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FEATURE Andy Christie: 'Diversity breeds strength in a group rather than weakness'

Andy Christie: 'Diversity breeds strength in a group rather than weakness'
3 months ago

Andy Christie is a rugby player existing in two contrasting ecosystems.

At Saracens, where he has developed from a teenaged academy prospect into an integral member of the group, he is surrounded by serial winners. The club’s trophy cabinets groan with the weight of six Premiership titles and three European Cups won since 2011. Three of his current team-mates – Owen Farrell, Jamie George and Alex Goode – as well as his coach, Mark McCall, were there at the genesis of this dynasty, proving that this golden age is still shining bright.

With Scotland, Christie’s national side since his debut in 2022, the outlook is rather different. In this year’s Six Nations a crop of supremely talented players spluttered to a fourth-place finish with only two wins. This followed a timid exit from the World Cup in October. The Scots have got the measure of their bitter rivals England, but, unlike Saracens, they’re seemingly incapable of producing the goods when it truly counts. 

Andy Christie
Andy Christie excelled in his first Test starts for Scotland against Italy and Ireland in the Six Nations (Photo Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

“I love playing for both teams,” Christie says, half answering a question about what Saracens have that Scotland lacks.  “They’re different playing styles and I get so much from both of them. 

“We [Scotland] just need something to go our way. We lost to France by a score. It was two points against Italy. Four points against Ireland. A referee’s decision here, the bounce of the ball there, we were so close to producing something special. We just have to trust the process. It’ll come right soon. I’m confident of that.”

Of course he’d say that. He’s only played eight times for Scotland and recently started his first Tests for his country – against Italy and Ireland in the final two games of the Six Nations. He’s not exactly going to slag off Gregor Townsend’s game-plan or the leadership group.

You can draw strength from your own internal energy and mindset and you can draw strength from others. You look around the dressing room and you can feel it when guys are on.

But this is not cliched athlete-speak. Christie’s words are born out of an environment where high performance is non-negotiable. Where success is measured in titles won and the promise of silverware serves as a platform rather than a hindrance.

“We’ve often talked about how we find the best of ourselves towards the end of the season where each game starts to feel a bit bigger,” Christie says days after Saracens’ thumping 52-7 win over cross-town rivals, Harlequins. This weekend they travel to the Premiership leaders, Northampton, before heading across the Channel to take on free-wheeling Bordeauxgles in the Champions Cup.

“What is quite refreshing is that we talk about chasing performance rather than results. I’ve been here where we’ve won games but have left the field feeling disappointed with how we played. And we’ve lost games where we’ve got together afterwards and felt proud of what we’d done. That mindset can curb your expectations and free you from anxiety. 

Andy Christie
Christie has become a key player after nailing down a regular starting spot for Saracens this season (Photo Stu Forster/Getty Images)

“When I was younger and less experienced and less mature, I’d measure myself by the number of tackles or carries I made. But a lot of these things are dictated to you by the state of the game. I made probably the most tackles I’ve ever made in my career against Ireland [a match-high of 28] but that’s partly because we didn’t have a lot of the ball. That’s just how it goes sometimes.”

Christie therefore measures himself by metrics beyond the reach of analysts and is letting go of variables beyond his command. Previously he’d be swayed by a bad night’s sleep or the inexplicable phenomena of “waking up on the wrong side of the bed”. 

He explains: “I remember speaking to Faz [Farrell] once about feeling lethargic before a game. He told me, ‘Yeah, but it doesn’t matter.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re feeling down before a match. You can still play well’.

“That really summed up his mentality for me. You can draw strength from your own internal energy and mindset and you can draw strength from others. You look around the dressing room and you can feel it when guys are on. You focus on your job and trust that others will do theirs.”

There are a lot of tough bastards in there and it’s often guys who are punching above their weight. You don’t have to look beyond Finn [Russell] who as a 10 isn’t the biggest guy but puts his body on the line every game.

