Saturday 16 December 2017

McCall urges Sarries to show no fear in semi-final showdown

Saracens boss Mark McCall Photo: Getty Images
Saracens boss Mark McCall Photo: Getty Images

Andrew Baldock

Saracens boss Mark McCall has vowed that his players will "attack the game" when they face English rivals Wasps today for a place in the European Champions Cup final.

And Saracens' recent experience of knockout rugby - they are reigning Aviva Premiership champions and into a fourth successive European semi-final - could prove crucial at Reading's Madejski Stadium.

"Somebody said to me that we've had 19 knockout games in the last six years," said Ulsterman McCall. "That is a pretty good record. Hopefully that experience is valuable.

"We have talked to the squad about this European journey that we've been on. I remember losing to Clermont Auvergne five years ago, when it was men against boys. We were absolutely bullied off the park.

"A lot has changed at our club in the five years. We understood that physically we needed to be in better shape, and our performance team has done a remarkable job and we've recruited well. This young pack that we have has all this experience, and everybody is much more confident in these games."

Wasps have not reached this stage of the competition since 2007, when they went on to win it, but boss Dai Young has overseen some scintillating performances this season, including winning a Champions Cup pool that featured Toulon, Leinster and Bath.

Young's men also smashed Saracens in the Premiership this term, winning 64-23 at Allianz Park, although that came when both sides were without their Six Nations stars.

"We don't want to be tentative or afraid of the consequences of losing. We want to attack the game and enjoy our rugby," added McCall, who makes one change following a quarter-final win against Northampton two weeks ago, handing Michael Rhodes a back-row start instead of Jackson Wray.

Wasps, captained by 2007 European Cup winner James Haskell, show two injury-enforced changes from the side that accounted for Exeter in a quarter-final thriller, with prop Lorenzo Cittadini and lock Bradley Davies replacing Jake Cooper-Woolley and Kearnan Myall.

Young said: "The players know how big this game is, so there hasn't been much that has needed to be said this week. We certainly don't need any extra motivation."

Tomorrow's second Champions Cup semi-final sees Leicester Tigers, the 2001 and '02 champions, take on Ronan O'Gara's Racing 92 at Nottingham's City Ground.

"No-one is hung up on the fact that it has been 14 years since we did win it. Lots of teams never win it at all," Leicester boss Richard Cockerill said.

"We have earned our right to be here, and on our day we know we can beat anyone.

"Racing, with their rock-star players and their big budgets, are challenging opponents, but we know we can win."

Saracens v Wasps, live, Sky Sports, 3.0

Leicester v Racing 92, live, BT Sport, tomorrow, 3.15

Irish Independent

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