Mar 19, 2015
In Focus - Ben Spencer
In our latest weekly player feature, we take a look at Ben Spencer and his time at Saracens...
Ben Spencer is undoubtedly one of the games brightest prospects. A metronomic goal kicker, the Stockport born halfback is a scrumhalf who loves to dictate the tempo of a game. Since arriving at the club in 2011 as a relative unknown from Cambridge RFC, Spencer quickly established himself as a name for the future with a series of composed displays for the club with experienced duo Neil de Kock and Richard Wigglesworth sidelined with injuries. An England Saxons call-up duly followed and since Spencer has been a key player in Saracens' LV= Cup campaigns.
It's in the Anglo-Welsh cup competition that Spencer has thrived. He has scored 162 points in the LV= Cup, with his cultured left foot knocking over 22 conversions and 36 penalties in the last three seasons and he is set to emulate his 2013/14 season finishing as the competitions leading scorer.
Despite competing with current England international Richard Wigglesworth and club legend Neil de Kock for a No9 berth at the club, Spencer has continued to wow Saracens fans with some stunning performances.
His form, and efforts behind the scenes have not been lost on the Saracens coaching hierarchy. “Ben has been the most patient man at the club because he's behind many, he doesn't complain and he works unbelievably hard," said Saracens director of rugby, Mark McCall. "He's seen examples of people who have waited for the chance and are now playing every week. He’s seen the example of guys like Jamie George, who has had to wait behind guys like Schalk Brits and John Smit, and now Jamie is playing every week and that will happen to Ben as well.”
Skills coach, and Saracens Storm coach Joe Shaw: "Every single day of the week he’s in working on something to better himself and I think we’re beginning to see the results of that hard work. I definitely think he has the ability to become an international player. He’s played for England Saxons at a young age, he has played week-in-week out here at a young age in big European games, so he has the ability to do it. It’s all about earning it, and Ben has been putting in the work for those foundations for a very promising career.”
Hard work is something the man himself admits is something he needs to continue: “I think with Neil and Wiggy ahead of me I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing on the pitch and on the training ground. I’ve got to keep on improving. When these LV semi’s come around I have to play as well as possible for the team and make Mark’s (McCall) selection decision as difficult as possible. Hopefully this year I’ve been able to that. I’ve loved playing in this LV and Storm side, there’s so much energy, so much youth and the vibe on the pitch is one that is hard to beat. I love it at the club and hopefully we can go one step further this season.”
This LV=Cup campaign Spencer has certainly assumed the mantle of chief play maker. In the five cup games Spencer has kicked from hand 94 times, an average of just under 19 times per game and is once again the competitions leading scorer, with 67 points so far this season. On Sunday he will face Exeter Chiefs, a club that the 22-year old very nearly signed for after his family swapped the industrial metropolis of Manchester for the coastal beauty of the South West.
The move provided a shot-in-the-arm for Spencer, as his new place of study was the Devonian school, Ivybridge College. Ivybridge is a rugby college that has produced players such as ex-Saracens lock and Bath captain Stuart Hooper, Toulon flank Steffon Armitage and Exeter Chiefs duo Dave Ewers and Sam Hill – Spencer was in the perfect place to put his best foot forward.
Ben Spencer: “I grew up in Manchester and when I was 16 my parents decided to move down to south. They wanted a different lifestyle, more chilled out, so we made the move to the South West.
“Rugby wise, there wasn’t much interest in me when I was growing up in Manchester. I always had two other lads in front of me who played for then North and England U16s, so I didn’t really know much about where is was going.
“I moved to Ivybridge College, which is based near Plymouth. I knew the rugby culture down there was pretty strong and luckily enough Ivybridge was a very strong rugby school and I had a very good coaches in Rob Gibson (ex-Exeter Chiefs) and Tony Roques (ex-Saracens and England 7s). They were brilliant with me through my time there.”
“Once my time was up there I had a few options. I still wanted to play, and play at high level but me and my parents thought it was best that my studies took precedence. One option was to go to Loughborough, one was to go and play for the Exeter Chiefs and not study. The Chiefs were still in the Championship then and they hadn’t yet reached the Premiership. So that was another big decision for me. So I decided to go to play for Cambridge and study at Bedford University. Myself and my fly-half who I played with at Ivybridge both ended up signing for them that year, and the plan was to actually study, but that didn’t quite work out (laughs!)
“So I was playing at Cambridge, in the lower leagues, but then Moses Rauluni (former Saracens scrumhalf and ex-Academy coach) spotted me there. I then got a phone call from Saracens who asked if wanted to train in the preseason. I got the call the week Saracens were in the Premiership semi-final, it was brilliant news - it all came out of the blue."
He impressed in pre-season with performances against Toulon and Bedford Blues to earn a full time contract and he continued to perform at the highest level in both the Premiership and Heineken Cup.
It was a whirlwind year for the young scrum half who made 21 appearances and also featured for England Saxons and was part of England’s Junior World Championship squad in 2012.
In recent seasons Spencer has continued to accumulate experience and showcase his abilities in the A-League and LV= Cup with virtuoso performances that are threatening to break the Richard Wigglesworth/Neil de Kock dichotomy that has been the status-quo at Saracens for some time.
"It’s always difficult in selection, but it’s a good problem to have," revealed Spencer's coach Joe Shaw. "We’re blessed that we have two very experienced scrum-half’s at the club, which is great for Ben as he can learn from Neil de Kock and Richard Wigglesworth and that’s what he has been doing. Ben is learning from two superb scrum-halves who kick unbelievably well, and continue to work on their basics, and Ben is cut from the same cloth.
“He understands there is a future here, and we’re really excited to have him at the club. We just have to provide him with everything we can to make sure he becomes the player we all think he can be.”
For Spencer, his focus is making his mark in some big challenges on the horizon. He said: “I’m looking forward to getting some more time out there on the pitch, and we have some massive games coming up, none more so than Sunday's final. I’m just trying to take my form from one game to the next, I’m quite happy with the way I’m playing recently and hopefully I can build on that in the upcoming weeks."