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Rugby News

Spotlight on: Saracens

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Across our 'Spotlight On' series thus far, we have sought to not only outline the exciting talent that Tigers will face and key clashes that fans can expect throughout their first year at the elite level, but also show how the clubs may mirror one another in various aspects, the parallels that exist across the women's game. 

This match, however, will serve as the ultimate contrast.

Saracens are very much the top of the tree when it comes to Women's Rugby and have been the team to beat for most of their existence. 

The club has a long history of success. First forming in the 1989/90 season by a group of nine women that included three England internationals and two Welsh internationals, even before the formation of the Premier 15s, now Allianz Premiership Women's Rugby, Saracens were dominant. 

Between 2005 and 2015, the 'women in black' won a joint-record of five Women's Premiership titles. In 2017, when the Premier 15s began, Saracens were the competition's inaugural champions, following that up with an additional two titles in the four seasons since. Not only are the club three time champions, they have reached the play offs in every single year and topped the regular season table in four of the five seasons.

Tigers set-piece coach Rochelle 'Rocky' Clark played several years for the London club, a time that included helping the side to several titles, a place in the 2020/21 Team of the Season and a coaching role of Forwards Coach.

"They like to use their big forward pack to get them on the front foot" said Clark, when asked about what Saracens would bring 

"They never liike to play in their half and will look to distribute to Zoe Harrison to boot it long and into the corners. They will often layer up their attack, always ensuring they have a few options out the back; they'll always try and narrow teams up with short, hard lines and then spread it wide once the defence is sucked in" 

On the face of it, this is a team that stands starkly in contrast to the long-term project that's beginning just its second year here at Tigers. The newbies to the league, who have recruited players with experience but are still very much dipping their toes into top-flight waters against the Premiership stalwarts, murky depths that could be seen as, at first ask, impossible to swim without drowning.

However, there are increasing signs that the North-London club are beatable.

The 2022/23 season was the first time Saracens did not top the regular season table, finishing third, as well as the first time they failed to reach the final after losing an away tie to Exeter Chiefs. Adding to that are a couple of tough departures of established Red Roses in prop Hannah Botterman and fly-half Holly Aitchison.

Of course, all within the women's game know that you write Saracens off at your own peril: they have earned their tag as perennial favourites. But it certainly puts a pinch of spice into proceedings.  

Furthermore, there are absolutely elements of parallel between the two clubs as well as a selection of electrifying battles to look forward to across the park. 

One of the more interesting elements is the hiring of former players from the men's side of the club: Senior Coach Tom Hudson came through the Tigers academy whilst Saracens have both Duncan Taylor and Mouritz Botha as Senior Backs and Forwards coach respectively. It could be seen that, in addition to coaching talents, this is in order to help install philosophies of success and professional standards across the club, to ensure all within the organisation are as aligned as possible.

On the pitch, there are some huge battles to look forward to.

Firstly, there's quite the battle expected in the front row. At hooker, Red Roses Amy Cokayne and May Campbell will be a real face off. Both players are real all rounders, equally adept across set-piece commitments and skills in the loose (Cokayne especially with her penchant for a variety of kicks, from grubber to spiral bombs). 

Campbell is a Saracens institution, having made over 100 appearances for the side and recently making her England debut. 

Cokayne, of course, is very experienced in that arena, having made over seventy appearances internationally, and helped put Saracens to the sword, scoring two tries in the 2021 final as Harlequins became the first side to defeat Saracens to the Premier 15s title. 

Meanwhile, in the back-row there's a clash of the powerhouses. For the visitors, there are few names bigger than Saracens co-captain and Red Roses captain Marlie Packer. The 2022 RPA England player of the year has been a force in the Premiership for years and is sure to be one to look out for; for Tigers, there's a bevy of back-rows we're excited to see go head-to-head but in terms of a power battle it's got to be Becky Noon. A competitive powerlifter, and Head Coach at XINX Fitness, Noon is a player who brings her strength in the gym onto the field of play to great effect. 

When asked about who Tigers fans should look out for, Clark added "Definitely Poppy Cleall. She's a big ball carrier,a real physical presence around the field but also a great distribution."