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Saracens back on their perch to continue the dynasty

Despite spirited resistance from Sale Sharks, few members of the Twickenham crowd doubted Mark McCall's men would wrestle back their Premiership crown

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'You slip easily into driving like a lunatic, I'd a rude awakening'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Matt Kvesic was apologetic when he answered the phone the other day to RugbyPass at the time he had suggested to call. The bed delivery he was waiting on had finally shown up and he was in a momentary tizz dealing with the belated knock on the door. His evening would go on to be taken up with negotiating the step-by-step instructions regarding furniture assembly, his three-and-a-half-year-old Albie’s first big bed.


Before tackling that puzzle, though, he was soon back on the blower and sifting through quite an incredibly unforeseen season that started with Worcester going bust and Kvesic decamping to Parma to keep his career going. He made a dozen appearances for the Italians but is now back in limbo, training at home in England and waiting for the phone to buzz with the news of a possible deal somewhere.

Capped four times by his country, most recently in the final warm-up game in Newcastle prior to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the recently turned 31-year-old believes he still has plenty to offer as a player and would travel again. But right now it’s a waiting game in a bloated market where clubs are in the thick of their usual end-of-season shedding of players.

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This is Zebre | A RugbyPass Originals Documentary
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This is Zebre | A RugbyPass Originals Documentary

If there is an upside to this career uncertainty, it’s the catch-up in family time now at Kvesic’s disposal after his time away from November through to April. “It’s been lovely coming home. You miss all the little things. My missus has been, ‘Right, here’s our son. He’s yours after six months’. But it has been really nice. I do the school run, things like that. It sounds silly but I missed all that stuff, the normality of everything. It’s really nice to be back – apart from the weather.”

The frustration is that Kvesic was never meant to be away. Having come through the academy at Worcester to make the first team and then join Gloucester and Exeter, it was during the early stages of the 2020 lockdown that he agreed on a long-term deal to return to the Warriors from the Chiefs.

It was to have taken him through to the summer of 2024. Instead, he was made redundant in the first week of October 2022 when the WRFC Players Ltd’s company was liquidated in the High Court. “I’d all of this season and next season and then would have been out of contract. I signed a long-term deal from Exeter just for the stability which ironically didn’t come to fruition. In inverted commas I’m now a rugby creditor but what that means we will see, which I don’t think will be anything.”

It was late September when Kvesic played in Worcester’s last match, the Sixways win over Newcastle. “Quite a strange day,” he now recalled. “We knew that the deadline was coming quicker and quicker and once it hit that it was weird. The game was nice because we had a good crowd and it was good to put a good show on because we beat a decent Newcastle team pretty convincingly, so it was a good farewell.


“But once that weekend was over it was, ‘Right, we need to figure something out now’. The tricky thing was Wasps were at the time rumoured to be close to folding as well and it was so early in the season, only three games in. Teams were pretty much sorted. Injuries and stuff like that hadn’t happened. It was a case of biding your time, sitting tight, and seeing what happens. It was tough.”

Intriguingly, Kvesic didn’t only have the perspective of the Worcester saga as a player. His wife Felicity is a BBC investigative broadcast reporter and the rugby club’s collapse was huge news on her patch. There was no getting away from the story. “You could never leave it at the club, we’d talk about it at the club with the boys and then I’d come home and my wife would be, ‘Have you heard this, have you heard that? This is happening, that is happening’.

“Particularly when we were in trouble but still playing. There were loads of rumours flying about that X, Y and Z might happen and she was hearing all this from colleagues, contacts and whatnot. It was tough but it was also good at the same time because she understood the process. She was really good at explaining it to me and other people who weren’t completely sure what the administration side of things looked like.

“She covered the story really well because it was a story for her at the same time as it was our life, which was tough but good at the same time. It wasn’t too bad. Some sleepless nights but not too many arguments, which was good.”


That said, the wait until the mid-November Italian job was secured had its stresses. “Mentally it was quite tough. The unknown. I’m doing a financial advisory course and was halfway through that, had a plan all figured out and then it was, ‘Right, I need to go back to the drawing board a little bit, figure out how am I going to pay for my bills coming up and then figure out what my next job is going to look like’.

“I carried on training because I quite enjoy training anyway, stayed fit as best as I could. I actually used Worcester’s facilities, kept a structure. Did my weights and running at the club and just carried on life as usual until something came up. Fortunately, Zebre popped up a few weeks after and it was one of those opportunities where it would have been a silly one to turn down.”

Worcester had their on-pitch difficulties, stuck in the cycle at the lower end of the Premiership where wins were always scarce, but Zebre Parma was another experience entirely – they could never get a single cherished W. The 2022/23 URC/Challenge Cup campaign ended with defeat in all 22 matches, but Kvesic was adamant this sobering statistic wasn’t deserved.

“They are a young squad with a small budget, and I knew what I was getting myself in for. But for me, it was like, ‘Right, I’ve just dealt with a load of crap, I want to experience something a little bit different, get out of the Premiership’. I had never played outside the Premiership before and I liked watching the URC.

