Aviva Premiership: Saracens coach Mark McCall buoyant; Harlequins must move on, says Conor O'Shea
Last Updated: 17/05/14 6:40pm
Saracens remain firmly on course for a domestic and European double after beating Harlequins in the Premiership semi-final and director of rugby Mark McCall says squad morale is high as a result.
The 2011 league champions fought back magnificently from a six-point interval deficit at Allianz Park to prevail as Kelly Brown, Brad Barritt and Chris Ashton scored tries.
Fly-half Owen Farrell chipped in with 16 points from the boot as Saracens' second-half masterclass underlined a rude state of health building towards next Saturday's Heineken Cup final against holders Toulon in Cardiff.
Mike Brown and wing Ugo Monye scored Quins' tries - Nick Evans added a penalty and two conversions - and at times it was far from plain sailing for Saracens, who were briefly reduced to 13 men when centre Marcelo Bosch and prop Matt Stevens received yellow cards in quick succession.
But 20 unanswered second-half points showcased their quality, and they will now contest a second Premiership final after winning domestic silverware three years ago.
McCall revelled in his team's end-of-season exploits, offering a graphic comparison with last season when Saracens lost a home Premiership play-off to Northampton and made a Heineken semi-final exit against Toulon.
"The squad is really confident at the moment," McCall said. "The players front-up every single week.
"We've got some demons from the past in these semi-finals - against Toulon last season and Northampton here. I think we have come a long way as a team and a squad in the last 12 months.
"Our season was over this time 12 months ago. It was finished, we had nothing left to do, and we just had regrets.
"We played outstandingly in the first-half - the intensity was there. I am unbelievably proud of the way our guys fought out there."
"We've had five years of building to this point. It hasn't all gone smoothly - there have been some big setbacks along the way - but we have got players who are more mature and are better than they were a couple of years ago. It's good to be part of."
Saracens, who will face Northampton Saints in the Premiership final in two weeks' time, were dealt an injury concern of their own after skipper Steve Borthwick suffered a shoulder problem.
Former England captain Borthwick retires at the end of this season, and McCall said: "We hope he is okay.
"A career as wonderful as his doesn't deserve to finish today. It deserves to finish in two weeks' time.
"There is definitely concern about him. We will know more in the next 48 hours."
Borthwick's injury apart, the only blot on Saracens' day was Ashton appearing to shout at Evans in an attempt to put him off as he lined up the conversion of Brown's try, which caused a touchline skirmish as the teams left the field at half-time.
"I didn't see that, genuinely," McCall added. "I was in the changing room having a nervous breakdown."
Harlequins director of rugby Conor O'Shea was quick to dismiss his side's involvement in the fracas and claimed they will simply move on.
"Humility is up on the walls here and around the stadium, and honesty," he said.
"It wasn't part of what you would expect someone to do, but we leave it. They are worthy finalists, worthy winners. Move on."
O'Shea had nothing but praise for his players after they threatened to derail Saracens for around 50 minutes of a stamina-sapping contest.
"We played outstandingly in the first-half - the intensity was there. I am unbelievably proud of the way our guys fought out there," he said.
"I look back on this season, and the two best sides are in the final. I think ourselves and Leicester fought tooth and nail, but we just ran out of a bit of steam."