Ollie Phillips: Slight alarm bells rather than panic over Saracens' slump in form

 
Ollie Phillips
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Saracens v ASM Clermont Auvergne -  Champions Cup
Saracens suffered a humiliating loss to Clermont Auvergne (Source: Getty)

I would subscribe to the adage of form being temporary and class permanent rather than any notion of a crisis at Saracens, despite them slumping to a sixth successive defeat against Clermont Auvergne on Monday.

It is 14 years since Sarries suffered such a wretched run of results and, while I think the undoubted quality they possess within their squad will eventually shine through, the manner of their defeat against Clermont was concerning.

The previous five losses had all been by small margins, the majority when a lot of their players were away with England during the autumn internationals, but on Monday they were absolutely pummelled 46-14 in their own back yard.

It is impossible to discount mid-season lethargy given a large Sarries contingent were away with the British and Irish Lions during the summer, although it is the responsibility of the club and players themselves to manage that physical and emotional fatigue.

You could also argue there was disruption with the game being rearranged and uncertainty whether it would be played as well as a small crowd, but you just don’t expect that level of performance from Saracens. It’s almost unheard of.

We know them as such a dominant force, immensely physical in the contact zones and utterly ruthless, so it’s understandable that questions are being asked of them, but while alarm bells are ringing slightly, it is not full on panic stations yet.

Mark McCall’s side come up against Clermont again this weekend in the reverse European Champions Cup fixture, and it’s an acid test almost of the ‘Saracens Way’ and Wolfpack culture which the north London club abide by and are noted for.

Clermont are potent on their own patch and Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin is one of the trickiest venues to succeed at in club rugby, so even if Saracens were on a 40-match winning streak, a victory there would be impressive.

But a seventh straight loss would be difficult to stomach and even for the very best sides, poor form can snowball and when it does it becomes increasingly difficult to arrest and recover from.

I don’t think Saracens will overcome Clermont on Sunday, but if there was one team that I would back to produce when the pressure and focus is upon them, then it is Sarries.

I also believe that a Saracens squad which is fully fit and raring to go is still the best in the Premiership and I would envisage them being in the hunt for trophies come the end of the season.

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