As Saracens push for European greatness, the future continues to shine bright

The win against Exeter over the weekend showcased the emerging young talent within the club

Johnny Sexton expects tough Champions Cup final between Leinster and Saracens

Saracens could hardly be in any better shape as they head into next weekend’s European Champions Cup final against Leinster at St James Park.

The injury niggles have largely been ironed out, the slight dip in domestic form firmly corrected and an unmistakable air of confidence now lingers around Allianz Park with a squad possessing such depth and cohesion it almost defies belief.

A week after Mark McCall responded to Wasps director of rugby Dai Young’s call to show his team “respect” by naming five British and Irish Lions in his pack and seeing them demolish the Coventry-based club, Saracens’ pups took the chance to show what they’re capable of against top-of-the-table Exeter on Saturday.

Five tries, hardly any mistakes and a second-half performance with the wind at the backs which left a similarly youthful Exeter outfit with nowhere to turn will likely have little bearing on the north London club’s chances of making it three Champions Cup final wins in the space of three years.

But as a statement of confidence, strength in depth and dominance, it was a hugely impressive show by a crop of academy graduates showing signs they could yet prove to be the best one yet in an increasingly impressive factory line of development.

Max Malins led the way, this time at fly half instead of full back, while Matt Gallagher, Dom Morris, Nick Isiekwe and Ben Earl were all prominent in a performance which teed the club up perfectly for next Saturday’s encounter with the defending European champions, who beat them at the quarter-final stage last year.

“The club’s future looks really good and they definitely bring something different as well,” said Saracens former South Africa prop Vincent Koch, a veteran of the 2017 final win over Clermont.

“Just the energy around the pitch, especially today. It’s an amazing feeling for me being a bit older, it’s great. The club is going in a good way, it’s positive.”

Win, lose or draw next Saturday, what has become undeniable this season is that while off-field controversy remains surrounding the structure of their business-model and approach to salary cap regulations, the long-term playing future of the club is as strong as it has ever been.

Once criticised for their over reliance on South African exports, Saracens can now boast the most consistent production line for young English talent.

The lavishly gifted Malins, 22, is just one of a number of high-class young operators who would walk into most club’s first teams but is having to bide his time for big-game opportunities with the likes of Owen Farrell, Alex Goode and Liam Williams all ahead of him in his favoured fly half and full back roles.

Max Malins led the way against Exeter on Saturday

More than likely, he will watch next Saturday’s final from the stands. But his time will come.

For Saracens’ supporters, the good news is that all their top-line stars appear fit and firing for next Saturday’s Newcastle showdown, when McCall will name a side brimming with international quality and looking to repeat their comprehensive semi-final demolition of Munster.

I for one would not bet against them.

“We definitely learned a lot from playing Leinster last year,” Koch said. “We’ve fixed a few things and the guys are buying into what the coaches want from us. It’s going to be a nice change for us to play them again.

“We actually look forward to playing them again and hopefully we can turn the tables.”

With Jamie George, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Mako and Billy Vunipola, Farrell and Williams among those who will return next Saturday, McCall has enviable quality to call on for their fourth European final in six years.

Saracens' big guns will all return to action next week

They won the last two they appeared in – against Racing 92 and Clermont respectively – and head into next Saturday’s final as slight favourites to claim their third European Champions Cup title.

If they do, the current crop of first-choice stars will be able to lay claim to greatness. Perhaps even more exciting for the club is that there’s another generation waiting to take their place.

“The most pleasing aspect of this season has been the development of that young group,” McCall said. “This is the strongest group (of youngsters) we’ve had since 2015.”

On the evidence of this season, Saracens’ future on the field appears very bright indeed.

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