FEATURE INTERVIEW | Alex Goode
There are 45 miles between Stadium:MK in Milton Keynes and StoneX Stadium, but there was a closer link between them on Sunday as Alex Goode celebrated his record-breaking 339th appearance for Saracens.
It was on Saturday, 10 May 2008 that Alex first took to the field for the ‘Men in Black’ in a competitive match. He had the honour of playing on that day with the man who he eclipses this afternoon, Kris Chesney, and also got to play with Richard Hill in his final game for the club.
Fast-forward 14 years and it is the former England full back who will take centre stage when he plays against Sale Sharks in a top of the table Gallagher Premiership clash. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since his debut in a 25-20 win over Bristol, but some things have stayed the same.
Over that time Alex’s consistency, dedication, determination and commitment has never waned. He has been a central pillar in Saracens’ golden years, a player who deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder with the modern greats at the club.
So, what is his Saracens story? How did he come here, what has he enjoyed and, more importantly, what is he still looking forward to?
WHY SARACENS Born in Cambridge, Alex was a good all-round sportsman who competed at the national schools athletics finals, played county tennis and was part of the Ipswich Town football academy. He was picked for the England U16 Schools rugby team but found himself behind Danny Cipriani and Adam Greendale in the queue for the No 10 jersey.
“I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about being third in line. I got to play a few games against the French academies and that allowed me to showcase my talent. A few clubs showed some interest, and I spent one summer in pre-season training at Bath when I was 17 and still at Oakham School.
“Saracens was the closest club to my home, and I had some family living close to the ground to provide me with a support system – somewhere to stay and somewhere to get fed. Mark Mapletoft was heavily involved in the Academy at that stage and, as he was an old outside half and full back, I thought he would be a good coach to learn from.
“As it happened, Mark moved on pretty quickly into the England age grade system and I ended up working with him there rather than at the club. The Academy at Saracens then wasn’t as it is now. These days the club takes real pride in its development pathway and loves nothing better than creating its own talent.
“I struggled for a couple of years to get a break and I went out on loan to play a few games on for Cambridge in National League 2. There was a clear distinction between the 1st team squad and the rest back in those days. When you look at the spine of the team from 2015-2019, it was full of home-grown players and the Academy continues to do a great job in bringing talent through.
“I can’t say I was a massive Saracens fan before I joined the club, but that has certainly changed over the years. I love the club and I feel honoured to pull on the shirt every time I get the opportunity.
COACHES “As I said, Mark Mapletoft moved on pretty quickly after my arrival, but Richard Hill came into the Academy after he hung up his boots in the wake of my debut against Bristol. He became my mentor and was hugely influential in my development. He was so important to me.
“He took me under his wing in my second year. Even though he wasn’t a back, he was able to give me so much important advice on a range of topics. I remember him telling me not to try to be the best player at Saracens – the fitness, fastest or strongest – but to study the best players in the world in my position and try to match their standards.
“He was also very helpful when it came to things like preparation and communication. Little things that I learned can make a huge difference.
“Alan Gaffney was the first senior coach I worked with at the club. He gave me a chance to make my debut at outside half. He was under pressure to deliver results and was also on his way back to Leinster at the end of that season.
“His style of attack was very good and I certainly picked a few useful points up from him. Then Eddie Jones came in for a while, but it was the arrival of Bredan Venter that really made the difference. He changed the team culture and I don’t think anyone else in the world could have achieved what he and Ed Griffiths did together. They set the tone for the successful years at the club. They got everyone to buy into a very physical, ‘all for one, one for all’ approach that still serves us so well to this day.
“Mark McCall has been here almost as long as me and is so tactically and technically astute. He gets the team to function so well and has taken our game to the next level. I just have to thank him for putting his faith in me . . . and for keeping on selecting me!
“I also can’t ignore the impact that Kevin Sorrell has had on my career. I played with him and the trust he has put in me down the years has been incredible. His is the first opinion I seek after a game, and I just hope I have repaid the faith he has shown in me.”
2010 PREMIERSHIP SEMI-FINAL – Northampton Saints 19 – 21 Saracens
Just a fantastic game to be involved in. There was a bit of beef between the two teams and the atmosphere at the Gardens was electric and they were right up for it. There was a big prize at stake with a chance for us to go to our first Premiership final. It was my first experience of a really big game and I managed to score the first try.
2011 PREMIERSHIP FINAL – Leicester Tigers 18 – 22 Saracens
Having been so disappointed to lose to Leicester the previous year, this was a case of mad euphoria. The way we defended our line for the final seven or eight minutes of added time was simply sensational as the Tigers went through 32 phases. That summed up Saracens. What a feeling!
2017 HEINEKEN CHAMPIONS CUP FINAL – Clermont Auvergne 17 – 28 Saracens
One of the best games I evver played in. Clermont were brilliant, but I set up Chris Ashton for one try and scored the final one. What a day and back-to-back European titles.
2019 HEINEKEN CHAMPIONS CUP FINAL – Saracens 20 – 10 Leinster
All the talk was about us having to play the best team in Europe – the best team of the decade. They were the reigning champions and we went to Newcastle and did the job. It was fantastic and to crown it all I was named as the European Player of the Year just after the game. I had all my teammates, my family and about 1,000 Sarries there to join in the celebrations. It was just incredible!
“I could give you four or five players for every position. I simply can’t get involved in trying to pick one team from my time at the club because I’d cause so many rows. To have had the chance to grow up with players like Owen Farrell, Brad Barritt, Jamie George and the Vunipola’s has been simply fantastic. But every time I think about one great player, another pops into my head. Thanks to everyone who has played alongside me for contributing to some of the best days of my life.”
I’ve been pretty lucky with injuries and extremely lucky with the support I’ve had from my family. My Mum and Dad have been superb all the way through my career. They’ve picked up me, dropped me off, fed me, supported me and helped me through the good times and the bad. I wouldn’t be here today, breaking the great Kris Chesney’s record without their backing and support.
“These days I also have my fiancée, Lucy, looking after me and giving me any help and support I need. We also have our young son, Remy, to keep us busy.
“And finally, I couldn’t have reached this milestone without the backing and support of ‘Mr Saracens’, Nigel Wray. Both he and his daughter, Lucy, have been fantastic to me and to my family over the past 14 years. He is just a fantastic human being and, like me, a lover of rugby and of Saracens.”