No, really. I know we’re a few small days away from a brutal Champions Cup semi-final against Saracens but I wanted to enhance my contrarian credentials by revealing my deep, dark admiration for rugby’s equivalent of Globo Gym.
They’re my rugby guilty pleasure. Right up there with savouring every Glasgow loss like a fine wine.
But before I get to why I like them, let me acknowledge Saracen’s many, many faults.
1: Chairman Gao-wl
They’ve got the most obnoxious chairman in rugby or, indeed, any business anywhere. Nigel “See you in court, mate!” Wray is what the love child of Austin Healy and Matt Dawson would look like if it won the Lotto.
2: Obnoxious Marketing
Everything from “Stand up for the Saracens” to the ultra forced Wolfpack cringe-a-palooza is try hard sports morkeshing on steroids. And that’s me saying this, a guy with a t-shirt shop and Twitter account full of try hard sports morkeshing.
3: Dodgy Salary Cap
This one is kind of related to point #1 but it’s fairly obvious that Saracens’ have been shagging around with the Aviva Premiership’s salary cap. Exactly what you’d expect from an organisation ran by the human embodiment of that braying noise you hear in Twickenham when England are 10 points up with 3 minutes left to play, Nigel Wray.
But other than that, I like almost everything they’re doing. And no, this isn’t a bait and switch article, as much as it may read as one so far.
What Saracens have done is pretty remarkable. They’ve managed to spend money and, somehow, not squander it all on a squad full of expensive bluffers. Seriously, it’s harder than it seems in theory. Just look at most of the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 for evidence of big budget bluffers. Almost every signing Sarries have made has been a perfect fit for their squad and their culture. And speaking of their culture, they’ve put together a tight group of lads that want to play for each other and know how to win – again, not something that’s easily bought.
Sarries are the top dogs in Europe for a good reason. They have a squad full of top, top players. But even with their money bags rep, most of their core group are English qualified players that have come through the Saracens ranks. Farrell, Itoje, George, Goode and Kruis all came through Sarries academy. Throw in smart EQ signings like the Vunipolas, Ashton, Barritt, Wigglesworth and then quality international guys like Brits, Burger, Rhodes, Koch, Bosch, Hamilton, Maitland and you’ve a formidable crew of winners.
Outside of Burger, there are no real “superstar” signings there. Just clever acquisitions mixed with the best of their own academy and English pickups. Almost every signing Sarries have made has been a perfect fit for their squad and their culture. Speaking of their culture, they’ve put together a tight group of lads that want to play for each other and know how to win – again, not something that’s easily bought.
In a way, they remind me of a petri dish clone of Munster from 2008. They play an abrasive, defence focused game with a heavy pack, a laser focus on set piece and the ability to play right on the edge. I think that’s where the animus from the Munster side comes from – the uneasy parallels between the two entities. The queasy feeling of uncanny valley twisted through the bizarro prism of loadsamoney.
Well, that and the Vicarage Road tannoy.
They are the biggest threat Munster will face so far in this tournament. They are the measuring stick in European rugby right now and Munster will have it all to do and then some to get a result. Saracens have to be the favourites here, right? They are – of course – the favourites with any sane bookie but … maybe. That “maybe” will get bigger and bigger as Saturday approaches, as Landsdowne looms and as the noise cascades on their team bus, on their warm up and on everything.
This isn’t a plastic Wembley filled with day trippers, £5 tickets and comped passers-by there for the day out, a free fez and a sandwich. This is an Aviva Stadium filled with 50k zealots and against a team of lunatics. This will not be normal.
This is something that all the test matches in the world won’t prepare you for.
Saracens have the money. They’ll have Lions. They’ve even got a Wolfpack if you believe the hats, scarves and headbands.
But the old beast awaits,
red in tooth and claw.
Saracens should win this game. They will be certain of it.
But it will soon dawn on them that Munster will not be playing a game, they will be doing something else entirely. Something raw. Something cruel. Something gladiatorial.
And if, in the coming storm of noise and cruelty, that Saracens certainty turns to “maybe”, even for a split second, then all bets are off.
It’s Blood & Thunder Week.