When people talk about great dynasties across sport, the likes of the All Blacks, New England Patriots or the Golden State Warriors will more often than not come into conversation.
The thing that sets these teams apart from the rest is their ability to maintain high standards, a winning formula and strong culture across a number of years.
The key to this is evolution.
Teams that challenge for success across the years need to keep developing and test themselves in different ways to separate them from the chasing pack.
With a target on your back, and the opposition only improving, this is borne out of necessity in today’s dog-eat-dog sporting landscape.
On the club rugby front, the team that epitomises this most is Saracens.
Their dominance across both European and domestic competition in recent years has been nothing short of exceptional.
The North London side clinched a third European title in four seasons on Saturday after another impressive unbeaten campaign – adding to their triumphs in 2016 and 2017.
The reality is the elite sides stay at the top by not resting on their laurels.
Looking back on Sarries from earlier this decade, they were a side built on the principles of old English rugby – accurate set piece, strong forward pack and a stubborn ability to grind out win after win. It was the epitome of the Steve Borthwick era.
When Mark McCall took the reigns in 2009, Saracens employed a mastermind who has constantly improved the team and moved the bottom ten per cent of their performance into something more positive and consistent. He has essentially shaped the Men in Black into an unstoppable force.
They are a side now capable of winning a game in all areas of the pitch, with the introduction of the likes of Liam Williams (signed from Scarlets in 2017) and Alex Lozowski (signed from Wasps in 2016) now making them even more of a potent and dangerous attacking force.
In addition, McCall has built a team on solid foundations, and then made them untouched in every other area, with their defence, set-piece, workrate and fitness among the best around. At out-half, they have a player – Owen Farrell – who is consistently producing mammoth displays and getting the maximum out of the players around him.
An array of their stunning attributes were on show against Leinster at St. James’ Park on Saturday: their ability to come back from 10-0 down, their ability to turn the contest around and wrestle the momentum before half-time, and their brute power and accuracy to duly up the tempo late in the second half and continually improve as the contest wore on.
While George Kruis (27 tackles), Maro Itoje (26 tackles), Jamie George (23 tackles) and Billy Vunipola (18 tackles) will milk the limelight for their impressive displays in the Champions Cup final, Brad Barritt (28 tackles) and European Player of the Year Alex Goode stood out consistently for the winners across their European campaign.
Barritt (33 in August) and Goode (31 last week) have been essential parts of the Saracens puzzle for over a decade.
And the next iteration of this side is already in the planning.
England star Elliot Daly will be added to that next season when he joins from Wasps. More class to be sprinkled across a world class squad already.
And with the Saracens second team playing Newcastle in the A-League final on Monday night, it suggests the strength in depth at Allianz Park is showing no signs of slowing down.
Scary really considering how flawless they are across every position.
A lot of the credit will undoubtedly go to the players but McCall and his coaching staff deserve immense praise for the game plan and inner belief instilled in the squad over time. They are unstoppable force and one of the most enjoyable teams to watch across any sport.
Saracens have sealed one half of the double and, with respect to Rob Baxter’s impressive Exeter, they are firm favourites to win the Gallagher Premiership before a ball is even kicked or passed in the semi-finals.
They will take a day or two off now before turning their attentions to the semi-finals on Saturday week where they will be bidding for a fourth title in five years.
For Saracens’ rivals, the hope may hope that at some point, they will hit their peak and start to decline. For now, though, there is absolutely no sign of this any time soon, especially with an average age of 27.5 years old from their 15 starting players.
Evolution never ends.
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