Saracens wary of Sivivatu threat
New Zealand's Sitiveni Sivivatu is the dangerman Saracens must contain in their European Cup semifinal with Clermont.
New Zealand's Sitiveni Sivivatu is the dangerman Saracens must contain in their European Cup semifinal with Clermont at Twickenham on Saturday, according to coach Mark McCall.
Although it is nearly three years since Sivivatu won the last of his 45 All Blacks caps, the 32-year-old Fiji-born flyer remains one of the most potent attacking threats in Europe.
"You wouldn't concentrate on one person, but if someone is going to pull a rabbit out of a hat it's going to be Sivivatu," McCall told reporters at Saracens' training ground in St Albans, north-west of London.
"He is amazing. He's got the most metres and off-loads in the European Cup and he pops up where you least expect him.
"If you switch off for just one second and you don't stay alive and in the moment, he will hurt you.
"They [Clermont] have got a few players like that, but he's the one who can hurt you big-time."
Two years ago Clermont arrived at Saracens' then home ground in Watford and thrashed their opponents 22-3 in a lopsided European Cup quarterfinal.
McCall was also in charge of the side for that match and hasn't forgotten the experience.
"We would hold our hands up and say that day was a little bit of 'men against boys'," he recalled.
"We felt we were playing with one hand tied behind our back, we were a bit lightweight and we changed a lot after that."
Nevertheless, French clubs have proved something of a thorn in the side of Saracens, currently nine points clear at the top of the English Premiership.
Last season they lost 24-12 to eventual European champions Toulon in the semifinals, with England great Jonny Wilkinson kicking all of the French team's points.
And this term they were twice beaten by Toulouse in the pool stages.
However, defiant former Ireland centre McCall said: "The Toulon semi last year, they didn't score a try that day, and we had an opportunity after half-time.
"We definitely had progressed from the Clermont game to that, and we feel we are in a much better position 12 months later now.
"I know how far we've come. It's obvious. It was men against boys last time [against Clermont]; it's not going to be like that this weekend."
One of those Saracens players who've 'grown up' is England flyhalf Owen Farrell.
And McCall insisted his 22-year-old playmaker wouldn't be "rattled" by Clermont.
"Owen's shown this year how capable he is at dealing with lots of pressure situations and he responded to a couple of heavy tackles really well," he said.
"There was nothing really wrong with those tackles. You get on with the game. A couple of years ago he would have been a little bit rattled for a while but not any more.
"He's unbelievably mature, reacts brilliantly, steers the team really well and we're lucky to have him."
Clermont have won an astonishing 76 consecutive home games but have proved far more fallible away from their Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin fortress, having lost nine away matches in the French Top 14 alone this season.
"Domestically they are like other teams, they have lost six or seven in a row away," said McCall.
"But look at their European record away, it's pretty special. They have travelled well and they bring their A-game to these occasions."
However - like Saracens - Clermont, who lost by just a point to Toulon in last season's final, have yet to win the European Cup.
"Clermont have been in the knockout stages of this competition for seven years and have never won it," said McCall.
"And they've only won the Top 14 once [in 2010].
"I think that if they get a lead, they are very good at holding you at arm's length by playing a certain way and I think you've got to make sure that doesn't happen.
"We've got ourselves into a cracking situation and we need to take advantage of it," added McCall of Saracens, Premiership champions in 2011.
"Just to get to the semifinals for this group is not enough - we need to kick on and win something."