Christie singles out Ben Earl, his rampaging partner in the back row whose performances for England over the Six Nations saw him nominated for player for the tournament. But Earl has also attracted attention for his exuberant celebrations following set-piece wins and turnover steals during a game which Sir Clive Woodward described as “childish antics”. Christie, though, is non-plussed.

“I could probably talk to you about this for a while to be honest,” he says after an audible scoff. “I thought it was ridiculous that people complained about it. I think when someone performs at a high level, whatever comes naturally to them in that moment should be accepted. He’s not hurting anyone, he’s not offending anyone. As someone who plays with him, I’ve found that it lifts me up and it’s something I try to feed off. I know what a quality team-mate he is and I know how much it helps the team. 

“People might not like it and complain about it, but they tend to be people who have never played at a high level or will be anywhere as good as he is. So I don’t think there’s any point listening to those people.”

Ben Earl
Christie says he feeds off the energy Ben Earl brings to Saracens despite criticism of his exuberant celebrations (Photo David Rogers/Getty Images)

Dismissing noise from beyond the dressing room is a skill Christie is working on. But occasionally a sharp barb from the outside does sting. “The comments that [Scotland] are soft can be frustrating,” he confides after recognising that perennial accusations against the team won’t go away until they make good on their potential.

“But I look at the individuals and there are a lot of tough bastards in there and it’s often guys who are punching above their weight. You don’t have to look beyond Finn [Russell] who as a 10 isn’t the biggest guy but puts his body on the line every game. Same for a guy like Ben White who properly goes for it. And then look at Rory Darge who for a back-row isn’t the biggest but he gives everything.

“That comment that we’re soft has always frustrated me, whether it’s me personally or the team, because we’ve been described as that.”

Not that he’ll let anyone tell him what he is. Born in Bristol to a mother with Scottish heritage and a Nigerian father, his mixed racial and cultural touch points have helped foster a broader perspective on identity. 

“The part I find most interesting is when people tell me that I’m English,” he says. “I don’t know who gets to decide that for me but I know it’s not random people on Twitter. I have heritage from all over the place. I’ve never fully identified as English because I’m so much more than that. So when people tell me that I’m not properly Scottish, or that I am English, I always ask, ‘Am I?’.”

Diversity is something that should be celebrated. That breeds strength in a group rather than weakness. When you’ve got loads of different views and opinions you can find multiple solutions to a problem. 

Christie is one of 24 Scottish players in the current wider squad born outside of Scotland. This has become a stick that critics have used to beat the team, accusing them of being a group of mercenaries with no genuine allegiance to the badge. Internally, though, the subject is totally ignored.

“We don’t even acknowledge it,” Christie says. “Personally I didn’t hesitate when asked to play for Scotland. And you look around at guys like Duhan [van der Merwe], who is already a [British & Irish] Lion, and others who could have their pick of just about any side in the world. They’ve chosen to be here. 

“Besides, diversity is something that should be celebrated. That breeds strength in a group rather than weakness. When you’ve got loads of different views and opinions you can find multiple solutions to a problem. So I’d say it’s a strength of ours.”

More than his prowess on the pitch, Christie’s own strength is seemingly found between his ears. He’s just turned 25 and is still finding his feet at the elite level and yet speaks with a maturity and an assuredness that belies his relative inexperience. Perhaps that’s a consequence of the ecosystem in which he exists. 

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Comments

5 Comments
A
All 112 days ago

No it isn’t……too many non Scottish……how can a Scotland team represent Scotland

C
Colin 114 days ago

Christie is not Sottish, like the majority of the Scotland team.

E
Ed the Duck 114 days ago

Great insight into the performance culture with Sarries and I predict Christie will be a fixture in the Scotland team now for some time to come. However, he is slightly missing his own point around Scotland “being soft” when he cites physicality examples in defence of that slight. The issue is much closer to the example he referenced around feeling off before a game but being told “it doesn’t matter, you can still play well” by Farrell. Until Scotland can get their psyche in that square, they will carry on folding under extreme pressure…

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