What we witnessed on Saturday when Saracens beat Leinster to win the Heineken Champions Cup has not come around by some weird stroke of luck or simply buying the best players that money can buy but because one man has built a culture at a club that can not be matched by anyone else in European Club Rugby.
Mark McCall, the Saracens Director of Rugby, masterminded one of the greatest performances witnessed in a European Final on Saturday.
That might be a strange comment considering they only won by 10 points but you have to remember who they were playing against to really get a grasp on how good a performance it truly was.
Leinster, the reigning European Champions and littered with internationals in every position, were utterly dominated for the final 41 minutes of this final. If it weren’t for some stern defence and a few Saracens errors then it is fairly certain that the Sarries’ score would have been ticking over a lot earlier in the match.
Leinster are brilliant and have always been worthy Champions but Saracens were simply on another level.
The way that the club is run has created a culture and rugby family that means the players are able to thrive without the stresses and strains of modern day life and what they are going to do after rugby.
Whether some of their dealings will be deemed inappropriate in the coming months is still to be seen but players have their own businesses, own properties and are advised so soundly that all they need to do is focus on rugby.
They’ve also bought some big name players in the past, that is true and can’t be avoided but to suggest that they have paid their way to the top is crass to suggest.
11 of their 23 man squad from the weekend came through their own academy.
The largest denominator though is McCall himself.
A straight talking and mean looking Northern Irishman, he commands respect from the moment he opens his mouth due to his demeanour and rhetoric but his man management skills and ability to manage a season as a whole is what sets him apart.
Roll back a few years to the 2016-17 season and compare that to now. Saracens went on to win the Champions Cup against Clermont at Murrayfield but what that achievement did to the squad was to test it to the limits and their eventual domestic downfall.
Saracens ran out of steam leading up to the final, mustered a huge performance on the big occasion and then crashed the week after.
They had burnt out when Exeter beat them at Sandy Park a week following their European triumph and injuries were picked up by players that had played too many high intensity matches. Billy Vunipola was injured going into that game and after picking up another knock, ruined his chances of touring with the British and Irish Lions.
They had battled and toiled away all season through injury worries and dips in form and couldn’t secure that elusive home playoff match.
It was a ‘win every match’ mentality and because if that, they did break some records that season. 18 straight undefeated matches in Europe being one of them.
Now though, it feels like McCall is ok with losing as long as his team are fresh and firing at the business end of the season. Finishing top of the league isn’t the be all and end all as long as you get home advantage for the playoffs.
Saracens were quick out of he blocks this season but as with all top class teams over international tournaments, you lose a vast number of players and with them goes the rhythm of your squad.
During the Six Nations this year Saracens lost at Gloucester, Bath and Northampton respectively. In this period, they only had a 50% win rate but their position in the league was able to take that hit.
More recently, they have lost to Bristol Bears but again, they could field a weakened team to play at Ashton Gate because their lofty position in the league means that they can afford to drop points.
McCall even managed to rest a host of stars for the Exeter Chiefs game last weekend meaning they could perform to the level that they did in Saturday’s final.
With one game left and second placed secured, the team that runs out at Sixways against Worcester this weekend will almost certainly look nothing like the one that beat Leinster.
McCall has managed the season so well that his players will be fresh for a home semi-final and likely day out at Twickenham the week after.
The former Ulster Head Coaches players know how to do the business on the field but if wasn’t for him managing them and their game time off it then the performance that won them the Heineken Champions Cup may never have even been possible.
Photo Credit: Diamond Geezer via creativecommons.org