Saracens may have been at their free-flowing best en route to securing a home-semi final with a 36-24 win against Harlequins but a recurring ankle injury to skipper Owen Farrell may well dampen the mode in the league leaders’ camp.
Farrell excelled in the marque match-up against fellow England fly-half Marcus Smith with his experience and all-round game laying the foundations for Saracens’ impressive five-try victory in front of a packed house at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium.
But a late injury after a tackle with Sam Riley saw the Sarries captain hobble off the pitch with Director of Rugby, Mark McCall, confirming it was the same ankle that was an issue prior to England’s final Six Nations game with Ireland.
Despite having secured their berth in the play-offs, Farrell’s potential absence would be felt dearly when his side host Ospreys in the Heineken Champions Cup knockouts next weekend.
McCall said: “I’ve seen him in the changing room and he’s OK. We just need to see what the problem is and to what degree he’s aggravated it.
“I don’t know how he’ll be for next week, we’ll wait and see.
“We want to make a good decision on it. It will be great to have him but if we don’t have him then we’ll get on with it.”
Another player singled out for praise was man-of-the-match Billy Vunipola with the number 8’s bruising carries and all-action display likely to have caught the eye of England boss, Steve Borthwick.
Vunipola played no part in the Six Nations and spoke after the game of his “very honest” conversations with Borthwick regarding his omission, but McCall was highly encouraged by the 30-year-old’s attitude in recent weeks.
“Billy is just so determined. He’s in great physical condition and this is as good as I’ve seen him. You can see that on the field, he had a superb match,” McCall said.
“The way he dealt with the disappointment of not being in the Six Nations squad was unbelievable. He threw himself into helping our younger players.
“Sometimes that can be a frustrating experience for an international player but he’s responded really well.”
Having fallen agonisingly short in last season’s final, Sarries now have a commanding 11-point lead, a home semi-final and surely one foot in the final and a chance at redemption.
Perhaps more than any marquee individual performances, it has been the manner of victory – characteristically disciplined but overflowing with a newly-found attacking verve – that has typified Sarries’ title charge this season.
Quins couldn’t deal with it on Saturday and few have all season.
“There’s an openness to possibility, to opportunity, which maybe wasn’t there before,” McCall said when asked about his side’s attacking displays.
“We have attacked really well in other years and sometimes I don’t think we get the credit for how well we attacked in those years, to be honest.
“But after last year’s final, there’s a real ambition. Then you have to make good decisions and not be this team who are loose and run all the time. But be a team who are open to what’s possible, whatever that might be.”
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