The Sara­cens full-back is used to do­ing it tough, says RW’s Alan Pearey

Rugby World - - Spotlight On -

T’S NOT dif­fi­cult to pick the stand­out fix­ture in this month’s Cham­pi­ons Cup first round: Toulon v Sara­cens at Stade Félix Mayol. The for­mer cham­pi­ons meet the cur­rent cham­pi­ons and Alex Goode is rel­ish­ing tick­ing an­other box on his to-do list.

“I’ve played Toulon be­fore but not in the Euro­pean Cup,” he says. “We played them in the 2009-10 Chal­lenge Cup, home and away. It was Bren­dan’s (Ven­ter) first year. We had a big ro­ta­tion at the time so Michael Ho­rak started in France and I came off the bench. I’d like to play there in a top Euro­pean game. It will be an un­be­liev­able at­mos­phere.”

For Sar­ries, who cre­ated his­tory by go­ing un­beaten in last sea­son’s com­pe­ti­tion, it’s an op­por­tu­nity to re­in­force their cre­den­tials as con­ti­nen­tal kings. For Goode, it’s a fit­ting stage on which to prove a point to Ed­die Jones.

The Eng­land coach has stead­fastly opted for Mike Brown at na­tional level, even af­ter the me­dia clam­our that ac­com­pa­nied Goode’s re­mark­able match-win­ning con­sis­tency last sea­son. It seemed in­con­ceiv­able that Goode, the Premier­ship Player of the Year, would be ig­nored on the Aus­tralia tour but ig­nored he was, and so the man who has won only four caps in the past 30 months must draw on the same mo­ti­va­tion that helped him be­come a pro­fes­sional player in the first place.

Not many rugby young­sters make it from Goode’s home city of Cam­bridge and there’s a rea­son for that.

“It’s a dif­fi­cult place to come through. The acad­e­mies folded up around it so it wasn’t in the catch­ment for Sara­cens. Northamp­ton stopped do­ing the academy when I was 13. Le­ices­ter went to Nor­folk, Sara­cens to Es­sex, and we were left on our own. At U16s only two of us from Cam­bridge got picked for East­ern Coun­ties.”

In his teens, Goode was a fly-half and would prac­tise be­fore school, tak­ing three or four balls to the park to hone his kick­ing. It gave him an edge over oth­ers but the fight for recog­ni­tion was ar­du­ous. He had nu­mer­ous tri­als to ne­go­ti­ate to reach the London & South-East U16 team and once there had a ‘prodigy’ in his path.

“I was be­hind Danny Cipri­ani, who had done it the year be­fore. Usu­ally the first team got the first game and ev­ery­one played in the sec­ond game, but the se­lec­tors were hell-bent on win­ning the tour­na­ment for some rea­son. Ev­ery­one played ex­cept me. Danny started both

Igames (v Mid­lands and North). They said, ‘You’ll come on at half-time in the sec­ond game’, and half-time went and we weren’t win­ning by enough, then it was ‘ten min­utes’, ‘five min­utes’ and I was given just 17 min­utes. I don’t think Eng­land even gave me a rat­ing be­cause it was such a small amount of time.

“But I some­how stuck in there, they wanted to see more, so they chucked me in the (Eng­land) B team. It in­spired me to work harder be­cause I wasn’t se­lected (for the firsts). I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘I haven’t been given a fair deal here’, but you have to do your best with the op­por­tu­ni­ties you get. Even­tu­ally the U16s B went to Mill­field and I started games against France West and East and played well.”

Twelve years on, is Goode be­ing given a fair deal by Ed­die Jones? Eng­land are get­ting re­sults but a feel­ing per­sists that the Sara­cen, the cat­a­lyst for some lethal counter-at­tack­ing and an art­ful game-man­ag­ing ac­com­plice for Owen Far­rell, is be­ing wasted.

Goode will roll up his sleeves as al­ways. The longest­serv­ing player at Al­lianz Park (his first league start was in Richard Hill’s last game), he be­lieves Sar­ries have the where­withal to go back-to-back in Europe, some­thing he raised even be­fore their his­toric tri­umph last May.

“It was forced into my mouth a bit!” he says now. “But it’s true, the great Man United teams went back-to-back, the Pa­tri­ots did it in a league (NFL) famous for not let­ting teams go back-to-back. We want to em­u­late them and as a young side we have a great op­por­tu­nity to do that. It’s up to us. We have the hunger and de­sire.”

The ar­rival of the “ul­tra-com­pet­i­tive” Schalk Burger, one of the best link play­ers in world rugby, gives Sar­ries an­other string to their bow. Hav­ing av­er­aged 33 points in Europe last sea­son, the at­tack bar has been set high but it’s men­tal­ity that makes Sar­ries the full pack­age.

Says Goode: “What we pride our­selves on is not be­ing a pick-and-choose side. Away from home we ex­pect to de­liver and I think that helps us mas­sively. We won at Ex­eter last year, we won at Wasps, we won at Toulouse. We put in big per­for­mances when it mat­ters. “We don’t rely on the crowd or the at­mos­phere to get us go­ing. We gen­er­ate our own en­ergy, our own vibe, and we don’t want to lose the re­spect of each other. We go hard ev­ery game and de­mand that of each other.”

Fiji “Beau­ti­ful is­lands and the friendli­est peo­ple in the world.” St Lu­cia “Vol­cano, boat trips, rain­for­est, beaches – it has ev­ery­thing.” San Diego “Very re­laxed for USA. A beach town but good for go­ing out.”

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