Saracens

Rugby World - - CONTENTS - Words Alan Dy­mock // Pic­tures Sam Ri­ley

With the new sea­son kick­ing off, AlAn Dy­mock swings by Al­lianz Park to see how the reign­ing men’s and women’s Pre­mier­ship champs do things…

HE KNOCKBACK never comes. In­stead, sis­ters Hay­ley and Lauren hap­pily wel­come me aboard the Raw Spirit trailer to see the lat­est play­ers’ ven­ture to hit the Al­lianz Park con­course.

It’s a cock­tail busi­ness us­ing cold­press fruit-and-veg juice and booze. A few ex-play­ers al­ready run drinks brands, with Chris Wyles and Alis­tair Har­g­reaves lu­bri­cat­ing the masses with Wolf­pack Lager, and Michael Rhodes sling­ing gin.

This one is fronted by for­mer Saracens Tim Streather and Mike Ellery – or at least it would be, had the pair not spent the week­end else­where, leav­ing Ellery’s girl­friend Hay­ley and her sis­ter in charge of mas­ter­fully fend­ing off buf­foons like me with luridly-coloured drinks…

A cheery wee wel­come should be ex­pected. Saracens is one of the more fam­ily-friendly clubs on the elite cir­cuit. Most clubs are open, but cater­ing for kids seems like a par­tic­u­lar USP here in North London. Maybe it comes from the cap­i­tal wan­der­ers-style his­tory the team

Thas en­dured, even­tu­ally scram­bling from dog-fouled pub­lic parks via Wat­ford’s Vicarage Road to find a home in Bar­net. As the club stalked into the fu­ture, it has had to adapt. The wel­come mat is def­i­nitely rolled out for any­one who wants to make use of it.

Saracens men and women are the reign­ing cham­pi­ons of their re­spec­tive Eng­lish top flights. They’re due a visit for a Wel­come To My Club fea­ture. How­ever, as we sur­vey the place on a game­less fan day ahead of the new sea­son, the whole­some­ness of it all is nailed home.

“It’s run like an Ar­gen­tinian club,” Richard Plain tells us. This fan, who in­sists he is bet­ter known as ‘The White Hel­met’ due to the pith hel­met he reg­u­larly sports in the stands – “the name could be mis­con­strued” he does con­cede – has come here for six years.

Plain made a pact with an old friend that when they could af­ford it, they would reg­u­larly at­tend pro rugby games. He ad­mits he pre­ferred the Quins brand of rugby at the time but he lived closer

to Sar­ries. On his first visit he knew he would fall in love with the club.

He ex­plains his take: “The Ar­gen­tinian way is very com­mu­nity-based. It’s not just about the sport, it’s about the whole area. There’s so much con­nected to help­ing peo­ple in need, like help­ing kids with dis­abil­i­ties or set­ting up a school, which is great. That’s part of (owner) Nigel Wray’s plan and what the club’s about. It’s lovely be­ing a part of it.”

Lovely. Yeah, that’s the thought that ric­o­chets around as our snap­per eggs on kids to punt rugby balls my way at the Rug­ger­bugs sec­tion. This is part of that strat­egy to en­sure kids aren’t bored. Judg­ing by the rel­ish in those lit­tle eyes, they are hav­ing the time of my short life.

If it seems the busi­ness has ev­ery­thing in or­der, though, owner Wray makes it clear it took sweet time to get to this.

“We’re al­most go­ing back a quar­ter of a cen­tury now, but at the be­gin­ning of it all no­body re­ally un­der­stood what it was. It was, ‘Oh we love the game, let’s get in­volved’. I wish I could have ten or 20 or 30 years back be­cause I’d do it bet­ter.

“I made so many mis­takes. Chang­ing coaches all the time. I think you only know you don’t get it with hind­sight.”

With four league ti­tles for the men, and the women tak­ing the in­au­gu­ral Tyrells Premier 15s, the play is re­ally click­ing. Off-field, there are grand schemes afoot. Plans are there to re­place the yel­low­ing West Stand, though ca­pac­ity should only in­crease by around 500 or so. There are also plans for a new high-per­for­mance cen­tre around St Al­bans.

