Saracens homework pays off as Elliot Daly passes his first test



After some shaky showings under the high ball at the sharp end of the World Cup, there is some doubt over whether England will persist with Elliot Daly as a full-back come the Six Nations.

That Daly is a gifted player worth a place in England’s squad is beyond doubt. Whether he is a full-back is not. Indeed, given the presence of Alex Goode and — for this season at least — Liam Williams, he was not signed by Saracens to wear the No15 exclusively. 

But in his early days as a Saracen, he is making quite an impression and, with Williams and Goode among the club’s lengthy list of long-term injury absentees, he will give himself a fighting chance of retaining his position with England in February.

Daly’s assured debut against Ospreys on Sunday came as no surprise to Mark McCall after his new signing turned up last week fully versed in the club’s moves without extra prompting.

“I’ve been unbelievably impressed with Elliot,” said director of rugby McCall. “He’s never been here, he’s not been here for pre-season.

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“For him to arrive and know everything — our calls, which are different to [his previous club] Wasps and England — and be at the level he was on his first day was mind-blowing.

“He’s taken the time to do it himself. We don’t have a playbook. But everyone calls something [moves] and you’ve got to have gone to a bit of trouble to know it inside out on your first day and he’s taken the time and the effort. 

“He’s got friends in the England camp — like Jamie and Owen — but he’s clearly gone out of his way to know his stuff and not just rock up.”

Sarries are back in Premiership action on Friday against Bath when they will be looking to move five points closer to a positive points tally. They are currently 22 points in the red, and 26 adrift of 11th-placed Leicester.

As McCall gears up for what he describes is the club’s biggest challenge, Daly is set to be joined in the starting line-up by the Saracens players who appeared in the World Cup Final for England: Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola, who has been distracting himself from salary cap misery on a charity mission in Colombia. 

The side will represent a changing of the guard, with youngsters such as fly-half Manu Vunipola stepping aside having enjoyed an “acceleration in their development” according to McCall because of injuries and the World Cup. 

With the Six Nations just two months away and rotation of ­international stars required, there will be more opportunities knocking. McCall recalled how a similar situation saw Farrell first thrive.

“Derick Hougaard tore his Achilles in 2010 and we signed Gavin Henson,” he said. 

“Gavin was doing Strictly Come ­Dancing and he couldn’t play for us for the first three months because of the show. We had to play Owen. Gavin then played a couple of games and we thought ‘let’s just play Owen’.

Daly has earned big praise from Saracens boss Mark McCall (Getty Images)

“For Manu, not only did Owen go to the World Cup but Max Malins picked up an injury from which he still hasn’t recovered. We signed Damian Willemse to make up for those absences, he got called up to the World Cup, so Manu has played and been brilliant.”

Off the pitch, Saracens will welcome a mid-season audit from Premiership Rugby as they look to prove they are operating within the parameters of the salary cap.

The club were docked 35 points and fined £5.3million for breaching the cap in the last three seasons. 

McCall was tight-lipped on Tuesday on whether Saracens had heard from PRL but it is understood the club — who say they are operating legally this term — are keen for it to take place so they can begin to move on and stifle suspicion throughout the game.

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