“We’ll rip into what’s coming,” said Owen Farrell, the Saracens captain, after his side were knocked out of the Heineken Champions Cup at La Rochelle on Sunday – but the London club’s director of rugby Mark McCall has promised it will be a measured process, and a number of star names will be rested from the forthcoming domestic league matches against Northampton, London Irish and Bath.
As Saracens digest the lessons of their 24-10 quarter-final beating in north-west France, and the end of their dream of embroidering a fourth Champions Cup winning star on their jerseys, they are so far ahead of third place in the Premiership that a home semi-final is already confirmed for the weekend of 13 May.
McCall said he was pleased to have earned that “luxury” and added: “We have to look after some bodies and I am not sure how many of them will play in the next couple of weeks.”
Billy Vunipola will have a scan on Tuesday on a serious-looking injury to his right knee, and any absence of the mighty No.8 will be a serious blow to Saracens’ newly-honed style of flooding attackers at pace through a fairly narrow field of attack.
Without Vunipola, the raids by the much lighter Ben Earl off the scrum in La Rochelle were not supported well enough, and Earl also made two plunges for the line from a maul and a scrum in the last eight minutes that were held up, leaving McCall to call for more patience and more composure.
McCall identified eight penalties conceded for holding on at the ruck – “it plagued us, the whole game” – and with flankers Andy Christie and Theo McFarland out injured for the rest of the season, Nick Isiekwe and Jackson Wray will need to step up at the breakdown and in the carrying phases.
Saracens have never replaced the solidity of Brad Barritt in midfield – Nick Tompkins, Alex Lozowski and Duncan Taylor have many attributes between them but Barritt was a superb organiser in defence and he viewed coughing up possession as a sin.
Barritt’s last season before retirement was 2019-20, the one that finished with Saracens relegated to the second division.
It appears they will stick to their more adventurous game plan, but McCall said: “We are probably on a new journey, post being in the Championship, and this is one of those experiences where you realise against a top, top side the level you need to go to. We have got five weeks to learn all the things we need to learn from this, and put that in to practice in the semi-final.”