Saracens Women | Austerberry assesses season so far
All good things come to an end and Saracens women’s coach Alex Austerberry saw his side’s proud unbeaten run brought to a shuddering halt in ‘The Duel’ against arch-rivals Harlequins.
If it was a bitter blow to lose to the team who took the title away from his side in last season’s Allianz Premier15s final in Gloucester, it also provided a dose of reality to the ‘Women in Black’ as they headed into the festive season break.
Just as one swallow doesn’t make a summer, so one defeat doesn’t ruin a season. It may have knocked Saracens off the top of the table temporarily, but the goal is to get back there . . . and stay there!
“We were obviously disappointed to lose at home to Quins and we underperformed. We got ourselves into a good position after 25 minutes, but we let a decent platform slip through our fingers.
“There were too many inaccuracies, we got a yellow card when it was still only a nine point game and we didn’t manage the key moments well enough. The biggest learning from the game is that we have to be more clinical and ruthless.”
Take that as a warning to the teams that will be met in the second half of the season as the action heats up moving towards the showpiece final. Austerberry is keen to get there again and believes there is plenty to build on from the first half of the season.
The early momentum was slowed slightly with the break for the autumn internationals, when Sarries had 14 players on duty for four different nations. The good thing was their contributions on the higher stage were very impressive.
Meanwhile, back at the StoneX ranch, Austerberry was able to blood some youngsters in the Premier15s Cup matches. It meant valuable exposure for some players, but when everyone came back together it took time to gel again.
“We had a hell of a battle to get over the line at Gloucester-Hartpury and then it was a really physical battle against Bristol in that top of the table clash” added Austerberry.
“When you add in the game against Quins it added up to a highly physical and emotional period which I think we probably underestimated. Now is a good time for the players to have a break and refresh their minds and bodies over Christmas.
“The women’s game is moving forward at such a pace that it is taking a different kind of toll on the players. There used to be a time when the season was virtually done and dusted in December.
“The intensity and physicality in the Premier15s competition has risen dramatically and the gap between the international and club game has closed. What we also have to remember is that most of the players playing in the league have to go back to their day jobs and don’t get the chance to rest in the same way as their male counterparts.”
Developing greater strength in depth is a key component to the work of Austerberry and his coaching team and he has been encouraged by the advances made by a number of players on the fringes of the 1st XV. Ass he says, he doesn’t want players “running on fumes” as the season builds to a climax.
So here are a few of the names that Austerberry has picked out for their development in the first half of the season and the impact they could have in the second:
She only turned 20 this month, but she started at tight head prop for us against Quins. An England age grade international she has worked hard to get her first team shot and her development in a key position is very exciting.
She was the player of the month for her performances in the Premier15s Cup matches and is really starting to understand and command the line-out.
Already a Cambridge Blue and Scottish international centre, she came through in the Cup games to earn herself a start in the league team.
Given a chance in the cup matches and responded by showing how physical she can be.
Has come all the way through from the Saracens amateur ranks to earn a place in the starting XV and in the Red Roses squad. Pushing for Test honours and becoming more and more influential.
The Canadian international has had a frustrating time due to qualification complications, but should be available in the new year to add strength and experience to the side.
“There are lots of success stories form the first half of the season, but we are going to need everyone on top of their game in the new year,” added Austerberry.
“That’s why I need everyone to take a break over Christmas and to recharge their batteries. I want them all coming back into training fit and firing.
“Last Christmas was a very different experience for them all. We were back in training the day after Boxing Day to play against Quins, although that game eventually fell victim to COVID.
“You can have the best starting XV in the world, but you need a full squad to go all the way. That’s why they need to chill out a bit before they come back.
“The games come thick and fast between January and May and there will also be a period for the Women’s Six Nations. That has been moved to later in the season and so I want to be in control of a play-off place before we go into the final few rounds.
“It can take a bit of time to re-integrate the international players into your side after they have been away. It isn’t easy to pick up where you left off, as we found after the November games.”