Sarries refuse to dwell on Cup defeat as they target a fitting finale for Borthwick

 

Rugby Union Correspondent

It was a day of aches, sprains and strains for Saracens as they set about scraping themselves off the canvas following Saturday’s Heineken Cup knock-out blow against Toulon and restoring their faculties ahead of this weekend’s Premiership final with Northampton at Twickenham.

The medical bulletin was decidedly mixed – it seems highly unlikely at this stage that the international loose-head prop Mako Vunipola will recover from a mangled knee joint in time to anchor the Londoners’ scrum – but they certainly expect Owen Farrell to be kicking the goals in the last game of a very long club campaign.

Farrell did not train at the Sarries base in St Albans on Tuesday; having tripped over a broadcasting lead before kick-off at the Millennium Stadium last Saturday night, he was still feeling the effects of a sprained ankle.

But Mark McCall, the rugby director, insisted there was nothing sinister in his absence. “He wasn’t the only one,” said the Ulsterman. “You have to manage people at this stage of the season. What happened to him 10 minutes before the start of the Toulon game wasn’t exactly ideal – the swelling was really quite big – but he showed such strength of character in getting on with it. He’ll be fine for this match.”

If McCall was far less bullish about the front-row situation, his pessimism was shared by the England hierarchy when they touched down in Auckland on Tuesday at the start of a four-match tour of New Zealand that is certain to test them in mind, body and spirit. Stuart Lancaster, the head coach, took an immediate decision to send for the uncapped Bath prop Nathan Catt, partly because Vunipola is struggling so badly and partly because another international loose-head specialist, Joe Marler of Harlequins, has picked up a hip strain.

Back in Hertfordshire, there was at least a degree of confidence that Saracens will have the wherewithal to respond positively to their European setback. “People react to disappointment in their own individual ways,” McCall commented, “but we have a group of players here who are very good at leaving the past in the past. If you’d been involved in training today, you’d have thought the mood was buoyant. I won’t lie: last weekend didn’t give us what we wanted. But I know what is happening on the inside of this organisation and we’re in a strong position going into this final.

“We’ve suffered a disappointment, but these things are only a big problem if you don’t learn from them, and we’ve been good at learning from situations over the years. If we beat Northampton you’ll all say we’ve had a brilliant season; if we lose, you’ll say it wasn’t so brilliant. For people on the outside, teams need to win a trophy to justify themselves. I’m aware of that. But for lots of reasons, I know we’re strong.”

Much of that strength has been drawn from the unstinting contribution of Steve Borthwick as captain. The 34-year-old Cumbrian retires after this last visit to Twickenham and will soon travel to Japan to take the first steps in what promises to be a highly productive coaching career. Borthwick has accepted an invitation from the Australian coach Eddie Jones to help prepare the “Brave Blossoms” for next year’s World Cup, for which they qualified with a comprehensive victory over Hong Kong in Tokyo last weekend, thereby landing themselves in a tough pool with South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and the United States.

Jones, who lured Borthwick away from Bath during a spell as Saracens’ boss, described him as a “fantastic acquisition”, adding: “Steve has played more than 300 Premiership games, captained England on 21 occasions and is just finishing, so he’ll bring all this modern knowledge, not just concerning the line-out but on forward play in general. He was the first signing I made for Saracens and he helped change the club. When I first went there they were in the relegation zone; now, they’re one of the top two sides in Europe. The consistent factor in all that has been Steve Borthwick as captain.”

Having gone close to missing the Heineken Cup showpiece through injury – he injured a pectoral muscle during the Premiership semi-final victory over Harlequins 11 days ago – Borthwick survived the thorough examination inflicted by an ultra-physical Toulon pack, albeit through gritted teeth, and fully intends to put himself through the mangle again this weekend. Typically, he was reluctant to get ahead of himself by waxing lyrical on the subject of his future plans, but he did confirm that he would stay with Japan until mid-2016, if not longer.

“Saracens are incredibly supportive in giving players the opportunity to develop their interests and I’ve been involved with Japan for a period of time already,” he said. “Now, Eddie has asked me to join him on a full-time basis and I’m excited by the prospect of working with an exceptionally ambitious, hard-working team. I’ve committed myself for the next couple of years, but I’m not thinking beyond that.”

According to McCall, the former England skipper will be a natural in the coaching role. “I’m not sure I can give Steve any advice,” he said. “He clearly has very good knowledge, and he’s extremely analytical, which is crucial. Most importantly, he understands different personality types. He has a way of getting the best out of people.”

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower