Liam Toland: Patient Saracens will outlast Clermont
Ireland can’t compete with these European heavyweights on money but we can on resources
Saracens know the best way to get at Clermont is to disrupt their scrumhalf Moran Parra. Photograph: by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images
Revolution is exhausting. This, according to Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs, is why the status quo is often left intact. Because making change incurs so much expense on so many levels; hence the myriad of estates that maximise economies of scale based on a template proven over hundreds of years. The one-off that bucks the trends comes with a significant hike in cost.
With the European Champions Cup final Saturday and the RWC draw last Wednesday there’s an opportunity for Irish rugby to make changes to the template of European rugby. I’ve so much admiration for Saracens and all they’ve achieved, especially with our very own Mark “Small” McCall at the helm. I recall when Peter Stringer was in Saracens colours how often he was expected to, and actually did, kick the ball. It was relentless and exhausting.
But in fairness to Saracens they’ve pivoted towards a vibrant gainline game that places doubt in defenders’ minds . I now adore watching them unlock defences with the arrival of their big men, at angles and with deft soft passes. At times they will batter, especially when their midfield centres are on the ball. Ironically it’s their much bigger forwards who have the rugby football talent – namely the Vunipola brothers.
How much this costs Saracens and their ownership is another matter but I’m told they are within the salary cap. As for Clermont; I really, really, really want them to win on Saturday. Of course, they should have been horse whipped in losing to Toulon in the Aviva in May 2013. Such after match corporate entertainment was (and still is) illegal – but I fancy they’ll not win this time either and more’s the pity. They too have huge quantities of money pumping through their system that is beyond our game.
But we have far better resources – are we maximising them? Clermont’s problem is the clock still ticks on for 80 minutes. This is their enemy and with Aurélien Rougerie they’ll feel every minute. Joey Carbery threatened Rougerie’s tackle technique on 6min 15sec of the semi-final, but Leinster failed to ask him constant questions. I fancy Saracens will be less forgiving.
But for Clermont to gain physical parity in the opening quarter, and especially parity at the breakdown, they will have to empty their collective energy bins. This they did brilliantly against Leinster. However, this was at home with their unbelievable support. In doing so they wiped Leinster off the park and rattled up 15 points. But then they were exhausted.
As soon as Clermont fatigue, the breakdown will become Saracens’ and the match will be Saracens’. As this is happening, will Clermont take Saracens on head first, akin to Munster’s effort, or will they hunt for space wider out? Clermont’s scrumhalf, Morgan Parra is the obvious key to this – when he is in the armchair. Again, McCall will know the best way to starve their athletic wide players is to blow up Parra’s armchair.
Saracens are a patient bunch. In Dublin, as Munster threw everything at them, they simply soaked it up in second gear. Yes, but for handling errors they could have scored early on but I fancy that’s not their objective. More to ride out the Clermont storm and then Owen Farrell at his imperious best will flick a switch to guide Saracens home.
This, of course, leaves Irish rugby and a golden opportunity to revolt against Saturday’s finalists. What can we do that they can never, ever do? Remember Irish rugby is the closest thing to a military organisation than any other rugby environment in the world. Why? We have a head, Il Duce, and below all will obey.
Where would I start? A total revamping of youth and schools’ rugby in Munster – or even more narrowly in Limerick. These past few weeks I’ve been focusing on the very nature of youth rugby within the city. A rough calculation that is on reaching 18 years of gane, rugby players have clocked up thousands of hours of rugby to rival any other country.
Positive skill set
On top of that they are clocking up thousands of hours of other sports which have a direct link to their positive skill set such as Gaelic games.
But, what are they all doing when playing rugby? For example I’ve continually watched underage teams sacrifice spatial awareness and creativity of skills at all costs to ensure that one big guy on their team gets the ball. Of course, he will run over the first few defenders until he eventually dies in possession. Yes, he will gain yards but those very kids are learning nothing about creating space through angles, offloads, weak shoulders, fixing players, counter attacking etc.
The increased residency rules for players is a positive development to protect the integrity of international rugby, but better still it will force nations to develop from within. In just two years RWC 2019 brings us not only to Japan, but into their pool. This is so exciting. In RWC 2007 Japan had more lineout steals than Ireland. How can this be, as they have very obvious challenges? Then they beat South Africa in RWC 2015.
Revolution is exhausting. Ireland had massive wins and both Munster and Leinster came very close this season but as expensive Saracens and Clermont are playing on Saturday our kids should be out playing a style of rugby that’ll reap benefits down the line. Will it be much cheaper?