Saracens director of rugby McCall not spooked by mid-season ghosts

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Mark McCall insists Saracens’ 27-10 Aviva Premiership final victory over Exeter was founded on a refusal to succumb to the “ghosts” spawned by their mid-season trauma.

The Chiefs were crushed in a four-try rout at Twickenham to relinquish their crown to this decade’s dominant force in English club rugby with a fourth domestic crown now residing at Allianz Park.

It completed a startling revival after five straight top flight defeats straddling November and December, including a heavy home loss to Clermont, threatened to leave their season in ruins.

“This feels special for a couple of reasons,” director of rugby McCall said.

“Where we were in December having lost five games in a row, to be here at Twickenham and play the way we did, it feels really good.

“When you lose five games in a row, as an organisation you start to see ghosts and things that are wrong when they’re not wrong.

“We were calm and composed but fought our way through that period.

“I’m also pleased because of the quality of our performance. It feels like our best final performance because of the quality of the opposition we played. It was brilliant that we were so alive.”

Exeter dominated the early stages by keeping hold of the ball but with their first attacks of the game they scored tries through Billy Vunipola and Chris Wyles and the tide was turned.

“It felt really good because they had the ball for the first 30 minutes of the game but we weren’t spooked by that,” McCall said.

“We came back and were brilliant in attack, scoring two tries with our first attacks.

“When it became a 19-10 game with someone in the sin-bin, the team was calm and composed and knew what to do. We were really smart in that period.”

McCall revealed that Billy Vunipola did not train all week due to a tight hamstring and only started after completing a fitness test shortly before kick.

“It was an interesting warm-up, all eyes were on Billy, but he came through fine. He was pretty good,” said McCall, who confirmed that Owen Farrell left the field in the 67th minute with only cramp.

Exeter boss Rob Baxter took heart from the response of his players to losing a repeat of the 2016 final.

“The most pleasing for me is that the changing room felt a lot different to two years ago, when it felt OK just to be there even though we’d lost,” Baxter said.

“The changing room didn’t feel like a nice place just now and that’s not because the players are unaware they’ve had a good season because they know they have and have achieved some things this year that we’ve never done before as a side.

“We were on average the youngest team in the Premiership this season and we reached the final after finishing top of the league. As a coach you have to be happy with that.

“My job isn’t about today, my job is about the future of Exeter Chiefs – it always has been. These are the steps along the way that we take.”

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