Saracens may be under investigation for the way they organise their financial affairs off the pitch, but no one can question the wealth of talent they are supplying to the World Cup in Japan.
The reigning Premiership and Heineken Cup champions have a remarkable 15 members of their first team involved in the World Cup playing squads, plus Richard Wigglesworth, their England scrum-half, in Japan as Canada’s defence coach, making them the most dominant force at the tournament.
Saracens have eight players hoping to help England repeat their 2003 triumph while Scotland and Wales have two each with South Africa, Argentina and USA having a single member of the North London club’s squad. Saracens influence is not confined to playing at the World Cup although former fans’ favourite Schalk Brits, who spent a decade at the club, is very much part of the Springboks squad.
They also provide high profile coaches with ex-Saracens Eddie Jones and Steve Borthwick with England, Andy Farrell in a key role with Ireland and Wigglesworth part of the Canadian coaching unit.
This World Cup success is being played out against a backdrop of a continuing investigation by Premier Rugby into whether Saracens were compliant with the £7million salary cap when setting up business links between owner Nigel Wray and high profile players.
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The on-going salary cap issue, which has been handed to an independent panel, will feature heavily when the clubs hold their next PRL meeting on September 16 – just before the World Cup kicks off in Japan.
Brendan Venter provided the blueprint for Saracens success during his period as director of rugby, a role taken over by Mark McCall who has ensured the club have become the outstanding professional outfit in Europe. Venter, a World Cup winner for South Africa in 1995, has maintained close links with Saracens, regularly travelling from Cape Town where he has a GP practice. He mounts a fierce defence of his former club.
“If England win the World Cup – which they can – then Saracens will have played a huge part,” Venter told RugbyPass. “I am amazed people are that critical of Saracens because if you are an English supporter you must love the club. You would be saying ‘thank you’ because the pinnacle for rugby in England is for the national team to be successful and Saracens produce players that make England better.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 5, 2019
“It is the tall poppy syndrome and when statistics on Saracens are produced it shows the club has the most homegrown English players. The club adds to the national cause and they are not a foreign legion which is something we changed. Toulon won three Heineken Cups with a team of foreign superstars and Saracens are the complete opposite with local English stars brought through their system.
“The one thing I believe people get wrong with Saracens is that they see it as this jolly place where people have a good time, but there is an incredible competitive spirit and we call it ‘finding the monster’ in you. I remember right at the beginning of my time at the club and 14 players left, Glen Jackson (now a top New Zealand referee) came in and said ‘I must be leaving as well’. I told him not all because he had something inside that is special – that competitive spirit.
“When you see Schalk Brits and his big smile you don’t realise that what makes him and guys like Owen Farrell, Billy and Mako Vunipola, Maro Itoje and George Kruis special is they are incredible competitors. What impressed me about Andy Farrell was how competitive he was and when you talk to Mark McCall he is softly spoken individual but I played with him at London Irish and I loved his fierce competitive nature. What Saracens have today is a little bit of Brendan Venter, Andy Farrell, Paul Gustard and a lot of Mark McCall – people who built this thing. It makes me very proud to say that I had a little part to play.”
Venter paid tribute to Wray’s unwavering support and believes he template created at Saracens should be praised not pilloried. “With 15 players from one club at the World Cup is amazing and is a testament to the support of Nigel Wray who has put so much into the club and he will be so proud to have so many guys in Japan” he added.
“I’m sure he will be saying that the incredible journey he has been on with Saracens has been worthwhile because at the highest level, look at how many players I have invested in are contributing. The forming of Jamie George had a lot to do with what he learnt from Schalk Brits and John Smit and the same can be said of George Kruis who was able to tap into the incredible knowledge of Steve Borthwick when he was at the club. Everyone who came through Saracens has made the club what it is today.”
Saracens’ influence at the Rugby World Cup –
Scotland: Sean Maitland, Duncan Taylor;
Wales: Liam Williams, Rhys Carre;
South Africa: Vincent Koch, Schalk Brits (ex-Saracens);
Argentina: Juan Figallo;
USA: Titi Lamositele
Ireland: Andy Farrell;
Canada: Richard Wigglesworth;
England: Steve Borthwick, Eddie Jones.
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