Four Saracens Academy graduates are closing in on a century of appearances for the Club, writes Matthew Hennessey.
Fly-half Owen Farrell and hooker Jamie George (who currently sit on 96 and 97 games respectively) are a handful of games away from being inducted into the Saracens 100 Club, as are forwards George Kruis (81) and Jackson Wray (86).
All four players who were members of the Saracens Academy in 2008, as well as Will Fraser (who were it not for injury setbacks in the last two seasons, would himself be nearing a century of appearances for the Club) have all gone on to become key components of the current Saracens squad.
Commenting on the impending milestones, Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall said; “When we started out here at Saracens there were nine players with less than 50 caps between them, now we have a core group of players who have been at the club for a prolonged period since that change.
“We now have ten players with over 100 caps, with a host of players who will join them this season. These players have played alongside each other consistently for some time, and in the case of George, Jackson, Jamie, Owen and Will, since they began their careers. So when we talk about togetherness, unity, or what makes a team, it is that mass of experience that counts”.
One man who has seen the progression of the aforementioned players is Saracens’ Strength and Conditioning coach Andy Edwards, who at the beginning of the 2008 season was beginning his own journey within the Saracens backroom staff as budding strength and conditioning coach.
Edwards, who was a former Saracens Academy player himself before a series of injuries unfortunately curtailed a promising career, has gone on to work for England Saxons during his time with the Club as a Strength and Conditioning coach and believes the close-knit nature of the 2008 graduates has been a key to their early success as players.
“They were a hell of lot quieter back then than they are now”, said Edwards jokingly about the 2008 Academy graduates. “They always had this ability to pull themselves together as a group, which ended up helping them out so well. We created both as players and as staff this little bubble which everyone involved bought into.
“If you can be mates with who you are working with then they are obvious benefits. You want to work harder to help each other and that’s what happened, they became a really tight-knit bunch and have gone to become the best of mates. If one thing happened to one player within the Academy group then they all went through it. They created memories and experiences that they’ll look back on together, not just as rugby players and work colleagues, but as friends.
“For me I’ve always said working with those guys was and still is a privilege. To see how they have become leaders within the Club, as well as exceptional rugby players and athletes, makes you think that the job is 100% worth it. On a personal note you want to do as much as you can to help these guys reach the highest level.
Edwards added; “You see on a day-to-day basis how important the Club means to them, and how they want to protect their environment they’ve grown up with. So to see these guys on the verge of 100 caps and playing such a vital role within the Club is very pleasing and great news for Saracens on the whole”.
2008 Saracens Academy graduates nearing a century of appearances:
Owen Farrell – 96 appearances
Jamie George – 97 appearances
George Kruis – 81 appearances
Jackson Wray – 86 appearances
Where are they now?
Top Row from left to right:
Jamie George – Key member of the Saracens squad, nearing 100 caps. Has represented England at Saxons level.
Owen Farrell – Fast tracked into Stuart Lancaster’s England squad in 2012, toured Australia with the British & Irish Lions in 2013. Has developed into one of the worlds leading No.10s.
James Short – A powerful winger etched his name into Saracens folklore scoring a try in the 2011 Premiership final. Now plays at London Irish.
Harry Spencer – Nicknamed ‘Tree’ during his time in the Academy, Spencer has played for Plymouth Albion and French sided Tarbes and Chalon. The second-rower was a member of the Newcastle Falcons squad last season.
Henry Staff – Staff left Saracens in 2012 signing for Championship side Bedford Blues where he still ply’s his trade.
Will Fraser – Will has developed into one of England’s finest back-rowers during his time with the Club. Has represented England Saxons and has trained alongside the Senior England squad.
Sam Stanley – The diminutive Stanley’s progression was cruelly interrupted by two serious knee injuries during his time with the club. Yet Stanley has gone on to recover sufficiently to showcase his undoubted skills on the International 7s circuit for England.
Bottom row from left to right:
Alex Brown – Now a key squad member for Rob Baxter’s Exeter Chiefs side.
Luke Baldwin – The quicksilver scrum-half has played for Bedford Blues and has recently moved to Championship side Bristol.
Jake Sharp – A member of Saracens’ JP Morgan 7s winning side in 2010, Sharp since moved to Bedford where the talented fly-half plays a key role.
George Kruis – Has become a vital part of the Saracens engine room. The lock forward has represented England at Saxons level.
Jackson Wray – The powerful and explosive back-rower played a key role in Saracens 13/14 season and has recently been included in England’s provisional 55-man squad.