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England lock Maro Itoje never had any doubt Saracens would return to top table
The 27-year-old provided an insight into the club’s culture and how they have bounced back so quickly following the salary cap scandal.
Maro Itoje never had any doubt Saracens would be back competing for the biggest prizes but has admitted it would be an “amazing achievement” to secure more Twickenham success on Saturday.
The StoneX Stadium club are back in the Gallagher Premiership play-off final, 12 months after a two-legged victory over Ealing earned promotion from the second tier.
Sarries’ relegation to the Championship in 2020 was expected to be the end of an era for the north London club, who had won five league titles and three European crowns during a glittering decade of success before being shamed by the salary cap scandal.
However, for England international Itoje it was a matter of when, not if they would return to the home of English rugby to battle for honours again.
“I felt Saracens was the best place for me to continue to grow as a rugby player and as a person and I still felt certain towards it being an environment where I could achieve all my goals,” the lock said ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Leicester.
“It was a tumultuous period for everyone involved at Saracens but personally I had very little reservations in my mind about staying.
“I knew this was the place I wanted to be and I knew Saracens would be back competing for things. You only need to look at the quality of personnel.
“When I say personnel, I am not only talking about playing staff, I am talking about coaches, head office and support staff to know we would be back at some point at these type of arenas.”
It was the winter of 2019 when Saracens were initially punished for repeated breaches of the salary cap rule but only the following January when relegation was confirmed.
Covid-19 was the next headache for the club – and the whole of the world – with Itoje able to admit that was “double trouble” for Mark McCall’s men off the back of their 70-point deduction.
Saracens regrouped and kept the majority of their squad with a number of England stars signing new deals before promotion was secured at the first time of asking. It has been followed by a consistent first campaign back in the top flight where last weekend’s win over Harlequins saw them book a return to Twickenham.
“We want to have successful careers, we don’t want to have a successful year or a successful couple of years. We want to have a successful career,” Itoje explained.
“In order to have that you need to be consistent, you need to be at it and need to have the hunger to go, go and go again year after year.
“I don’t like ranking things but this would be right up there. We have a lot of work to do to get there. Leicester are a top team and we need to make sure we play our best rugby but this would be an amazing achievement for the club if we do achieve it.”
Former Burnley boss Sean Dyche is one of the more recent guest speakers invited into Saracens to talk to the squad and Itoje feels the importance placed on self-development by the club is a big part of the success.
It has allowed the 27-year-old British and Irish Lion to be comfortable talking about all topics, which includes what would make Saturday’s Premiership final an even bigger occasion with attracting a wider audience key according to the London-born forward.
Itoje added: “I guess if you compare it to other major sporting events, the Champions League final or the Grand Prix, like in Monaco recently or Miami, that is an event people don’t want to miss.
“I am sure Twickenham will be sold out and there will be loads of people there but it will predominantly be rugby fans.
“The difference between that and some of the other events I have spoken about is that it is an event ordinary people, ordinary sports fans or people in general, people don’t want to miss.
“They want to be there, feel the atmosphere and feel the experience so that is the challenge for these big events in rugby.
“Of course the rugby fans will always be there and always be important. We can’t do anything without the rugby fans so they need to be heard but we want to make it a spectacle so that the ordinary person doesn’t want to miss it because it’s the Premiership Final, it should be the biggest event in town.”