'It's a proper rivalry, I'd say there is as close to hatred there'
Jamie George can’t wait to get stuck into Harlequins on Saturday when Saracens renew their feisty relationship with their fiercest London rivals. Ever since the capital city clubs won their respective first Gallagher Premiership titles, Sarries in 2011 followed by Quins the year after, there has been no love lost between the pair and their derby matches have become must-watch affairs.
Saracens have won four more titles since their breakthrough eleven years ago but that trophy haul came at a price as the club was automatically relegated to the Championship for repeated breaches of the salary cap.
Their absence prised the door open for Harlequins to come from nowhere to enjoy a swashbuckling title win over Exeter in last June’s incredibly high-scoring final and they now put that trophy defence on the line when they visit the StoneX in this weekend’s semi-final clash between the teams that finished second and third on the regular-season ladder behind table-toppers Leicester who host Northampton in their playoff.
George has been on the go at Saracens since a November 2009 Anglo-Welsh Cup debut, going on to enjoy a maiden run in the derby with a May 2011 appearance in the 16-13 end-of-regular-season win over Harlequins at The Stoop two weeks before the action switched across the road to Twickenham where Mark McCall’s side lifted their first trophy at the expense of Leicester.
Eleven years later, no motivation is needed to get George and co up for this latest renewal of the Saracens versus Harlequins fixture, the hooker kickstarting his view by recalling how he felt seeing their rivals win last year’s Premiership final.
“Watching that final, watching them lift it, I am jealous. I’m jealous because I have been in those situations, I know how good they are. But at the same time, I have close friends in that team and I was happy for them. What I make of the rivalry is it’s a proper one, it’s a proper rivalry. I’d say there is as close to hatred there. There have been a lot of words thrown around, a lot of talk and look, I think you look back at any of the Sarries-Quins games over the last few years they are always pretty tense and quite full-on, pretty feisty so that is what we are looking to this weekend.
“We don’t need to speak about the motivation, the motivation is there. Each and every person in the team, in the 23 this weekend and the non-23, the coaches, they have all had their own experiences, they have all got their own motivators and I guess it’s not for me as a leader in this team, it’s not for Owen (Farrell) as a leader of this team to tell people how they should be feeling.
“But I know for a fact that people are remembering those things (the words Harlequins have said over the years and the over-celebrated celebrations whenever they beat Saracens), I know for a fact that we will be as motivated as ever to put in a performance this weekend because we owe it to ourselves for everything we have been through over the last couple of years. It’s time to show to each other how much it means to play at this club.”
It was when Saracens were in their title-winning pomp when Harlequins used to rub regular-season wins in the face of the London neighbours. What did George make of all that jazz? “At that period we were the team to beat, winning against us meant a huge amount to anyone. We also don’t ever undervalue the impact that winning has. They would celebrate hard when they beat us but rightly so. At the time we were the best team in the league so I’d be celebrating too.”
And his own memories of memorable Saracens wins? “A couple down there at their place, 2015 I think we beat them early on in the season 30-odd nil. To nil them at their place was a good one. There’s a load of history together, a lot of good games, we have won a few, lost a few but I love playing in those games because they are full-on.
“At the same time you talk a lot about off the field but they are all about actions on the field and they are a good team, they have got great players and I know the intensity, the rivalry, all that stuff will come out in games like this. They are a team we have a lot of respect for. They are a team that we want to make sure we are beating on Saturday.”
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