NEXT Up | Sandy Park awaits for Sarries before Europe takes centre stage
A huge December is on the horizon for Saracens Men’s side as the 2021/22 season prepares to hot up and the club gets ready to compete on three fronts.
On Saturday, Mark McCall’s side begin an important run of fixtures with a trip to Exeter Chiefs for what should be a full-blooded affair at Sandy Park.
Put together, Saracens and Exeter have won six of the last seven Premiership titles.
Harlequins claimed last season’s glory, but before that, Saracens had won four titles since the 2013/14 season with Exeter claiming the other two. Rob Baxter’s Exeter have established themselves as a powerhouse of English rugby and they will be a stern rival to Saracens’ hopes of winning the title.
It will make their meeting next weekend all the more important. The last time the two sides met was in the 2019/20 Premiership season. Exeter were 14-7 winners on home soil on December 19, 2019.
In the rematch at StoneX Stadium on September 13, 2020, Saracens came out on top 40-17 after rugby returned following the Covid-19 pandemic.
That day, a youthful Saracens side handed the Chiefs their first defeat in eight games. Tries from Rotimi Segun and Dom Morris put McCall’s men 15-5 up at the break.
Will Witty grabbed a second try for then Premiership leaders Exeter either side of two Manu Vunipola penalties for Saracens.
Elliott Obatoyinbo, Janco Venter and Cameron Boon all touched down to secure a bonus-point home win.
McCall will be hoping for a repeat performance at Sandy Park this time around although it is likely the two sides will look very different on Saturday.
Both teams are expected to be at full strength given the magnitude and importance of the fixture although Saracens will be without injured England internationals Owen Farrell and Jamie George who are both on the sidelines currently with ankle and knee injuries respectively.
After the Exeter game, Saracens’ focus switches to Europe and European Rugby Challenge Cup fixtures with Edinburgh and then French side Pau.
As three-time winners of the European Rugby Champions Cup in 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2018/19 – as well as runners-up in 2013/14 – Saracens is a club used to competing at the top table of cross-border competition.
This year, they will be in the Challenge Cup and not the Champions Cup after returning to the Gallagher Premiership for the current season.
First up in Europe this season is Scottish capital side Edinburgh who will arrive at StoneX on Saturday, December 11.
Joining Saracens and Edinburgh in Pool C of the Challenge Cup are Gallagher Premiership outfit London Irish and French sides Pau and Brive.
McCall’s side travel to Pau in round two on Saturday, December 18 for an evening kick-off.
With five teams in each Challenge Cup pool, the pool stage will consist of five rounds with Saracens playing four matches home or away against opponents in their own pool.
One club in each pool will have a bye in every round.
The three highest-ranked sides from each pool will qualify for the knock-out stages.
After the two European games with Edinburgh and Pau, Saracens conclude their 2021 with a home game on Boxing Day against Worcester Warriors in the Gallagher Premiership. Kick-off for that game is 3pm.
McCall and Saracens won’t be looking that far ahead though with the focus solely on Exeter and then Europe. Edinburgh will be difficult opponents at StoneX.
The Scottish side, now coached by former Scotland scrum-half Mike Blair, have had a strong start to the inaugural United Rugby Championship season and started this weekend’s action in fourth place in that competition with three wins, a draw, and a loss from their five games.