Mean machine Ben Earl has fuelled Saracens’ resurgence to brink of a Premiership and European double

To witness Saracens demolish Gloucester in their Challenge Cup quarter-final eight days ago was to watch a team back to their imperious best.

That description would also be a fine way to sum up Ben Earl’s season so far. The 24-year-old has been at the heart of Mark McCall’s side as they pursue a Premiership and European double.

As the campaign approaches the business end, it is hard to escape the feeling that Saracens have returned to the heights which saw them sweep away all opposition in England and on the Continent. It spells real trouble for their rivals.

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Ben Earl has been at the heart of Saracen’s resurgence this season after excelling on loan

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SATURDAY’S FIXTURE

Challenge Cup semi-final

Toulon v Saracens

Kick-off: 8pm, Stade Felix Mayol.

TV: LIVE on BT Sport 2 from 7.30pm.

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Scorned by fans of opposition teams for the salary-cap breach which saw Saracens rightly receive a heavy punishment, a season in the Championship was a chance for them to reassess. 

Earl was one of those forced to leave StoneX Stadium and he excelled on loan at Bristol, winning the 2020 Challenge Cup. Toulon faced Bristol in that final and now it is only the Cote d’Azur giants who stand between Saracens and another showpiece.

‘The club went through a tough time playing in the Championship and there was definitely a sense of guilt on my behalf for leaving during that,’ Earl told Sportsmail.

‘I’m very thankful for the opportunity to come back and hopefully prove why we are still one of the best teams in the land.

‘This club means everything to me. Look at what they’ve done for me. It is my extended family, having left home at 18. There are not many places where you can go to work with your best friends and your extended family. There is nowhere else I’d rather be.’

Saracens have a point to prove after the salary cap scandal and relegation to Championship

Saracens really are a band of brothers. Many teams talk of culture and togetherness, but you can see the ethos that binds McCall’s men when they take to the field.

‘No one likes us but we don’t care’ might be a chant associated with Millwall, but it applies to Saracens, too. They relish scenarios where their backs are to the wall. The cap breach was an example, albeit an extreme one.

Earl — close friends with England cricketer Zak Crawley — added: ‘The boys have a point to prove individually but we’ve started again together and it’s just the beginning for us.

‘We love it when we’re the only people in the ground fighting for each other. It’s not quite us against the world because first and foremost we do it for each other. But it sometimes feels like that, it will be the same this weekend.

Earl was one of those forced to leave the StoneX Stadium but he impressed on loan at Bristol

‘I feel I’ve come back a different player and my game has kickstarted again. Hopefully, we can end the year with special memories.’

Saracens have won five Premiership titles and three Champions Cups since 2010. After a humbling season in the second tier, Earl believes silverware this term would top past glories. You wouldn’t bet against them lifting two trophies in the coming months.

‘It would mean everything,’ Earl said of that prospect. ‘It would be a massive thank you to Nigel Wray and the people who have helped the club through a really tricky time.

‘It would mean the most out of everything this club has won.’

The 24-year-old is pushing for an England recall for the July Tests against Australia

The Premiership’s top tackler this season, Earl’s all-action style makes him a huge part of McCall’s side. ‘He’s been a real asset to us since he’s come back, and with ball in hand he’s been magnificent,’ McCall said of Earl. ‘It’s like having an extra back on the field. Some of his work off the ball to get himself into attacking positions probably goes unnoticed. He’s been superb defensively, too.

‘It’s the quality of his tackles as well as getting over the ball, slowing opposition ball and stealing. He’s had a great season.’

Earl has 13 England caps, all of which have come as a substitute, but hasn’t featured in a Test in more than a year. He must be in the frame to return to Eddie Jones’s squad for the July Tests against Australia.

He is part of a full-strength Saracens side who should have too much for Toulon on Saturday if the performance which destroyed Gloucester is repeated. The return of Mako Vunipola is a boost, while Toulon are still without injured wing Cheslin Kolbe. At their best, Saracens are too good for the majority of teams.

They look very close to that form right now.

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