to extend that record in the Premiership play-offs against Northampton today it will leave England's biggest spenders without a trophy for the second year running. Does the thought of missing out perturb Owen Farrell, the 2011 champions' young England fly-half and forthcoming British Lion?

"It is important, but something that's always talked about here is the memories made throughout the season," he said. "It's not win, lose or draw, it's about how everyone works hard for each other."

To some this may smack of a cop-out; a fall-back position in the event of failure. To others it is a refreshing, rugby-relevant antidote to the emotionless philosophy of "Winning is everything, second is nowhere". The way Saracens tell it, looking after their players' wellbeing is the priority, and if a knockout match such as today's at Allianz Park, their new home in north London, goes against them, well, hey, they've had a great time and become better people.

Witness the team-bonding trips to Miami, Munich, Hamburg, Cape Town, Abu Dhabi and, most recently, Verbier. "Of course we'd be gutted to lose, absolutely gutted," says Alex Sanderson, the forwards coach who joined Saracens as a flanker in 2004. "But we've said this to the lads: we've already achieved something brilliant, in the times that we've had, the incremental progress we've made, the kids that have been born, the people who've been picked for the Lions. If it just came down to winning a cup it would be a very sad sport."

There are many elements to the Saracens "project", which in simplistic terms was conceived jointly by Brendan Venter when he arrived as director of rugby in 2009 and Ed Griffiths, the chief executive who in a previous job marketed the Springboks during the Rainbow Nation's home World Cup victory in 1995. The coaches – led by the zealous Venter's successor, the Ulsterman (and trained lawyer) Mark McCall – subscribe to the so-called "golden circle" applied to successful businesses such as Apple, in which the "what" and the "how" revolve around the "why": the reasons you do what you do.

The club's public face ranges from dozens of Olympics-style volunteers to songs borrowed from Les Misérables or penned by Right Said Fred – plus the irritating (or is it catchy?) "Here We Go" – and a drag-artist opera singer belting out "Nessun Dorma" in the last five minutes of a match against Exeter (it's never over till the fat lady sings – geddit?). The announcer for the visit of the reigning champions, Harlequins, hailed the Saracens players with, "Welcome the soon-to-be Premiership champions".

Whether you find it funny or foam-at-the-mouth, it all comes at a cost, and in the face of annual losses of £5 million, South African investment has been crucial. One rival Premiership chief executive estimates Saracens' spending in reaching the play-offs for four years in a row to have been £60m. The Northampton players meeting their Saracens counterparts in the England squad are said by Sanderson to tease them for their "silver spoon" existence.

From being historically ignored by the England selectors, Saracens have ushered Farrell, Brad Barritt, Alex Goode, Mouritz Botha and Mako Vunipola to their first caps, with Joel Tomkins next in line, while Andy Farrell and Paul Gustard were called to coach the national side.

Northampton are proudly turning a profit, but they are losing their prized props Soane Tonga'uiha and Brian Mujati to France next season. Saracens have recruited Harlequins' highly rated tighthead James Johnston to go with their Lions squad props Vunipola and Matt Stevens, and Sanderson argues the fly-half Charlie Hodgson could have commanded a bigger wage in France but liked the Saracens style. In return, he and other possible recruits submit to psychoanalytical profiling.

"We recruit on character, not just performance," says Sanderson. "Other clubs are more about the pay cheque and less about the joy and playing for your mates. We invite the player's wife in because it's important she feels part of the club. Ed Griffiths takes them shopping at Christmas time. Happy wife, happy life."

Tonga'uiha almost joined Sarries a couple of years ago, but instead he will do his damnedest alongside Mujati today to prevent this being their last Saints appearance and a fourth successive semi-final defeat. Are other clubs envious of Saracens? "Most people probably are, especially of the mid-season trips," says Tonga'uiha. "It's living up to the London life and, fair play to Saracens, it's working, they've finished top of the league. I'm not bothered by it. When we want team-bonding we have a lunch down the pub."

Saracens' defence is the best in the Premiership but they lost their second Heineken Cup semi-final, to Toulon at Twickenham this month, with a spate of individual errors. Farrell says of his forward pass when a try looked on: "You watch things back and feel guilty but all I know is I'm still getting better. It never stops, making improvements."

Saracens v Northampton Saints is on ESPN today, kick-off 3pm

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform