Superb Saracens show the importance of team spirit with European triumph
It is sometimes said that team spirit is the privilege of the victor but there seems absolutely no question, even though they are serial winners, that Saracens possess that intangible sporting trait in abundance.
In Saturday's see-saw European Champions Cup final the London club kept believing in themselves, even though battling Clermont Auvergne refused to lie down and were within a point of the holders going into the last quarter of an hour.
No panic, no arguing as the referee declined to show a yellow card despite repeated offences by the French club defending their line, just a relentless recycling and launching of the next assault.
Despite the noise generated by the Clermont fans dominating Murrayfield and the one-point margin, the feeling around much of the ground was one of inevitability, and it proved correct as after yet another series of probing thrusts, the space finally appeared for fullback Alex Goode to blast through for the killer third try.
That gave Saracens a six-point lead with seven minutes remaining but -- just as everyone watching knew he would -- Owen Farrell nailed the difficult touchline conversion to make it a two-score game as Saracens eventually prevailed 28-17 to retain the title.
After the match a procession of their players lined up to be interviewed on the pitch and to a man they referenced the togetherness of the squad as being key to the victory, with Brad Barritt leading the eulogies:
" We stayed true to ourselves and our character. It's a huge testament to the Saracens culture today. We had unbelievable respect for Clermont but it's about that belief, that trust of the player beside you - it's just special to be a part of this group."
Farrell is never a man to get carried away with emotion but even he showed a chink in his armour.
"We know each other inside out, a lot of us since we were 14-15, and others have been here eight years or so," said the flyhalf, whose memorable day was capped by being named European player of the year.
" That time spent together, not just in rugby things, it counts for a lot. We felt like we were on top but didn’t quite get the tries we should have got, so to stay as composed as we did and to stick in there and finally win it was really pleasing."
SOMETHING VERY SPECIAL
Director of rugby Mark McCall is another who is reluctant to talk up his or his team's achievements but he, too, could not hide his pride:
" After they scored that unbelievable 100-metre try we had to show our experience and resilience, and I'm pleased with the way we went after them for that last 20 minutes. We showed a lot of sides of ourselves today - it's a brilliant feeling."
Dan Carter, who had a close-up view when playing in the Racing Metro team beaten by Saracens in last year’s final, was full of praise as a pitch-side pundit:
" Something very special has been brewing there for a long time. To see how clinical their game was today ... Clermont came back and put them under pressure but you always just knew that Saracens would hold on and their constant pressure just paid off."
Saracens allowed the TV cameras in to their changing rooms after the match and their celebrations were long and loud. The songs and the beer were flowing and there was no talk of ice baths or recovery shakes.
It was an unusual and uplifting sight in the modern world of professionalism but one thing is certain. When they line up to face Exeter in English Premiership semi-finals next week, seeking another double, they will be as prepared and ready to go as they were at Murrayfield on Saturday, and as they will be again from the first game of next season to the last.