Saracens’ winning culture the envy of Europe

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A playlist, bum-taps, their very own Kobe Bryant and a well-placed day off are just some of the reasons why Saracens are so successful and are primed to further build on this dominant, silverware-laden spell.

Saracens’ winning culture is the envy of every other side in Europe, but it is one built on an unbreakable togetherness and desire to improve game-on-game.

Laurels are never rested on, but as they enjoyed their Champions Cup win over Clermont Auvergne on Saturday, you got an insight into a truly remarkable group of players.

Nick Abendanon, the Clermont winger, was asked after the game what he felt was the secret behind Saracens’ success. He pointed towards a gameplan which every player understood to the blade of grass, and then their playmaker, Owen Farrell.

Billy Vunipola — a player quickly becoming the dominant No. 8 in world rugby — plays alongside Farrell for England, Saracens and this summer, the British & Irish Lions. He sees his dedication, and competitiveness first-hand.

“It’s amazing for someone so young to be so driven,” Vunipola said. “We’re different people but I admire him a lot for how driven he is. He’s a bit like Kobe Bryant — he gets annoyed at everyone and he shouts at everyone but you can see where he’s coming from.

“He just wants everyone to perform at his level and he got Player of the Season which shows what an amazing player he is. We won, and Faz kicked all our points. I’m just thankful he’s on my team.”

Farrell warned the team in the week that they would have to fight for their Champions Cup win. Vunipola embraces those challenges and brought plenty of punch to the win over Clermont. He is the heartbeat of Saracens’ success.

The affable, entertaining, humorous back-row is one of those players who flourishes with encouragement and direction.

He fully buys into the credo Saracens borrowed from the San Antonio Spurs — “pounding the rock” — as they used the heartbreak of previous defeats to fuel this current spell of astonishing success. But sitting alongside their mantras, are their own unique ways of maintaining morale.

“If you have that energy then everyone’s talking, everyone’s encouraging,” Vunipola said. “We love the bum-taps, they really drive us. It’s something we hold very high in getting the boys going. It’s strange but it works for us.”

Their camaraderie was laid bare on their social media channels after the match when Saracens posted a video of celebrations in the changing room being led by prop Richard Barrington.

“Baz [Barrington] actually made a mix-tape with a playlist,” hooker Jamie George said. “It was a different level; he absolutely killed it.”

Barrington stood in the middle of the squad, as he navigated them through a sing-along to an eclectic playlist as they put their own spin on various well-known throat busters.

After singing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” — complete with the apt “good times never seemed so good” — it switched to a version of Billy Joel’s “Start the Fire” with a tongue-in-cheek take on Chris Ashton’s end-of-season move to Toulon.

The chorus was replaced by “Ashy’s off to Toulon” and lyrics switched to “he used to do the Ashy-splash, now he’s off for all the cash”. The eight-song playlist finished with “We know who we are, champions of Europe, we know who we are”.

It has become part of their routine in celebrating success, along with carrying out their “Tiki Tonga” ritual, led at Murrayfield by Marcelo Bosch and Jim Hamilton.

These valuable insights into their culture shows a group of players who genuinely care about one another, but live for success. But with Saracens, they rarely sit still. After enjoying the win over Clermont, focus shifted to Saturday’s Aviva Premiership semifinal at the Exeter Chiefs.

It is a gruelling turnaround, but they will stick to the schedule they used last year after beating Racing 92 in the Champions Cup final before their league knockout match against Leicester the weekend later.

“I think we’ve seen a formula of what works for us,” George said. “They gave us a couple of days off for it to soak in. If we were in on Monday morning, it would be a bit tough to focus.

“So to give us an extra day off and then we come in on Tuesday morning and it’s business time. We are fully focussed on Exeter, we put what’s behind us, behind us.”

They will be favourites to secure their third Premiership title on the bounce, a process starting with the semifinal at Sandy Park. But they are reluctant to acknowledge themselves as a great side, instead that accolade is replaced by an insatiable appetite for success.

Alongside the bum-taps, the remarkable playlists and their very own Kobe Bryant, that desire to win sits above it all like the roof of their temple. Becoming complacent and taking stock just aren’t in Saracens’ DNA.

“We have a massive game next week,” Vunipola said. “If we win that it will give us an opportunity of stepping up the ladder to greatness but it’s very early days right now. We still have a lot of work to do before I feel comfortable saying we’re a great team.”

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