Owen Farrell kicked 27 points against Wasps on Saturday
After falling at the semi-final stage last season, Saracens are back at Twickenham on Saturday after Farrell scored 27 points and was named man of the match in the 57-33 victory against Wasps.
The numbers – a record for a Premiership play-off game – were impressive enough but it is the glowering lead England’s tour captain to South Africa is giving at Saracens which has been a major factor in restoring normal service at Allianz Park.
“Brad Barritt is the captain and does a brilliant job but Owen is a big part in terms of making the game plan and enforcing it with the boys. He bosses us around and tells us where to go,” said team-mate Jamie George.
“The standards he sets are impeccable. You’ve got to work your way up to him.
“Coming into the team as a 20-year-old, he had a certain way about him. He is much more understanding of the people he is talking to and he is getting the best out of them as a result, which is what you want from a leader – but the look is still there.
Jamie George believes Owen Farrell will flourish as England captain
“He has got such a clever rugby brain on him that he knows if a mistake is from skill error or an effort error and it is the effort error that he gives you the look for. That drives standards.
“The guy’s incredible. For me, he just keeps getting better and better. I can’t speak highly enough of how he is playing and we will need that next week.”
There is a school of thought which views the England captaincy, bestowed on him in Dylan Hartley’s absence, as a potential burden but George, who has played with Farrell since they were 14, believes it will bring out his absolute best.
“From what we’ve seen here, the more leadership and responsibility he is given, the better he gets, the more he rises to it. He certainly leads from the front,” said George.
Saracens are finishing a season which promised to unravel when they sustained seven successive defeats in the dark depths of winter like a steam train.
Mako Vunipola impressed against Wasps
Their forward thrust against Wasps, with Mako Vunipola and Maro Itoje on full power, was frightening and will be hard even for Exeter to resist this Saturday.
“This is our fourth final in the last five years in the Premiership. We’ve been in three Champions Cup finals in the last five years.
“To have those kind of tallies is an incredible achievement from the whole group and we want to go and win it now,” said Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall.
“I thought you saw in the first 20 minutes against Wasps – which was maybe as good as we have ever played – the real intent and desire in the group to do that.”
The one concern is a limping Billy Vunipola who was hauled off at half-time after suffering more issues with the hamstring problem which has plagued him of late.
Mark McCall thought his side played some of their best ever rugby on Saturday
But if we want to achieve things we have to shore up that defence, control that gainline and our set piece
“I think he has a chance to be fit. He probably won’t train on Monday or Tuesday though,” said McCall.
Wasps’ season is over but as ever they provided some sumptuous entertainment as it ended. Scoring five tries in Saracens’ den is unheard of – but unfortunately they conceded six.
“We’ve always been up there with the top two or three try scorers in the league every season – that’s our DNA and we’re certainly not going to flip it by taking away from our attacking rugby.
“But if we want to achieve things we have to shore up that defence, control that gainline and our set piece,” said director of rugby Dai Young.
“It’s something that will always be challenged at this level. If we really want to compete at the highest level, those are areas where we have to improve.”
Nathan Hughes featured for England in the last Six Nations
Nathan Hughes could be in line for an England return if Jack Willis’s knee issue turns out to be as serious as feared.
Willis went for a scan on Sunday to assess the injury he sustained in the semi-final defeat by Saracens with it almost certain he will have to pull out of the tour to South Africa.
The uncapped back-row’s bad luck may open for the door for club-mate Hughes, who made his comeback at Allianz Park following a 10-week lay-off after being injured against France in the Six Nations.
“Considering he hasn’t had a lot of rugby, I thought he looked a lot better than when he went into the England set-up in the Six Nations,” said Wasps director of rugby Dai Young.
“He will obviously benefit from that game and he has another couple of weeks before they go on tour. That is a decision for Eddie. He’s not 100 per cent and needs a bit more game time but I thought he did pretty well.
“It’s a bit too early to tell with Jack but it is not looking great. He is in a brace and on crutches.
“They think it is serious enough to have a scan straight away. Hopefully it is not too bad but I would be surprised if it is anything that is going to be right in a week or two.”
Exeter’s Don Armand, who won his first cap off the bench against Ireland in the final game of the championship, would be another back-row alternative along with Newcastle’s uncapped Gary Graham.
The England squad, minus the Premiership finalists, meet up tonight to begin preparations for Sunday’s game against the Barbarians at Twickenham by which time defence coach Paul Gustard will have been unveiled as Harlequins’ new head coach.
Gustard will remain in post for the upcoming tour of South Africa but will then quit to take over at The Stoop, leaving England with a significant hole in the management team to fill a year out from the World Cup.