“I went there quite relaxed and just got with the flow and once you were there for three or four weeks, you started to get to know the guys and saw how much it all cares to everyone. You wanted to make sure you put your best performances in to help the team in any way possible.

“It was tough we weren’t quite getting the results. There were times we played some really good rugby and times we let ourselves down a little bit. The scorelines didn’t always reflect how we played, which was the toughest part. We just couldn’t stay in the game for 80 minutes, which was disappointing.”

Kvesic particularly enjoyed the promptings of attack coach Dave Williams. “He coached at Bath before so a few boys I knew said he was a really good coach. He is an excellent coach. It was a massive loss for Zebre not to be able to keep him [Williams has joined John Plumtree at the Sharks] because he was the heartbeat of the attack. He kept everything going.

“He was perfect for that team because we wanted to play an expansive brand of rugby and he knew how to do that – he facilitated that really well. He was a good coach, a good bloke and it showed as the season went on as the attack got better. We just weren’t quite clinical enough in our scrum and maul. Maul D and maul attack in particular wasn’t good enough to compete with the top teams and that along with the discipline was where we let ourselves down.”

From a lifestyle perspective, what did Kvesic make of the Italian way? “I did really enjoy it, the boys over there are great. Same as any rugby club but they were super welcoming to me. Luckily, they spoke good English because my Italian was shocking. I picked a little up but not a lot. They were really welcoming from day one really which helped massively,” he said before explaining the most Italian trait he had inherited.

“I’ll tell you what, not over there, but what I brought back with me is probably the driving. You slip very easily into driving like a lunatic and I had a rude awakening when I came back, that there were actually rules on the road and people drove a little bit more sensibly and I was in that get from A to B as quickly as possible mentality. I did really enjoy Italy. I miss the food particularly and the weather. You can see why people really enjoy it there, the lifestyle is great.”

Back at home on the edge of Worcester, Kvesic dusted off the boots to play in last weekend’s Wayne Barnes charity match and the hope is that his current wait for a new job will be worthwhile. At the moment, though, Warriors reminders are constant.

“I drive past Sixways every day because I pick my son up from school. There are two ways I go but that is the quickest, so I drive past it pretty much every day. The worst bit when I drive past is my son would be like, ‘Daddy, that’s your work, that’s rugby’. He’s three-and-a-half so he doesn’t know what is going on and I’m like, ‘Oh bless him’ because he loved it there. That gets me a little bit sometimes.

“I’m currently just floating around, still training, and I have just got to hope that something pops up. Being a rugby player at the moment is probably not the best job in the world. Well, it is the best job in the world – it’s just a tough one to get a job. Hopefully, something will pop up and I’ll be ready. In the meantime, it is just stay fit and keep working on extra-curricular stuff outside of rugby.

“I’d like to think I still have loads to offer. I have just turned 31, a young 31 last week. My body feels good. I don’t have any issues. I want to play but it’s a tough place with Wasps and Worcester going and more news this week about other teams in trouble, and with the Welsh regions as well. It’s quite a flooded market and unfortunately, back rows are the ones that maybe suffer most because there are generally three of us (starting), eight in a squad. Fingers crossed something will pop up.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m retiring. I have had lots of ups, lots of downs but rugby is great because you get to meet loads of awesome people along the way. I played at a few clubs, got to meet some amazing players, people that work at the clubs and people that really understand what makes a club.

“That is the toughest thing about Worcester, I knew a lot of these guys from when I was in the academy before that were still at the club. Some people had been there 15, 16, 17 years. It’s tough really but hopefully there is still some more rugby to be played in my legs. Time will tell.

“I didn’t take being a rugby player for granted but now more than ever I realise how lucky I am that I have had a good career. I do appreciate that. Rugby players are all the same, you get a taste of something and you want more and more. I’m still in that stage now but I have had time to think I have not done too bad. I have played nearly 200 Premiership games, played for my country which is a huge honour, so in that grand scheme of things it has been great.”

Final thought, what would Kvesic do to fix the Premiership? “The product on the pitch is brilliant, almost as good as it has been in years, but the stuff off it isn’t. It’s the finances that are killing everyone. Honestly, I wouldn’t have a clue… but probably market it better because all I see at the moment in the press, a lot of it on Twitter or whatever, is its figures are declining, numbers of people turning up to games are declining.

“I don’t understand why and the only reason I can see is the rugby demographics are aging. We need to get younger kids involved, people going to watch, and make it a bit more engaging off the pitch as it is on it. The product is on the pitch but it’s a spectacle.

“You look at the NFL. I’m not saying it could be NFL, but you look at the NFL and how it’s a day out. I know it’s a different sport and a different game but there is a lot of learnings to be had from those types of sport.”


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RUGBYPASS+ Saracens back on their perch to continue the dynasty Saracens back on their perch to continue the dynasty