After ruling the Premiership and Europe with an iron fist for the last two to three years, Saracens have lost six on the bounce across three competitions. Has the wolfpack's reign finally come to an end?
Harlequins, Sale Sharks, Gloucester, Exeter Chiefs, Harlequins and Clermont Auvergne. It's been six weeks since Saracens tasted victory, having faced defeat to the afore mentioned running order. The most concerning of which came yesterday in their rearranged Monday evening home loss to Clermont Auvergne (14-46). Considering their rule of Europe and the Premiership with an iron fist over the last two to three years, you'd be hard pressed not to find anyone unsurprised by the magnitude of the home defeat. The loss of captain and defensive leader Brad Barritt in the third minute would have undoubtly taken its toll, but not to the extent of the wolf pack's beating.
The usual brutal Saracens defence operated at a meager 74% success rate, a far cry from their usual 90% in the Premiership. A clearly sub-par performance from last years semi-finalists, but as much as stats can tell us, some things fans can sense from a side. Director of rugby, Mark McCall, has stated his side are suffering with a confidence issue and credits the issue for their dip in form.
When it comes to mentality, there are a few key players who may be struggling from a degree of mental burnout following their workload over the last six months. Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, George Kruis and Owen Farrell all took part in last seasons' knockout stages domestically and in Europe, the drawn British and Irish Lions' series and England's recent Autumn internationals. While Kruis, Mako and Farrell were rested or dropped for most games of the Autumn, having a week off here or there may allow their bodies to rest, but not necessarily their minds. But even when you take into account the importance of these four players to Saracens and the absence of the injured Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola, it's still surprising the side is struggling. Over the last few years, the difference between Saracens and other dominant teams of the past was their ability to continue their form without their internationals. So when McCall's men stumble with so many stars in their line-up, the rest of Europe begin to smell blood, not to mention the doubt flirting in the back of Saracens' minds.
As we have seen time and time again across all professional sports, mentality really is the biggest factor at top level. This rough patch will serve as a stress test, the results of which we may have to wait until 2018 to confirm.
Saracens will undoubtedly return to some sort of winning form in the Premiership and make the semi-finals, but as for their dominance in both leagues, it has perhaps begun to fade.
What are your thoughts? Has a slow decline taken hold of Saracens? Or will they return with a vengeance after a near two month dip?