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The 2012-13 season was almost perfect for north London’s Saracens, yet the adage ‘so near, yet so far’ is rarely more apt.

Now though, with an enriching trip to their second home South Africa, some hard graft and confidence-affirming pre-season matches behind them, they’re hungrier than ever.

Speaking ahead of their 61-3 demolition of Championship side the Cornish Pirates at the Honourable Artillery Company in London on Thursday, centre Brad Barritt reflects a steely glow coming from the Men In Black’s camp.

“There’s a renewed confidence and stern determination in the squad this year,” says Barritt, fresh from playing in a winning Lions tour against Australia after a late call-up stopped his Hollywood holiday short. “We’re, as always, looking to go onto bigger and better things.”

Piggy-back: Barritt was impressed by Chris Ashton’s second try in their 2012-13 Heineken Cup quarter final

Top of the ladder in last year’s Premiership Rugby season, they didn’t turn it into a grand final win, falling at the second-to-last hurdle when they were ambushed by Northampton in a semi-final first half barrage they couldn’t recover from. It was their first defeat at their new HQ, Allianz Park, and Saints would go on to be undone by Leicester Tigers in the final. 

“That’s the beauty of rugby,” Barritt concedes with his glass half full. “Any team on their day, irrespective of where they are on the ladder, can hurt you. Northampton turned up that day, played fantastically and did a job on us.”

In the Heineken Cup, Sarries finished top of their pool ahead of Irish giants Munster and fought past that team’s rivals Ulster in the semi. Again, they fell one game short of the big show. In their ‘home’ semi at Twickenham against slick French moneybags Toulon they were beaten 24-12. It’s all fodder for motivation, Barritt explains.

Idols: Sarries players with Little Champs 

“Last season has made the squad a lot more hungry,” he insists. “We know we played some brilliant rugby, but that all amounts to nothing if you can’t come through in those big moments. That’s what we’re preparing for this year.”

That preparation again heavily featured South Africa, where a large slice of Sarries’ top talent hails from – including Schalk Brits, Neil de Kock and Alistair Hargreaves, along with SA-born England stars such as Mouritz Botha, Matt Stevens and Barritt himself. It’s also the base of the club’s major shareholders and some significant charity connections.

One warm-up game in Durban (where Barritt was born) against 2012 South African club champions Jonsson College Rovers was played on John Smit Rugby Field, funded by and named after the Sarries and Springboks legend who left the club last year to become CEO of Super Rugby franchise the Sharks.

It stands on the Lungisisa Indlela Village (LIV), its mission being to turn around the lives of vulnerable children. They also visited the Little Champs project in Kayamandi, a children’s sport charity where kids play on the ‘Saracens Field of Dreams’ artificial pitch. “It’s so rewarding to go to these places,” Barritt says. “It’s all part of the preparation.”


Interview: England and Lions centre Brad Barritt says Saracens are ready to go one better this year
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