Saracens 14-24 Clermont Auvergne, Heineken Cup, Pool 2
McCall demands level playing field
ESPNscrum Staff
January 21, 2011
Saracens' Matt Stevens pictured during a warm-up, Saracens v Clermont Auvergne, Heineken Cup, Vicarage Road, Watford, England, January 21, 2011
Saracens' Matt Stevens could be set for his first senior outing in two years next week © Getty Images
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Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall believes English clubs are not fighting on a level-footing with their competitors in Europe.

McCall aired his views after watching his side bow out of the Heineken Cup with a 24-14 defeat to Clermont Auvergne at Vicarage Road. Sarries have found the power of Clermont and fellow pool heavyweights Leinster and Racing Metro too much to handle with five defeats in six games, and McCall believes the Aviva Premiership salary cap, significantly less than that allowed for French clubs, is proving a major hindrance. McCall also hit out at the way Magners League teams qualify for the competition.

"We have a number of injuries at the moment so I was very proud of the performance and particularly the young academy boys who've come through this season," he said. "The situation with the Heineken Cup is a difficult one because the English and French clubs have to compete very strongly to qualify, whereas the eight or nine in the Magners League go straight through.

"It is not a level playing field, particularly when you include the gap that exists between English and French clubs in terms of squad size and you then compare our salary cap with theirs. It's very difficult to compete against a team, for example, with Clermont's resources.

"I'd love to have had a full deck available for some of these Heineken Cup games but it hasn't been possible. Last weekend against Leinster we were well beaten by a better team, but in the other four defeats we've had chances and we've simply not been as clinical as our opponents in terms of finishing.

"The 10-point margin in this defeat looks like we lost convincingly, but we were actually the better team for periods but their second try before half-time was a killer blow. Overall it's been a huge learning experience for a number of our lads, which in itself is very valuable."

McCall also revealed that new signing Matt Stevens could be handed a first-team debut in next weekend's Anglo-Welsh Cup clash against the Scarlets in Wales. The former Bath man, 28, has just returned from a two-year ban for cocaine use and plays his first game of rugby since that ban for Saracens 'A' team against their Wasps counterparts on Monday night.

"It is possible that Matt could make his first-team debut in the LV= Cup in Wales on Saturday, depending on how he fares on Monday night in what will be his first game of rugby in two years," he said.

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