Sarries over semi-final stumbles

SARACENS director of rugby Mark McCall feels his players have banished the demons of their recent past after staying in contention for a European and domestic double.

Having lost their last two Aviva Premiership semi-finals, Sarries successfully cleared the same hurdle on Saturday by beating Harlequins 31-17, recovering from a 17-11 half-time deficit thanks to tries from England duo Brad Barritt and Chris Ashton.

With a Heineken Cup final against holders Toulon to come this weekend as well, McCall is adamant Saracens are made of significantly sterner stuff than they were last year.

“We’ve got some demons from the past in these semi-finals,” said McCall, whose side will face Northampton in the Premiership final at Twickenham on 31 May.

“Our season was over this time 12 months ago and we just had regrets.

“To play the way we played against Clermont two weeks ago and then back that up with that second-half performance shows we’ve come a long way as a squad in the last 12 months. You just have to experience things and go through things.”

Quins had won their last five league matches in a row to earn the right to take on their all-conquering London rivals at Allianz Park.

But director of rugby Conor O’Shea admitted that reaching the final was a step too far.

“Saracens are an outstanding side. I am unbelievably proud of how our guys fought, even at the end,” he said.

“If I look back at this season the two best sides are in the final. Ourselves and Leicester fought tooth and nail to get into the play-off positions. But I guess we ran out of a bit of steam.”

Full-back Mike Brown, England’s shining light at this year’s Six Nations, limped off in the second half with a hamstring injury to leave Red Rose head coach Stuart Lancaster sweating ahead of next month’s three-Test tour to New Zealand.

But O’Shea did his best to allay immediate fears over the seriousness of Brown’s condition.

“Hopefully it is just a little twinge,” he said. “It was hot out there. The surface is different to what we are used to playing on [artificial turf].

“We will see after the next couple of days. He has got a few weeks until that first Test [7 June]. Hopefully, he is alright.”

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