And the club are court­ing in­vestors. Last year the co-own­ers, Jo­hann

Ru­pert’s Rem­gro group, pulled out of the club. Though com­fort­able about the fact the club is un­likely to break even this sea­son, Wray does want a part­ner.

He ex­plains: “There are a few peo­ple who are very in­ter­ested in com­ing in.

The most im­por­tant thing is that the peo­ple have got to get on. I’m not go­ing! So any money that comes in goes into the club, not to me. So it has to be a gen­uine part­ner­ship with me.

“It takes time. I’m not the sort of per­son who does much due dili­gence, ac­tu­ally, I just say, ‘Yeah, I like you’. That’s my na­ture. I’ve met peo­ple I like and I think they like me but we’ll see how it goes. Noth­ing’s done yet. But it’s not far away.”

Nor is the start of the men’s or women’s sea­son. Whether there’s at­mos­phere or not, fans here are used to win­ning rugby.

“Like an A rgent i n ian club, i t ’ s n o t just abou t the spor t , it’s about the whol e ar ea”

Women’s coach Rob Cain left to take over USA Women and Alex Auster­berry comes in. Ac­cord­ing to flanker Mar­lie Packer, there are other tweaks ahead for a side over-re­liant on the pack at times.

“We need to be­come more of a team again, but keep that win­ning phi­los­o­phy,” Packer says. “Our per­sonal dis­ci­pline can im­prove. If you look at our fi­nal in Eal­ing, Quins could have beaten us if they’d kicked a few of the penal­ties we gave away. We got let off there.

“Our de­fence was phe­nom­e­nal and we went three or four games not con­ced­ing a point. We need to make sure we work hard on that and in at­tack get big car­ri­ers on the ball, but have struc­ture be­tween us. We should play very dif­fer­ently but still ex­cit­ingly this sea­son.”

Sit­ting be­side Packer is fel­low flanker and men’s acad­emy prod­uct Jackson Wray. Look­ing at the sea­son ahead, the stal­wart says: “I al­ways want the club to be think­ing of ways to do things dif­fer­ently. Whether it’s a new stand, a new train­ing ground, trips, what­ever it is there are al­ways things hap­pen­ing.

It’s about mak­ing sure that we’re al­ways do­ing some­thing new.

“I know there’s no Amer­i­can game this year, but we al­ways want to play there ev­ery year. No one else wants to go be­cause it’s a waste of a game, but we want it. We want to lead, be­cause we go a long way to be like that on the field.”

Sar­ries men are fa­mous for bond­ing trips abroad through the sea­son but Wray goes on to say that part of the club’s true strength is its abil­ity to hold on to peo­ple. Packer says that it is very much the same for the women’s side.

Both teams want to blitz the league. What Packer would like to see is more cross­over from the men’s and women’s sec­tions – the women play­ing at Al­lianz Park is a big plus, but she would like to see the teams sup­port­ing each other at games, in the same kit, get­ting the word out so more fans sup­port the women.

She quips: “Keep do­ing what we’re do­ing, play­ing at the stan­dard we’re play­ing, then who knows, in a few sea­sons we might get an off-sea­son (trip) with the boys, show them a thing or two!

“At the mo­ment the gap is clos­ing and they’re sup­port­ing us mas­sively.”

Wray, re­call­ing the re­cent Croa­tia trip, says with a grin: “To be fair, the yacht we were on has prob­a­bly sunk by now!”

Re­fresh­ing dropDy­mock en­joys a boozy smoothie, with Hay­ley and Lauren

New de­sign What the new shirt looks likeMak­ing time Skip­per Brad Bar­ritt Ru­n­away cart Dy­mock nicks some ice cream

Hard grafters Sar­ries women train

Next gen­er­a­tionA young fan

East cheers Un­der the stand

Hel­met call With Plain and pals

Star powerWith Mar­lie Packer

Happy helperA vol­un­teer

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