Jackson Wray believes new Gallagher Premiership champions Saracens deserve more respect for emerging from one of the bleakest episodes in the league’s history as a title-winning force once more.

Sale were defeated 35-25 in a gripping final at Twickenham on Saturday as Saracens claimed their sixth domestic crown with captain Owen Farrell producing a masterclass at fly-half.

It provided an element of redemption after they were shaded 15-12 by Leicester in last year’s showpiece, which they reached in their first season back in the Premiership having been relegated in 2020 for repeated salary cap breaches.

As part of their punishment they were fined £5.4million and while some players departed, the bulk of them – including their core of England stars – remained for the campaign spent in the Championship.

The loyalty shown has enabled Saracens to return to the summit of the English game and Wray, who is retiring after 13 years as a professional at his only club, has sounded a note of defiance.

“I don’t think people talk about this enough. It was the biggest fine in sporting history in a game where you lose money every year. Let’s just put that in perspective for a moment,” Wray said.

“And we have got through it. That says a lot more about the owners. They said, ‘we made a mistake and we will stay and put it right’.

“Together we have done it. We have done our bit as players – stayed and fought and gone against everyone.

“Even in this final. Everyone was with Sale. Every club in the land was with Sale. Do you know what? That’s how we like it. That is how we have always liked it. No one wants us to win and we don’t care.

“We want to do well for each other and well for the club because this club has given us everything. It has given me everything for 17 years and the least I can do is pull on this shirt with pride every week.”

Saracens’ celebrations spill over into Sunday, with the squad holding a retro sports shirt fancy dress event in London.

For Maro Itoje victory over Sale has placed the sight of Freddie Burns landing a last-gasp drop goal to clinch the title for Leicester 12 months earlier firmly in the rear-view mirror.

“I’m just happy. Last year we fell short, we got close, a drop goal was a painful way to lose,” Itoje said.

“I was tired of seeing that Freddie Burns drop goal every five minutes on BT Sport! Thank God I don’t have to go through another year of that. All in all, super happy!

“You can’t really hold on to the past too much but going through the pain of last year, I think it is fair to say we have been fairly consistent all throughout the season.

“Even when the internationals were away, the guys again stepped up. And obviously we have a few internationals, so those guys have been fantastic.”

Alex Goode admits Saracens’ Gallagher Premiership title success was driven by the regret of “not throwing a punch” during last year’s meek Twickenham final defeat.

Swashbuckling Sarries produced a high-tempo display to overcome spirited Sale 35-25 and make amends for their limp, last-gasp loss to Leicester at the same stage in 2022.

Saturday afternoon’s enthralling climax to the campaign was a milestone moment for Mark McCall’s men as they clinched silverware for the first time since being relegated for salary cap breaches three years ago.

Long-serving full-back Goode says the six-time champions were determined to avoid suffering frustration for a second successive season, having failed to score a try in a forgettable 15-12 reverse against the Tigers.

“The feeling of winning drives a lot of people,” said the former England international. “I love it. It’s really special.

“It was really disappointing for us last year with what happened. We set out in pre-season to make sure that we didn’t get that feeling again, not throwing a punch in a big game.

“We didn’t give the best account of ourselves and (this year) it was a really great example of doing what we’ve done all year and keep playing and keep going.

“We saw some of the best rugby we’ve played all year.

“There was some brilliant defence at the end but before that it was the courage and bravery to keep playing.”

Saracens ended a fragmented first half disrupted by a Just Stop Oil protest and injuries to Jamie George and Sean Maitland 20-13 ahead following a penalty try and a Max Malins score.

Sale hit back to briefly lead 25-23 after Tom Roebuck and Bevan Rodd added to Akker van der Merwe’s first-half try before Elliot Daly and Ivan van Zyl crossed to see Sarries home on a scorching afternoon in south-west London.

Goode praised the influence of Saracens and England captain Owen Farrell, who kicked 13 points en route to being named man of the match.

“He’s playing unbelievably well but he’s always been a huge big-match player,” said Goode. “How many finals has he got man of the match?

“He’s a competitor and it’s a joy to play with him when you know he’s going to stand up and be counted and take the fight to them.”

Underdogs Sale threatened to spring a surprise in only the club’s second Premiership final after finishing the regular season five points behind their table-topping opponents.

While the Sharks were unable to emulate the feat of the club’s victorious 2006 side, they produced an encouraging performance in the capital containing a standout display from Manu Tuilagi.

