Pain of past defeats has helped to shape Saracens, says McCall

Mark McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, handed Munster a crumb of comfort in the aftermath of his team’s 32-16 Champions Cup semi-final win in Coventry.

Saracens reached their third final in four years with the victory in front of a crowd dominated by Munster fans who could not get their side up the level of the English outfit.

Munster have lost in semi-finals in the last three campaigns in Europe and Saracens had chastening experiences in last four knock-out games against Toulon and Clermont before claiming their two titles.

Peter O’Mahony’s men lost against Saracens in 2017, Racing 92 in 2018 and now the English champions again at the Ricoh Arena but McCall has seen all that before.

And the Northern Irishman says the experiences of semi-final disappointment and five years ago when they lost European and Premiership finals in the space of a week has helped knit his squad together and ride out last week’s Billy Vunipola social media storm.

“I can remember losing semi-finals in 2013 and 2015 — this group has been through quite a lot together,” said McCall.

“It all hasn’t been good, some of it has been difficult and some of it has been painful.

“We lost those two finals consecutively in 2014 and the second one felt cruel at the time, but the truth is that we just weren’t good enough at that point. So, they are tight, they are really tight.

“And I suppose the mark of a tight group is that you support your team-mates through the good times and the bad times and through the difficult times, that is what I have witnessed this week.

“We all don’t get things right all the time and people make mistakes all of the time and we don’t discard them, all of a sudden, because of that.

We stick by the people that we have grown with over a very long period of time and I think that’s the hallmark of a good team.

No.8 Vunipola was given the Man of the Match award, and plenty of stick, after his Instagram post that supported a homophobic tweet posted by Wallaby full-back Israel Folau.

The award could have gone to Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Owen Farrell or Liam Williams but Saturday was always going to be about Big Billy.

Cynics might say he was given the prize so broadcasters could talk to him after the match but although Vunipola managed to avoid speaking to the written press, his teammates were willing to stick up for him.

“He has been in the media a lot and it has hit him hard,” said flanker Jackson Wray. “It just makes us tighter. We are there for him, he is a team-mate, we are tight for him and anything that happens outside makes us tighter in the middle.

“I thought we showed that, and I thought he showed that, he had a great game. Yes he got booed and everything with it but that was to be expected.

“We knew we’d be outnumbered, fans wise, so there was nothing new there. We are there for him, if he needs us, and he knows that. When he gets out there he just plays his game and we are there to support him in that.”

Vunipola was confronted by a spectator wearing a Munster shirt at the end of the game and the man was detained at the ground after failing to get a reaction out of the back rower.

Vunipola’s older brother Mako, the Saracens loose-head prop, added: “He did well not to respond so fair play to him. As a brother you look out for each other, but he is a big boy who can take care of himself.

“He just went out there and did his bit for the team. He showed how much he cares for the players around him. That’s the pleasing thing for me and now we move on.”


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