So, this is not the blog I said it was going to be (the end of season reports) as I've decided I'll leave that until after the playoff final, when, exactly, I'm not sure as I'm off to Skeg Vegas but I will try my best to do that next week.
However, this blog is something I have already mentioned in my last Rugby Ramblings blog, and it's reared it's head over the weekend, so now, I'll talk a bit more in depth and try and debunk some of the myths surrounding the apparent widespread dislike of Saracens.
I actually seem to have spent the last 2 or 3 weeks defending various aspects of Saracens gameplay, or their players, or their off field monitary dealings, so I thought, sod it, I can make a blog out of this!
Accusation :- They're defensive and boring.
17 wins in the league, 9 wins in the European champions cup, a semi final playoff win, 10 bonus points (the sixth highest in the league, meaning 6 teams were less prolific scorers, Bath and Wasps, who the media seem to love the style of play they offer, only scored 2 more bonus points, and they had more losing bonus points as opposed to try bonus points.... ) They were also the third highest points scorers in the league, despite losing a lot of key players during the 6 Nations and World Cup. As for the accusation that they win through their defence, Exeter had a better defensive record by 5 points, but I don't see many people rounding on the Chiefs being overly defensive.... On the subject of Chiefs, their top try scorer was Thomas Waldrom with 12, most of which were close range snipes, Saracens top try scorer was Ashton (we'll get to him later) with 11, most of which were from a considerably greater distance, and Ashton also had a few weeks off, so (without checking) I guess his strike rate is better! So do Sarries really rely on the boot as is often claimed? I'll stick with Chiefs as the comparison as they had the closest record to Saracens, According to the Premiership rugby website, Gareth Steenson played 23 matches and scored 243 points this season (3 tries, 45 cons, 46 pens), the main Sarries points grabbers, Farrell (11 matches, 2 tries, 15 conversions and 23 pens) and Hodgson (17 matches, 1 try, 28 cons and 31 pens) combined scored 263 points, only 20 more than Steeno between them, in 5 more combined appearances. So are they boring? Or is it just because they have the ability to win with style (Like they did vs Tigers last week) or grind out tough wins (Like the previous week vs Metro)
Face it, Saracens are a damn tough nut to crack, you run at them, they'll stop you and set the backs free, you try to beat them in the pack, more often than not, they'll beat you up front, build a lead with pens and set the backs free. They are the most adaptable team I can remember seeing in the Premiership. The ethics behind their hard work and their positional discipline set's them up for victory. Are they efficient? Yes. Are they boring? No. Ask yourself, would you like to swap their results for your clubs this season? If you answer no, your a liar. Their fans are loving it. It's certainly not boring them.
Accusation :- They breach the salary cap
I'm pretty sure that over past season, the accusations would have been fairer, but the new crop at Saracens are different. The salary cap is a myriad of loopholes, non-included players, injury replacement rulings and 'refunds' for home grown players. If you look at the squad they have, there are no HUGE name signings, there are a lot of home grown players, there are veterans like Hamilton, who I doubt is on huge money, Rhodes and Bosch, who weren't world renowned when signing, and Figallo, who came to Sarries with enormous health concerns. It's a big squad, but not one overloaded with huge signings. Whilst the Cap details are shrouded in mystery, we'll never know for sure, but I can certainly think of 2 stronger candidates for brreaching the cap.
Accusation :- The players are arrogant
Fact. I have never seen an interview with Farrell or Ashton (the two most commonly accused of arrogance) where either has come across as arrogant. I was at the press conference with Owen Farrell after the last Premiership final and he was the most humble, gently spoken fella you could ever ask for. Sat covered in blood, he was apologetic over the high tackle that took Watson out the game, refused to compare his flawless game control to George Ford's nervy, error strewn game, wouldn't take praise for the victory, instead focussing on the team effort and wouldn't speak about his chances for England in the World Cup as it was a day to talk about Saracens. A lesson in how to be media savvy 101. Ashton is always a joky, cheeky chappy in his interview, is clearly liked by team mates for club and country and well respected by former players (Flatman on ITV called him the best winger in the Premiership last week) Also, he's that arrogant, that he uses his camera time after scoring to promote a charity!
On field both are fiery competitors, not averse to a scrap, but no worse than the likes of Mike Brown, James Haskell, Joe Marler with their behaviour during a game. Brown had a montage dedicated to his on field angry man persona on the BBC during the 6 nations and if there's ever a dust up in an England match, you can put money on Brown being in the middle, so why is Brown revered for it and Ashton and Farrell are consistently dragged over the coals for the same thing? Haskell has a YouTube channel dedicated to his fitness regime, and comes across on it like the most conceited man on the planet, or watch his collaborations with KSI (one of the most followed channels on YouTube) where he thrives on self promotion. Again though, Haskell is loved by most of the media (the fans are more split over him, though) yet Ashton get's accused of arrogance for basically enjoying himself when he scores a try. If you're going to blast a guy for celebrating, maybe you should also take note of guys like Waldrom with his Choo Choo celebration, but as Waldrom is a popular player, I doubt we'll see much shade thrown his way.
As I said in my ramblings blog, I put a lot of this down to jealousy, whether admitted or not, over the recent success of Saracens, but to slate Saracens and their financially backed success, you must also slate the likes of Bath and Wasps who are also trying to 'buy' their way to success. All 3 run at huge losses in their quests for glory, but I genuinely can't understand why it's only Saracens that get the hate. In fact, I can. It's because they're the ones that are there, up at the pinnacle, and they're there to be shot at. I, however, will still begrudgingly give the all the credit in the world for how they play the game, and dream one day of a time where everyone is accusing Gloucester of being boring when we win Premierships and European Cups.....