‘Counter-caterpillar’ explained: Saracens’ controversial new tactic – and how they got away with it


Foley’s explanation was quick and clear. As Isiekwe stepped around, he said: “They’re fully bound”. Then, after Quirke’s kick sailed into touch, Foley added: “They’re fine, there. They’re always fully-bound, and entitled to come around.”

Alex Sanderson, the Sale director of rugby, knows all about Saracens’ creativity in the dark arts. He was expecting some quirky tactics and it did not surprise him that they centred upon how Sharks would attempt to exit their own territory.

To play devil’s advocate, should Foley have warned Sale? He points out that, while this was the most “different” question he had fielded from a coach, an important distinction is that Saracens’ original inquiry was conceptual. They will have targeted Sale, who box-kick a lot, but face caterpillar kings Exeter this weekend as well.

“We don’t want to stifle innovation and if we can solve problems in the lead-up to a game, we don’t have to solve them in the heat of battle,” Foley says. “The teams are coming up with the ideas. We’re just dealing with that as and when they happen.

“Let’s say they’d raised a question about something Sale were doing, we would always share that with Sale,” he adds. “Because this was just a clarification on law, we wouldn’t share it. Just because they’ve thought a bit, why should Saracens be disadvantaged by us giving away that game plan? We wouldn’t give away a game plan, but we would share concerns.”

With Isiekwe in the back row behind a lock pairing of Tim Swinson and Maro Itoje, Saracens had an ideal trio of rangy forwards with which to mount crab attacks. And they were typically diligent and intuitive in using it.

Here, Mako Vunipola initially bound on to Isiekwe before calling in Swinson to creep around and pressurise Quirke:


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