Barritt: Saracens' big-game players will thrive in play-off pressure

‘Saracens’ big-game players will thrive in the pressure of the play-offs’: Sarries legend Brad Barritt backs his old club to take another step towards the Premiership title by beating bitter rivals Harlequins

  • Barritt captained Saracens during the most successful stint in their history 
  • He lifted five Gallagher Premiership titles and three Champions Cups
  • And he has backed Mark McCall’s side to claim another Premiership title
  • Saracens face London rivals Harlequins in play-off semi-final on Saturday

Brad Barritt’s time at Saracens was all about winning.

The former England centre captained the London club through the most successful stint in their history and won five Gallagher Premiership titles and three Champions Cups.

As a man who knows what it takes to achieve success, Barritt believes his old team have the advantage going into Saturday’s play-off with bitter capital city rivals Harlequins.

Brad Barritt (centre left) won five Premiership titles and three Champions Cups with Saracens

Mark McCall’s side are just two games away from another Premiership title.

Such a success would be all the more remarkable given this season is Saracens’ first back in English rugby’s top-flight after their relegation in 2020 for breaching the league’s salary cap rules.

‘Play-off games are very different to playing in the Premiership,’ Barritt told Sportsmail.

‘They always have an added edge. The teams who usually do well in play-off games are the ones who have had experience of them before and have found more than one way of winning.

‘At Saracens we used to talk about winning the games we shouldn’t because the team was able to adapt and survive to different circumstances and pressures.

Barritt captained the London club through the most successful stint in their history

‘For me this is where Saracens edge it at the moment. They’ve still got a fantastic core group of players who have been a key part of the club’s history and won Premierships and Champions Cups. 

‘They’ve also been part of big knock-out international games with England. It bodes extremely well for them, especially having qualified at home for that key semi-final with Harlequins.’

Barritt won 26 England caps but it was his commitment to the Saracens cause that saw him stand out from the crowd. His Premiership prediction, admittedly, might have a degree of bias about it.

So, will Saracens win it?

‘Yes I think so, both with my heart and my head,’ Barritt said.

‘I’d love for the club to get back to where they were after all the struggles they’ve been through. But more importantly when I think with my head, I see an extremely well balanced team.

Mark McCall’s side are just two games away from another Premiership title

‘I think it’s about a team being able to adapt and play a slightly different style of rugby to the one they want to because play-off games don’t always go the way you’d like.

‘Saracens have more than one string to their bow. They can win in different circumstances.’

Harlequins and England prop Joe Marler added extra spice to Saturday’s meeting with Saracens saying the two clubs ‘despise each other.’

He told The Times: ‘They are our arch-rivals who we despise as a club and we despise each other. The rivalry is poisonous. We play them at their really s*** stadium with a plastic pitch.’

Barritt was still at Saracens when news of the club’s salary cap breaches emerged. Quins in particular took exception to the rules being broken.

‘All you can do is look yourself in the mirror. I know every bit of blood, sweat and tears I put in both on and off the pitch over a 12-and-a-half year period,’ Barritt said, speaking from his Cape Town home.

Saracens returned to the top flight this season after their relegation in 2020 for breaching the league’s salary cap rules

‘Unfortunately in life you’re never going to be able to satisfy everyone. In my heart of hearts I know how hard each of those successes was earned. We had to work hard for every trophy.

‘Many teams have tried to emulate that but not had success.

‘It’s about building a team, a culture and a collective. The one thing that really stands out for me with Saracens is you don’t get players there who come back from international duty and don’t front up.

‘In other clubs across the world players might have a pick-and-choose mentality. But at Saracens everyone has a love for the club that goes beyond rugby.

‘It’s two years ago now and it’s time to put that (the salary cap) to bed.

‘To see where the team is now after their first season back in the Premiership is immensely pleasing but they know the job is only half done.’

Now based in South Africa after his retirement in 2020, Barritt works for UK-based Fintech company Pollinate and with coffee company Tiki Tonga which he founded in 2016. His current location leaves Barritt perfectly poised to analyse not only Saracens, but the future of rugby in the land of the Springboks.

From next season, South Africa’s best domestic sides will compete alongside the giants of the English and French club game in the Heineken Champions Cup. Tournament organisers European Professional Club Rugby confirmed earlier this month three South African qualifiers from the United Rugby Championship will participate.

Harlequins prop Joe Marler added extra spice to Saturday’s showdown with Saracens

They are the Pretoria-based Bulls, the Sharks from Durban and the Cape Town-based Stormers. Those three teams – plus the Lions – are already competing in the URC as South Africa looks to continue to align itself with the northern hemisphere.

That movement could one day lead to South Africa joining the Six Nations.

Barritt said: ‘The feeling you sense in South Africa is one of extreme excitement. For a long, long time the Champions Cup has been the envy of the rest of the rugby playing world.

‘It really is the one you want to be a part of and the one you want to win. I’ve seen the comments about the history of it being a European competition, but I think if we are totally honest with ourselves, what do we want to see? We want to see rugby grow as a game and flourish across the world. What better way to do that than to bring more eyeballs to a fantastic competition?

‘I think the South Africans add significant competition. They’ve gone into a new competition in the URC where they play more away games than anyone else and travel long distances and three of them made the top eight. I think the sky is the limit in terms of where they can get to.

‘It’s also a consequence of Covid. It’s had a disastrous effect on rugby. What better way to kickstart the game again than to add a new element? We’ve now got the three biggest rugby audiences in the UK, France and South Africa all in one competition. Rugby is a religion in South Africa.

‘I think every player who wants to test themselves against the best will relish this.’

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