Director of rugby Alex Sanderson believes England centre Tuilagi is peaking at the right time moving towards this autumn’s World Cup in France.

“Manu’s playing his best rugby,” said Sanderson. “He’s at his most robust.

“We said this was the aim two-and-a-half years ago for him to be playing his best rugby going into the World Cup and we’ve achieved that.

“But he is just one of 22, 23 players that I’m immensely proud of.”

Sale captain Jono Ross, who played his last match before retirement, believes the club have exciting times ahead.

“I think it’s the start of an era,” said the South African back-rower.

“I don’t see why this team can’t be here fighting for titles year in, year out.

“There’s a lot of youth in this group and sometimes youth is ignorance. They all took it in their stride, very relaxed before the game, no-one seemed overawed. I think this team will grow.”

Ben Earl is looking to help Saracens regain the Gallagher Premiership title and put down an early World Cup selection marker at Twickenham on Saturday.

Saracens flanker Earl has been among the league’s most consistent performers, highlighted by him winning Premiership player of the season last year.

But while his England career is into double figures in terms of caps, he has made just two Test appearances since March 2021.

Earl’s experience of the Guinness Six Nations this term was restricted to a combined 52 minutes off the bench against Scotland and Italy, with back-row starting berths in Steve Borthwick’s team being fought out by the likes of Ben Curry, Jack Willis and Lewis Ludlam.

A Premiership final puts himself firmly in the spotlight, though, ahead of England’s World Cup countdown towards France later this year gathering pace.

“The moment you start looking for excuses, the moment you start thinking I am just unlucky, my face doesn’t fit, is probably the moment you give somebody the reason to drop you,” Earl said.

“I’ve kind of got to stay with it. Steve was unbelievably positive about my work in the Six Nations.

“Unfortunately, selection didn’t always go my way, but I am trying to stay positive and put my best foot forward in these big games, which are probably the games he is looking at the most.

“I think I have played as consistently as I did last year, which was a big challenge of mine.

“There is no point winning some of the accolades I did last year and not backing it up. Selfishly, the elephant in the room is that I wish I could have played a bit more for England in that Six Nations campaign.

“For whatever reason, I didn’t, and I have learnt a lot from that. I am looking forward to going again, putting my best foot forward in these big games, which has been a big focus of mine.

“The moment that you stop performing, you give someone an easy reason not to pick you. That is a big thing.

“On the flip-side, if I get a chance to play a Test match this summer, it’s got to be good.

“You look at how competitive my position is, it always feels that the person who slips up first is going to be the one that misses out.”

Saracens are back at English rugby headquarters a year after Freddie Burns’ late drop-goal saw Leicester crowned champions, leaving Earl and his team-mates deflated.

But victory over Sale, who have reached a first Premiership final since 2006, would give Saracens a sixth league crown in the past 13 seasons.

“It would mean everything to me,” Earl added. “The amount of times I have carried bags for games like these when I was a bit younger, I have always wanted to celebrate a win.

“Coming a little bit short last year has only made this group hungrier and me hungrier. To win the league after such a long slog with your boyhood club would be everything, really.

“In the 12 months I’ve learnt a huge amount in terms of getting myself right mentally, and what I can give the team if I am right. Hopefully, I can show that on Saturday.”

Sean Maitland is ready to help Saracens claim the Gallagher Premiership title on Saturday after his prolonged contract saga ended an unsettling period.

Maitland was about to prepare his departure speech for the club’s leavers’ event on April 28 because of the uncertainty over whether he would still be at StoneX Stadium next season.

It was a fraught time for the Scotland wing and his family due to the Premiership’s reduced salary cap making contracts harder to come by, but Saracens have chosen to retain his clinical finishing skills.

“It was lastminute.com. Again! The last two have been quite similar. The market is probably not the best at the moment, especially for a 34-year-old winger,” Maitland said.

“It’s a bit complicated with the salary cap and everything that’s going on in rugby.

“It doesn’t just involve me. I’m just so happy because I have a young family and my kids get to stay in the same school and in the same house for another year.

“Some things helped me – little micro-chats with my wife, small chats about the future and what could happen, keeping her updated about things here and at other clubs.

“I’m very grateful it’s sorted and I can just worry about playing rugby. To move from this club which I love would have been pretty difficult.”

The climax to the season against Sale at Twickenham on Saturday will be the last Saracens appearances for Jackson Wray, Duncan Taylor, Max Malins and Ruben de Haas.

Highlighting the precarious nature of the current landscape of English club rugby, Maitland did not know if he would be joining them out of the door, thereby ending his seven-year spell in north London.

