Charlie Hodgson: Saracens excited to return to European action
Charlie Hodgson lifts lid on Saracens’s excitement at returning to European action this weekend
Charlie Hodgson has revealed Saracens’s excitement at returning to European action this weekend as they prepare to take on Clermont Auvergne.
The London club’s last outing in Europe saw them lose in the Heineken Cup final in Cardiff to Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon in May a week before losing a dramatic Aviva Premiership final to Northampton Saints, but are riding high again with five wins from six games.
We’re under no illusions how tough Saturday’s going to be, and it’s going to be difficult to get out our group
With the revamped European Rugby Champions Cup competition reduced from 24 to 20 clubs qualifying on merit, there is sense of increased competition in all five groups with only the winners and three best runners-up making the quarter-finals and no consolation prize of two teams dropping down to the Challenge Cup.
Saracens were drawn alongside Sale Sharks, Munster and Clermont, and Hodgson expects it to be tough again, but they are motivated to win starting with a rematch against their semi-final opponents last season, who they defeated 46-6 at Twickenham in May.
“Up to now we’ve had the Premiership at the forefront of our minds, but we are excited about playing in Europe once again,” Hodgson said.
“It’s a competition everyone wants to win. We were so close last year and it would be fantastic to go one step further.
“It all starts this Saturday against Clermont at home. It’s nice to start at Allianz Park for the first game, but we have a long way to go.”
Outside-half Hodgson has had to play deputy for Sarries behind Owen Farrell since joining from Sale Sharks in 2011, but injury to England’s first-choice 10 has given the 33-year-old a chance for regular game time, and he expects a tough test against the French Top 14 league leaders at Allianz Park on Saturday.
“They are one of the biggest teams in Europe,” Hodgson added. “We’re under no illusions how tough Saturday’s going to be, and it’s going to be difficult to get out our group.
“We have three teams who have made the final four of the competition for the last two seasons in Pool 1, so to get out of that would be some achievement in itself. We are looking forward to the challenge.”
Saracens will be boosted by a bumper home crowd for the clash after they revealed just 33 Clermont fans purchased tickets for the game through their club’s official allocation.
“Clermont are entitled to receive 20 per cent of tickets in all categories and the lack of response is surprising, especially for those Saracens who recall the blue and yellow invasion of Vicarage Road when we played the same opposition in 2011,” said a club spokesman.
“We are looking forward to a capacity crowd on Saturday, with Allianz Park full of Saracens supporters.”