Twickenham - Saracens may have regained their Premiership
crown but director of rugby Mark McCall foresees the battle to retain it being
tougher than it has ever been this season.
The 51-year-old Northern Irishman has guided the club to two
European titles as well as four Premiership crowns since he arrived in the
McCall, who played 13 Tests for Ireland before injury ended
his career aged 31, admitted to being just a little nervous with his side due
to begin their campaign against the surprise packages of last season Newcastle
Falcons a week on Sunday.
"It felt like a really complicated season, the last
one, but for me this is going to be the most competitive one ever," he
said at the Premiership launch at Twickenham on Thursday.
"There are world class coaches and really exciting
signings in all the clubs. We are all excited but nervous at the same time.
"It is going to be an exciting season but also a
McCall, whose side showed great character bouncing back
after a seven-match losing streak in all competitions mid-season to beat the
2017 champions Exeter in the Premiership final, said his largely unchanged
squad had not lost their ambition.
"We know what we have to try and improve and we have
been clear with the players how we can improve," he said.
"We have a settled group and sometimes that can be a
bad thing because it can breed over-confidence and they lose their drive.
"However, my squad are largely aged 26-27 and hungry to
get better and with the extra attraction of the World Cup next year. They can
McCall, though, is mindful of the blip his side suffered
"The challenge is to get off to a good start," he
"Then when you have some momentum to your season take
advantage of that stay calm and don't see ghosts that aren't there.
"We went through all that last season and there are
lessons to be learnt."
While Saracens and Wasps, and more recently Exeter, have
been singled out as likely championship contenders, it is usually the
newly-promoted side that is ear-marked for an immediate return to the second
However, this is not the case for Bristol Bears who backed
by locally-born billionaire Steve Lansdown have invested in some stellar
The most noteworthy is former All Black back Charles Piutau,
although the likes of Wallaby legend George Smith and former Ireland fly-half
Ian Madigan are also in the squad.
All reasons for their director of rugby, Samoan icon Pat Lam
to be confident he did the right thing in joining them and leaving Irish
province Connacht after he had guided traditionally the weakest province in
Irish rugby to a stunning Celtic League trophy in 2016.
"When I was asked to come first thing I wanted to know
was what do you want to achieve," he said.
"Both Steve Lansdown and Chris Booy (the chairman) said
'inspire the community' and that resonated with me as for me rugby is about
more than the game."
Lam, who won the Premiership as a player with Newcastle and
then when at Northampton the 2000 European Cup, said he and his bosses share
"To become a (European) Champions Cup team, have
Bristol players playing for England as there are none at the moment and to have
young Bristolians want to play for us and not leave for our neighbours as they
have been doing.
"We made clear where we want to go and that is the way
the Bristol bus is going and we have to make sure the whole organisation goes
the same way."