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WILL FRASER has a dream scenario for Lyon this weekend. It involves Saracens winning the Champions Cup, the flanker scoring a try in the final and celebrating in a reclining French barber’s chair with a graceful brush-and-foam removal of a beard that is beginning to resemble that of WG Grace.
One ticked box leads to another. The beard goes if Fraser can score what is proving an elusive third try of the season.
At the start of the campaign he made a commitment to raise £5,000 for Great Ormond Street Hospital. The sponsored beard was his vehicle of choice and the target small scale at first.
“It was originally one try but I scored in the first game of the season, so we changed it to three. That has come back to bite me. I oversold myself a bit,” he said.
Nine months on, the donation total has been reached but not the try mark. He remains stuck on two with the beard officially out of control.
The flip side to the wild man of Harpenden look is that, along with the work he does on Monday evenings with autistic children at Allianz Park, it has helped him to be recognised as one of the nominees for the Aviva Premiership Community Player of the Season.
He is a little surprised to be on the four-man shortlist – back-row forwards instinctively feel awkward about being labelled do-gooders, especially as he would lose a vote for the best role model in his family.
His brother Henry’s inspirational take on life since being left paralysed from the neck down in a diving accident on holiday seven years ago saw him receive the Blyth Spirit award for courage in the face of adversity at the Professional Rugby Players’ awards ceremony last night. Using only his mouth, Henry has developed into an extraordinary artist.
“He was always very arty before his accident. It has always been in his blood. But he’s better now than he was before the accident,” said Will.
“Some of the stuff he is doing now is mind-blowing. You can’t really fathom doing something that well with your mouth. I’ve had a go and could just about manage a stick man. There are four of us brothers and we give him stick as you’d expect but he is absolutely incredible.
“He’s that good he is being commissioned now. He’s an artist in his own right.”
Henry’s work will be shown in a free exhibition at the Grove hotel in Hertfordshire on July 9. His motivational talks on the theme of ‘Pushing Myself’ have been delivered to, among others, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Wigan Warriors and the England Sevens team. His words left a lump in the throats of the full England team when they were shown a video made by him on their tour to New Zealand two years ago.
“Being challenged in life is inevitable; being defeated is optional,” he told them. “This was the fight I needed. It’s an ongoing fight I live with daily.
“It is the striving which makes life meaningful. It’s the challenge, the quest, the undone which really is the meaning life offers me. I now have the belief that the greater the challenge life offers you, the more alive you feel.”
As ever, this weekend the strapping on Will’s left wrist with bear the initials ‘HF’ as a reminder of who he is playing for and what is possible.
If he has to dig to the bottom of his internal pit of energy and emotion to bring the European Cup back to England for the first time in nine years, so be it.
Saracens have done their time as European bridesmaids. They have been a permanent feature in the knockout stages for the past five seasons, reaching the final in 2014 only to be steamrollered by Toulon.
This season it is the English champions who have been doing the steamrollering. They average 34 points per game in Europe – more than anyone else.
Opponents Racing 92, with Dan Carter and Co, will be a formidable adversary but the sense is this could be Saracens’ time. “I wouldn’t say it is set up for us but we have learnt from our past experiences of big games,” said Fraser. “That showed in our quarter-final and semi-final, when we went behind and were able to stay calm and show resilience to regain control. This is a huge opportunity.”
WASPS’ Australian flanker George Smith has been named players’ player of the year, with Saracens’ Maro Itoje winning the young player award. Wasps defence coach Brad Davis is to join the Ospreys in the summer.
BILL BEAUMONT was yesterday unveiled as World Rugby’s new chairman.