“Before the London Irish game (April 23) I said to (performance director) Phil Morrow: ‘Am I preparing a leaver’s speech for next Friday?’. He looked at me and said: ‘We’ve got a bit of stuff to sort out’,” Maitland said.

“I didn’t hear anything on the Monday or Tuesday, and on Wednesday I was with my son knowing Friday was the leavers’ dinner and I still didn’t know what was happening.

“I got a call to come in and I had my wee son with me thinking: ‘I’m going to be told this is my last time here’.

“I sat down with Phil and (director of rugby) Mark McCall and they said: ‘Mate, we want to give you another year’. It was special.

“The game has given me so much over the last 15 or 16 years. I was accepting the fact this was my last year and wanted to go out on a high winning the Premiership, but one more year and the dream keeps going on.”

Maitland has benefited from Saracens adopting a more adventurous approach to attack shaped by last season’s Premiership final loss to Leicester and that experience – the Tigers won through a last-gasp Freddie Burns drop goal – also underlined how winning and losing can be balanced on a knife edge.

“The whole season has been special, the way we have changed how we are playing, scoring tries. To win the final would top a really special year,” Maitland said.

“But as we know from last season it’s a one-off game and anything can happen – decisions, yellow cards, red cards – and Sale are a great team.”

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.

“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.”

Saracens and Sale will wear their away kits in the Gallagher Premiership final to avoid a clash for colour-blind supporters.

As top seeds, Saracens would have worn their black home strip, with Sale in their away attire of red and maroon.

But a colour combination of black and red is among those highlighted by Colour Blind Awareness as a kit clash to avoid.

Saracens will now wear white, with Sale in maroon, offering a clear colour contrast for spectators at Twickenham on May 27 and the television audience.

“We are delighted that Premiership Rugby and the clubs have taken positive steps to avoid kit clash situations for colour-blind fans and players,” Kathryn Albany-Ward, chief executive of Colour Blind Awareness, said.

“Bearing in mind the significant number of colour-blind people (one in 12 men and one in 200 women) who watch and play rugby, it is important that the accessibility needs of these groups are recognised to enable all fans of the sport to have a positive viewing experience that isn’t limited by avoidable colour clashes.”

Premiership Rugby’s head of broadcast Ollie Lewis added: “Our clubs have been overwhelmingly supportive of our ambition to eliminate kit clashes, with a collective desire to increase inclusivity of our sport to all audiences.

“There is no better example than the Gallagher Premiership Rugby final to highlight the importance of this issue, and we look forward to continuing to work with Colour Blind Awareness to ensure that we continue to make our league as inclusive and accessible as it can be.”

Saracens triumphed 21-9 over Racing 92 to win the European Champions Cup final on this day in 2016.

Victory saw Saracens become the first English club to win the continent’s premier club competition since Wasps were crowned champions in 2007.

Saracens’ success came after they had lost twice in the semi-finals and once in the final during the previous three years.

They became the first team to win all of their nine games in the competition after Owen Farrell’s seven penalties steered them to a maiden title in Lyon.

Johan Goosen replied with three penalties for Racing, but the loss of New Zealand fly-half Dan Carter to injury early in the second half dealt a huge blow to the French side as he joined Maxime Machenaud on the sidelines.

The final proved an often ugly encounter, with neither side really threatening to score a try, but that would not worry Saracens as they ground out victory.

The teams traded penalties before Machenaud was forced off by a concussion in the 22nd minute, and Farrell kicked Saracens into a 9-3 half-time lead.

Carter, who had looked below his best, was then forced off early into the second half and Saracens continued to pull away.

“We have had big disappointments, but each time we have come back stronger and we are happy to have finally done it,” said man-of-the-match Maro Itoje.

“We knew this was a game we could win, we had the form coming into the game. We knew if we do what we do, dominate the gain line, then we could win. We will enjoy tonight and build on from there.”

Saracens lifted the trophy again 12 months later with a 28-17 victory over Clermont, then again in 2019 by beating Leinster 20-10.

Elliot Daly has been ruled out of England's Six Nations campaign with a hamstring injury, his club Saracens have confirmed.

Versatile back Daly withdrew from England's squad on Tuesday ahead of their opening match against Scotland at Twickenham a week on Saturday.

The 30-year-old, who sustained the injury ahead of Saracens' 20-14 Champions Cup loss to Edinburgh last week, is expected to miss around 12 weeks.

Saracens confirmed the news in a short statement on their official website on Friday, ending Daly's hopes of recovering in time to play a part.

