Saracens have about as much chance of beating Munster in their Heineken Cup semi-final in Coventry today as they had of beating the Ospreys in the last eight. No, it doesn't make much sense to Alan Gaffney either, and he has the job of coaching a team who don't know whether they are coming or going.
The only certain thing about the Sarries is the uncertainty: nobody knows for sure when and where they will turn up. After being outplayed by the Ospreys in the semi-finals of the EDF Energy Cup in Cardiff, where they managed to score all of three points in 80-odd minutes, Saracens were barely given a prayer when the teams met again a week later.
Yet with a place in the last four of Europe beckoning, they turned in one of the performances of the season. The Ospreys, aka Wales, were as stunned as everybody else. Then, of course, Saracens reverted to type, getting smashed by Gloucester and Wasps in the Guinness Premiership. Their defence disappeared.
"For a while it was embarrassing," Gaffney confessed. "There were monumental individual errors. I'd love to know why we're so inconsistent but I haven't got a straightforward answer. It is bemusing and frustrating, and none of us, and that includes the players, can put our fingers on it.
"It is not a lack of willingness or effort. Maybe it's a mental thing. I would like to hear a psychologist's view on the matter. We would love to be where Wasps and Leicester are, andit's something that's got to be addressed for the future."
Wasps and Leicester would love to be in Sarries' shoes today. As for the future, the 61-year-old Gaffney is embarking on a unique rugby experiment. In August, he rejoins Leinster on a two-year deal to work as the backs coach with Michael Cheika while Eddie Jones takes over full time at Saracens. But Gaffney will continue to see Sarries on a part-time consultancy basis.
"As long as there is no conflict of interest," said Gaffney, who will move from Hertfordshire to Dublin, "we will share information between the two clubs and exchange ideas. It will be like an extension of a seminar. We're all continuing to learn."
It has come about because of the Randwick factor. Gaffney used to coach the Sydney club where Jones and Cheika were former team-mates. He coached Leinster in 2001 before taking over at Munster the following year. He left after three seasons to become Jones's assistant with the Wallabies. It's a very small world. Declan Kidney, Munster's coach who is set for promotion to the Ireland job, was partly responsible for Gaffney's move to the Irish province. "Declan is a good friend and he recommended me to Munster," Gaffney said. "It makes our meeting more intriguing."
Saracens have little or no Heineken Cup history to talk of; Munster live and breathe for the thing, and at the Ricoh Arena the province's support will, asalways, be red, raucous and rampant. Reaching the knockout stages is almost a divine right.
"Munster have come a long way since I was there," Gaffney said. "I understand their mindset. They are self-driven, have camaraderie in bucketfuls and are totally focused." Qualities that Sarries do not possess? "Part of our problem has been getting the balance of the squad right. We need more leaders on the pitch. When Martin Johnson won the World Cup for England he had leaders all around him. You need players to take responsibility and to live with it." Hence the signing for next season of two captains, Steve Borthwick of Bath and Michael Owen of the Newport-Gwent Dragons.
Unfortunately for Saracens, two players Gaffney had in mind as officer material, Chris Jack and Andy Farrell, are injured and out for the season. They do, however, have the remarkable Richard Hill, who has managed to keep his body together long enough for one last stand.
The former England flanker's display in the quarter-final victory over the Ospreys was a wonder to behold. "Richard is an extraordinary man and a player who would walk into any world XV," Gaffney said.
"I know the enormity of the task but Munster are human and sometimes funny things happen to humans when you put them under pressure. When I was at Munster it was a joy coaching them. I know their strengths but they are not unbeatable. We're in with a shout. We've got it in us to make a real fist of this."
But, for crying out loud, this is Saracens, Osprey-catchers one week, Wasp-stung the next. "I know," Gaffney acknowledged. "In many ways it's been an infuriating season, but we may get the answer fairly soon."
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