When it comes to rugby cakewalks, there seems to be nothing easier than the relegated side from the English Premiership bouncing straight back up. The numbers are stark. In the last four and a half seasons, the relegated clubs have suffered just six defeats in 103 Championship outings.
Bristol and London Irish have twice laid waste to the second tier, the former winning 45 from 48 and the latter 43 from 46 in their respective promotion processions.
With Newcastle now already nine wins from nine in their hiatus year away from the Premiership limelight, you can bet your house – or at least one of those that Nigel Wray co-invested with his stars that got him in salary cap trouble – that Saracens will likely go 22 wins from 22 when they have their turn slumming it down in the nether regions.
Brett Herron will be hoping it somehow won’t be all so easy-peasy. He faces Saracens this Sunday from the Harlequins bench as their demoted London rivals begin a 14-game farewell to the Premiership. But he knows from recent experience what it means to one of the unfancied second-tier clubs to cause a rare upset.
It was nearly 15 months ago – November 2018 – when London Irish arrived on Jersey for what they presumed would be a comfortable island pitstop on their return to the Prem, but it didn’t turn out that way.
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Andy Goode and Brendan Venter get into a heated debate on The Rugby Pod over Saracens salary scandal
“That was a (happy) memory that is hard to forget,” enthused Herron to RugbyPass, reflecting on the 17-14 ambush that was a rare one in the eye for big-hitters on the Discover England circuit that exists in the shadows compared to the Premiership’s ticker-tape high profile. “It was in the 82nd, 83rd minute that we scored the try that got us the victory. It was a massive high for us.
“They [Saracens] will have certain challenges they need to face,” he added, referencing the contrasting differences that exist between grounds and infrastructure in the Championship compared to the Premiership.
Herron’s Jersey, ultimately, were never a serious threat to London Irish’s promotion, but the adventure was the leg-up the out-half needed to accelerate his own career. Having had his development plagued by injury at Bath, the 24-year-old had an unfulfilled two-year detour at Ulster before island life came calling.
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“It was maybe just the wrong time for me to be there,” he conceded, reflecting on a stint in Belfast that coincided with the bottom falling out Les Kiss era around the same time the brand-damaging Paddy Jackson/Stuart Olding saga was unfolding.
“I wanted to experience a different league and a different set-up just purely because of the injuries (at Bath). I just needed a fresh start and Ulster were kind enough to allow me that opportunity.”
There were just eight appearances in 24 months, none as a starter, so the need to take a step back to go forward became imperative. One soaraway Championship season became enough to convince Quins boss Paul Gustard to offer a two-year deal and a gateway back into the big time.
“My year at Jersey was an absolutely great move. Development-wise it really helped me continue to build my game,” he explained, reflecting on the circuitous route that now had him chosen on the Stoop bench this Sunday for a league derby with so much chatter surrounding it due to Saracens’ salary cap controversy.
A veteran like Harlequins skipper Chris Robshaw has no trouble calling out his London rivals – he did so for instance in the company of RugbyPass when Saracens had the cheek not to appear at this season’s European Cup launch in Cardiff.
However, a newbie like Herron is more aware of the need to mind his Ps and Qs heading into what is primed to be a spicy affair given there has often been a level of on-field needle anyway in these derbies.
“It’s not our place to say or my place to say,” he said when quizzed about Saracens’ crisis. “I don’t know much of what has been spoken about or happened beyond closed doors. For us it is just about the London derby and we know regardless of their off-field stuff on the field they are an absolutely quality side.
“It’s about trying to front up and continue the momentum that we built against Clermont and put that onto the pitch and perform against Saracens… I don’t think it [Saracens’ relegation] changes the dynamics for us. For is it is about moving up the league. Regardless of who we face on a weekend, we want to win. We want to keep adding to our points and keep pushing for that top-four spot.”
Herron sure wants to play his part. He has started three Champions Cup pool matches at No10, scoring a belter solo try last weekend against French opposition, but he has yet to get this shirt in the league, his stints off the bench instead coming in the difficult circumstances of his team being well beaten away at Northampton and Sale.
"Hauled Harlequins off the canvas," ?
Great try by Brett Herron displaying the cause for not giving up on a bouncing ball ??????
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) January 19, 2020
“It is (awkward) but at the same time there is nothing holding you back going in and playing the game, trying to turn things around for the team,” he suggested, reflecting on the cards he has been dealt. “It’s about making those positive impacts while on, trying to get the tries, trying to get the points back in our favour.
“It’s just about being patient and when those opportunities come, try and make the most of them,” he said, explaining what attracted him to the club. “Having two young 10s, me and Marcus (Smith), there together was something that appealed to me because we could bounce off each other.
“There was the fact that Nick Evans was going to be part of the attack and someone you can mine their knowledge and experience, and a big part of it was the location because it is where my family and a lot of my friends are. It was finding the best mix off and on the field so that I’m going to be happy and won’t be too isolated.
Grudge match! https://t.co/snVwdwnp8d
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 24, 2020
“The areas I’m trying to build on is the management side of things, putting us in the right area as well as just recognising when it is on for us as backs, to step up and play with ball in hand… that is the thing I’m continuously trying to improve, as well as keeping up and making my first-up hits.
“I watch a spectrum of out-halves and the main two would be (Jonny) Wilkinson and Dan Carter. I still watch the videos of them in games to this day leading into games.
“Other players I watched a lot of were people like Matt Giteau, Finn Russell, Owen Farrell, George Ford, (Danny) Cipriani, Beauden Barrett, some of the best 10s in the world who inspire you. You see how they handle certain situations in games and you put yourself in those situations. Studying film of them really helps you implement certain aspects into your own game.”
? Who will be the key men on Sunday?
— Harlequins ? (@Harlequins) January 24, 2020
It was in his native South Africa when Herron first took up the sport before work brought the family to England where his dad is from. “I had started played tag rugby back in South Africa. I remember quite vividly it was always bare foot and it was a lot of fun.
“That is where my love for it started to form and when I came over here, it being such a big part of the English way as well, it was something that continued to push me and the more I played the more I fell in love with the game.”
A game grubbily brought into disrepute in recent times by Sunday’s opponents Saracens.
WATCH: RugbyPass travel to South Africa for this episode of Rugby Explorer – Jim Hamilton explores the stunning cities of Cape Town and Porth Elizabeth and meets the local rugby communities
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