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
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