England conclude their Six Nations campaign against Ireland on March 18 – seven weeks' time – as they begin a new era under head coach Steve Borthwick.

Jamie George also pulled out of England's training squad earlier this week, with Jamie Blamire and Ollie Lawrence called up as replacements.

Borthwick is also set to be without Courtney Lawes for his first match in charge at Twickenham next week, as the towering lock is struggling with a calf injury.

Hooker George McGuigan (knee) is also in the treatment room along with Luke Cowan-Dickie (ankle).

Blamire, Tom Dunn and the uncapped Jack Walker are the remaining hooker options for Borthwick. 

Steve Borthwick did not think twice about selecting Owen Farrell as captain for England's Six Nations opener against Scotland after uncertainty over his availability.

Farrell was given a four-match ban for a dangerous tackle during Saracens' clash with Gloucester on January 6, reduced to three weeks provided he completes a World Rugby tackling school programme.

The versatile 31-year-old would have missed the clash with Scotland at Twickenham on February 4, had the Rugby Football Union (RFU) not somewhat contentiously made him available for Sarries' match against Bristol a week on Saturday.

Farrell would not usually have been released to play in that game, given players are typically stood down from club duty the week before the tournament starts.

New head coach Borthwick did not hesitate to pick Farrell after being informed he was clear to face Gregor Townsend's side.

"I know there has been a period of uncertainty around Owen's availability," Borthwick said after naming his first squad on Monday.

"I was informed unequivocally by the Rugby Football Union's legal department on Friday that Owen would be available for the first game of the Six Nations.

"Owen accepts his suspension and can’t wait to be back on the field. My point of view is that I'm England head coach and my job is to select the players that are available to me.

"The disciplinary system is run completely as an independent process and I think we'd agree there should be that split – the England head coach and the disciplinary system should be completely separate, and that's the case."

Borthwick was in no doubt Farrell is the man to skipper England in a new era.

The former Leicester Tigers boss said: "I've known Owen since he was 17 or 18-years-old. Now it's normal that when a 17 or 18-year-old enters first-team training at the start of their careers, they are quiet and reserved,

"Owen's different. Owen came on to the training field and everyone was struck with awe by how hard he pushes himself.

"Everybody was also struck by how much he demanded of those around him. That's Owen, it's what he does and why he is captain of England."

Billy Vunipola, Jack Nowell and Jonny May were omitted from the squad, but Dan Cole and Elliot Daly have been recalled.

Uncapped quintet Fin Smith, Ollie Hassell-Collins, George McGuigan, Cadan Murley and Jack Walker also got the nod.

Owen Farrell is set to play in England's Six Nations opener against Scotland despite a ban for dangerous tackling.

The England captain was cited after making contact with Jack Clement's head with his shoulder in Friday's Premiership match between Saracens and Gloucester.

Farrell believed the incident did not merit a red card, prompting a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday.

A four-match ban was upheld, however, potentially ruling Farrell out until after Sarries' clash with Leicester Tigers on February 19. England play both Scotland and Italy before that date.

But the final match of the suspension will be removed if Farrell completes the World Rugby Coaching Intervention Programme, which he has indicated he intends to.

An initial six-match ban was reduced after Farrell acknowledged the charge and showed "exemplary" behaviour during the hearing process.

It could not be reduced further at the outset due to a previous five-match suspension in 2020 for a high tackle on Wasps' Charlie Atkinson.

Jamie George will miss England's November internationals after he was ruled out for 10 weeks with a foot injury.

The hooker will be sidelined until early in December due to damage done in Saracens' Premiership win over Leicester Tigers last Saturday.

George will play no part in the Red Rose's Tests against Argentina, Japan, New Zealand and South Africa.

Eddie Jones had already lost Leicester centre Guy Porter and Harlequins hooker Jack Walker to injury.

Courtney Lawes, Sam Underhill, Anthony Watson, Maro Itoje and Alex Dombrandt are among the other England players who are unavailable due to injury.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has paid tribute to HRH Queen Elizabeth II following her passing aged 96, as Northampton Saints have confirmed the postponement of their match with Saracens.

Her Majesty, the former long-term patron of the sport's governing body from her coronation in 1952 through 2016, died at her home in Balmoral the Royal Family confirmed on Thursday.

In a short statement posted to social media, the RFU expressed their condolences to the Royal Family.

"On behalf of the rugby union community in England, all at the Rugby Football Union are very saddened to hear of the death of Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II," read an official statement.

