Saull on a new ca­reer path as he re­turns to Twick­en­ham

Sara­cens old boy back on big stage with Ox­ford Canada star in line-up as Blues tar­get re­venge

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Varsity Match - By Char­lie Mor­gan

More than six years stretch be­tween Andy Saull’s last Twick­en­ham ap­pear­ance in Sept 2011 and the 136th men’s Var­sity Match to­day. Then, he was a reign­ing Premier­ship cham­pion with Sara­cens and a dy­namic can­di­date to in­vig­o­rate Eng­land’s back row.

Now, fol­low­ing spells with New­cas­tle Fal­cons and York­shire Carnegie, the 29-year-old open­side has un­der­taken a masters in sus­tain­able ur­ban de­vel­op­ment at Ox­ford to sup­ple­ment his first-class de­gree in fi­nan­cial eco­nom­ics. Re­search projects and in­tern­ships have shim­mied up his pri­or­ity list as a new life in real es­tate beck­ons.

Saull hopes to keep play­ing in some ca­pac­ity for as long as pos­si­ble, with ju­nior club Wood­ford if nec­es­sary. Even if the “glory days” – he rep­re­sented Sara­cens 121 times at the start of their resur­gence, shone for Eng­land Sax­ons and might have surged into Test con­tention with­out un­timely in­juries – seem dis­tant, there is no re­sent­ment.

“The way the game tran­si­tioned, a small, fetcher open­side was no longer the flavour of the month,” Saull says. “The big­ger, more de­fen­sively de­struc­tive player came in. That was never my strength.

“I would never point the fin­ger to­wards ex­ter­nal fac­tors – favouritism, in­jury – un­less I felt I’d done ev­ery­thing I could. When I look in the mir­ror and point the fin­ger at my­self, I can say, ‘You know what, I prob­a­bly wasn’t as pro­fes­sional as I could have been.’ I didn’t do all the ex­tra train­ing I could have done to give my­self the best chance to seize the op­por­tu­nity when it came.

“Look­ing back at that time, I was play­ing great rugby with great friends. The en­joy­ment I had at Sara­cens, I have no doubt, was a rea­son for my suc­cess. It was lovely to be men­tioned [as an Eng­land prospect], but you can’t turn around and think ‘what if?’

“If I knew what I’d achieve when I was a schoolkid at 15 or 16, I can only ever look at my ca­reer with pride. It’s a much nicer way of look­ing at your ca­reer for what you have achieved than what you haven’t. Other­wise, you will al­ways have a burn­ing re­gret.”

In their quest to avenge a 23-18 loss against Cam­bridge a year ago, Ox­ford have se­lected a smat­ter­ing of eye-catch­ing names, in­clud­ing Canada in­ter­na­tional Dan Moor at cen­tre. New­cas­tle Fal­con Dom Wal­douck, Saull’s course-mate and next-door neigh­bour, is on the bench. De­spite im­pres­sive wins over Hart­pury Col­lege, Trin­ity Col­lege Dublin and Northum­bria Univer­sity, though, Saull ad­mits that such a pres­ti­gious fix­ture and cer­e­mo­nial build-up brings a unique “anx­i­ety”.

“In Premier­ship fi­nals, you play against teams you have played twice, if not four times, that sea­son al­ready. In this one game, the dif­fer­ence is the un­known.”

In­ter­est­ingly, Saull cred­its re­turn­ing Blues such as cap­tain Conor Kearns for calm­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and has not been too proud to take ad­vice.

In­deed, he is fully in­vested. “The thing I al­ways find funny is that you will walk into most pro­fes­sional clubs be­fore the game and peo­ple will be go­ing, ‘Mate, did you watch the footie last night?’ At Ox­ford, an hour be­fore kick-off, the con­ver­sa­tion will be about the the­ory of rel­a­tiv­ity. But the char­ac­ters are so eclec­tic and wel­com­ing that it’s been a plea­sure to be a part of this team.”

Re­turn­ing hero: Andy Saull was once touted as an Eng­land player but re­fuses to look back in anger

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