Sarries develop 'tribe' mentality
Brendan Venter claims to have turned his Saracens side into a "tribe" ahead of their Guinness Premiership opener with London Irish at Twickenham on Saturday.
South African Venter (pictured), who previously had a spell at London Irish as player-coach, returned to England this pre-season at Saracens as director of rugby and the first thing he did was take his new squad to his homeland.
Venter said: "When we started on day one we talked about being a tribe - a group of people that have some things in common and enjoy each others' company.
"It is not an artificial thing. It is when you drink a cup of coffee after breakfast together instead of going up to your room - asking someone where he comes from, what his life is like...
"We went to South Africa for 10 days and that was the soul object - we wanted them to play golf together, to go shark-cage diving, build some houses, climb Table Mountain and have a couple of fantastic evenings out. I have seen what I wanted to see."
Venter's old outfit lost out in the Premiership final last season but have boosted their coaching staff by enlisting Dave Ellis, who has had success with the French national side, as defence coach.
One of the surprise packages of last term, when they were beaten by Leicester in the Premiership final, London Irish coach Toby Booth is aiming to go one better with Ellis on board.
Booth said: "He brings that extra five or 10 per cent. If you saw the France game against New Zealand in the summer when they defended through 47 phases or whatever it was you can't question that he knows what he is talking about.
"We need to keep putting ourselves in the window. Just keep putting yourself in the window of opportunity and eventually - if we get the rub of the green - we will get our day."
This Saturday at Twickenham also sees Wasps face Harlequins , still reeling from the fall-out of the fake blood affair, with outside-half Danny Cipriani bidding to put himself back in the frame for the England senior squad after being demoted to the second string.
Wasps disappointed last season, failing to qualify for the European Cup and new director of rugby Tony Hanks insists lessons have been learned.
"No-one was more critical about the way we played than the team itself and the coaches," Hanks said. "We have taken a lot on the chin in terms of taking the game apart.
"We have been fortunate that some of our staff were involved on the Lions tour of South Africa and we take all those experiences and hopefully we?ll come up with something that works."
Premiership champions Leicester start their campaign on Friday, away to Sale, with boss Richard Cockerill warning his players it will be harder this time around.
Leicester's squad has been trimmed as they balance their books - they are having their ground, Welford Road, extended - and Cockerill will be forced to juggle his resources.
He said: "It is harder to defend than it is to win. It is a very long campaign and the first objective is getting into the top four, then anything can happen.
"We have the most players (nine) in the England Elite squad but we will defend our title as hard as we can. We have lost some pretty high-profile players and we haven't been able to replace them like for like."
Sunday's fixtures see Gloucester take on Bath, Northampton face Worcester and Leeds host Newcastle - now without Jonny Wilkinson.
The England stand-off's 12 years at the club were punctuated by long absences with injury before his pre-season move to French club Toulon.
Newcastle rugby director Steve Bates said: "We haven't seen much of him anyway. We have already gone through the period when he is not around and we are coming out of the other side of it.
"He made a fantastic contribution to the club but we are moving forward."
Sale v Leicester (19:45)
Saracens v London Irish (14:30), Wasps v Harlequins (17:15)
Northampton v Worcester (13:15), Gloucester v Bath (14:30), Leeds v Newcastle (15:00)