Northampton meanwhile announced shortly after the news broke that their Premiership Rugby Cup clash with Saracens set for Thursday evening would be postponed in light of the Queen's passing.

"Tonight's Premiership Rugby Cup match between Northampton Saints and Saracens has been postponed following the announcement of the death of Her Majesty the Queen," they stated.

"The thoughts of everyone at the Club are with the Royal Family at this time."

Leicester Tigers' match-winner Freddie Burns expressed his disbelief after achieving a life-long ambition by lifting the Premiership title on Saturday.

Hanro Liebenberg and Jasper Wiese scored the only tries of the final at Twickenham, but Owen Farrell kept Saracens in the game with three penalties, while Elliot Daly added another with his boot.

The last of Farrell's penalties came with four minutes remaining to level at 12-12, but late drama settled the contest in Leicester's favour as Burns stepped up with a last-minute drop goal to snatch the Tigers' first Premiership title in nine years.

The 32-year-old was only on the pitch due to a first-half injury to George Ford, who was forced off with a reoccurrence of an ankle issue in his final Leicester game before he joins Sale Sharks.

That injury will be of concern to England coach Eddie Jones ahead of his side's tour of Australia next month, but at least for Leicester, Ford's injury was not in vain.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5Live after the victory, an emotional Burns reflected on a victory that he dedicated to his family.

"I can't tell you much, I'm in disbelief right now," he said. "The fight this team has showed all year. That's my job to kick it but we were up against it and we pulled ourselves up from the depths again.

"I'm in shock. I'm over the moon. It's everything. I said when I was five years old that I had two ambitions and that was to play for my country and to win the Premiership and with a year in Japan I thought it has gone.

"It just means the world. It chokes me up just thinking about it. Not many people know but your family ride the ups and downs with you. It means as much to them as it does to me."

Saracens captain Farrell credited the Tigers for punishing his side's mistakes.

"It was a game of not making too many mistakes. They were not playing anything in their half and I think it frustrated us," he told BT Sport.

"They’ve played well all season and carried that into today. They stuck to the gameplan and when we made mistakes they punished us.

"There weren't too many cracks in that game, when mistakes were made they punished us."

George Ford is back in the England squad ahead of the upcoming Six Nations as Eddie Jones awaits an update on captain Owen Farrell, but Jonny May is out.

Farrell has endured an injury-hit season so far and suffered a setback in training last week, with his club Saracens revealing he was set to see a specialist about the unspecified issue.

While he is all but ruled out of the Six Nations opener against Scotland on February 5, England are yet to confirm if Farrell can return after the Calcutta Cup clash.

Nevertheless, Ford is back in the selection to make up for Farrell's absence against Scotland, with the Leicester Tigers fly-half seemingly set for his 78th cap.

Ford has not played for England since the 32-18 Six Nations defeat to Ireland last March, with Marcus Smith's emergence nudging him down the pecking order, but he has the chance to stake his claim once again.

Also in Monday's squad update, England confirmed May has withdrawn from the squad with a knee injury, while Courtney Lawes – initially one of the favourites to deputise as captain in Farrell's stead – must sit out training this week because of head injury protocols.

Nick Isiekwe has joined up with the squad as cover for Lawes, while Elliot Daly is in for May.


England captain Owen Farrell is a doubt for the Six Nations after suffering an injury in training.

The versatile Farrell has not played since November after undergoing ankle surgery he required due to damage done during a 32-15 victory over Australia at Twickenham.

Farrell was due to feature for Saracens in their European Challenge Cup clash with London Irish on Sunday, but the 30-year-old has suffered another setback.

Sarries said in a statement: "Owen was back in full training having recovered from the ankle injury he sustained against Australia during the Autumn internationals. 

"We will have a further update after he sees a specialist early next week."

Farrell's place in the England side has been called into question, but Eddie Jones this week firmly backed his skipper after naming his squad for a Six Nations tournament that the Red Rose start against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 5.

"We believe Owen can get into his best form very quickly and we believe he will be right to play against Scotland," the England head coach said.

“We are hopeful he's going to play this weekend. He has got a good training week with us next week and we will know whether he is right to play. We will just have to wait and see how he goes over the next couple of weeks.

"He's the best person to captain the team. Very clearly, he's the best person in my judgement to captain the team.

"If he's fit and eligible for selection, he will captain the team. If he's not then we will make an adjustment to that."

Courtney Lawes would appear to be the most likely player to take over as captain after leading his country in a win over South Africa in the absence of Farrell.

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