18 May 2023

Saracens have blocked out noise before Premiership final – Mako Vunipola

18 May 2023

Mako Vunipola feels that Saracens have not allowed themselves to be affected by external noise this season ahead of their ninth Gallagher Premiership final appearance.

Saracens return to Twickenham next week, where Sale will stand between them and a sixth title of the Premiership era.

Saracens were last crowned English champions in 2019, since when they spent a season in the Championship after being relegated for persistent salary cap breaches.

They teed up a dream finale to their first campaign back in the top flight last term by contesting domestic silverware with Leicester.

But the Tigers bit them, winning 15-12 thanks to a Freddie Burns drop goal during the nerve-shredding closing stages of a gripping final.

“Last year we probably focused too much on the things outside, worrying about what people were saying and wanting to prove them wrong,” Saracens and England prop Vunipola said.

“It probably got to that we didn’t actually enjoy the occasion. We didn’t throw a punch in the final, and that’s credit to Leicester – they didn’t let us throw a punch.

Last year, we didn't really fire a shot, and that was down to Leicester being able to dictate the way the game went

“This year, we have just been trying to improve game by game, probably a little bit more focused on ourselves and what we can control, rather than worry (about) outside.

“You get emotion spikes in big games, and we have to be able to control that, make sure we channel it in the right way and put it towards our rugby.

“Last year, we didn’t really fire a shot, and that was down to Leicester being able to dictate the way the game went.

“We weren’t able to attack because we didn’t work hard enough or we didn’t adjust well enough. Hopefully, we can do that this time.”

While Saracens have been regular Twickenham visitors over the past dozen seasons, Sale are through to their first Premiership final since 2006 when players like Jason Robinson, Charlie Hodgson and Sebastien Chabal ruled the roost.

And a pivotal part of Sale’s resurgence has been rugby director Alex Sanderson, who was previously key to Saracens’ success in a revered coaching team led by Mark McCall.

Vunipola added: “Me and Alex started working together when I was 16 or 17. He was the first one who kind of gave me a shot with the age-group stuff and gave me a bit of confidence that I could play at the highest level.

“To work with him at Saracens for so long was a privilege. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and you see that.

“We always knew here at the club how special he is as a coach and a person.

“And we knew if he did the same at Sale then success would come to them as a team, whether that was finishing higher in the league or the players enjoying what they are doing.

“Having been around a lot of them at England camps, they can’t speak highly enough of Al and what he has done.

“We know that Sale will be pumped for it, we know they will have a plan, and a lot of that will be down to the work he does with the leaders they have there at Sale.”

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