MY DEBUT | Kris Chesney
At the last Saracens home match Kris Chesney was part of the guard of honour that welcomed Alex Goode onto the pitch for his record breaking 339th appearance for the club.
It was Kris’ record that Alex overtook and so we thought we’d ask him what he remembered of his debut for the ‘Men in Black’. It meant trawling the archives and going all the way back to 1995 and a pre-season tour of Ireland for a game played against the All Ireland League champions, Shannon.
Saracens Debut – Shannon v Saracens at Thomond Park, Friday, 31 August, 1995
Saracens Competitive Debut – Saracens 19 – 16 Gloucester, Bramley Road, Southgate, 4 November, 1995
I didn’t start playing rugby until I was 18. Before that it had been basketball and cricket. I enjoyed the social side of the game and quickly made it into the London U18 squad. That’s when the offers started coming into from clubs like Quins and Wasps. I was playing on the wing at Barking and was running around with Jason Leonard’s brothers, Scott and Richard. Jason had headed to Saracens a couple of years earlier and his advice to me was to learn my trade with Barking in National League 3, rather than take up an offer from a bigger club to play in their U21 team. That’s what I did until Mark Evans sat down with me and went through the players at Quins and Wasp and a few other clubs and showed me what sort of blockages there might be in my progression. In the end, I opted to join Saracens. The rest, as they say, is history. I started as a wing and then switched to the second and back row after Sarries had won the Tetley Bitter Cup in 1998. My first game for the club was at Thomond Park at the end of a pre-season tour to Ireland. We played Young Munster, Garryowen and finally Shannon. They had Mick Galwey and a number of other top-flight Munster men in their ranks and it was the first time I played in front of a really big crowd. That was a trip to prepare for the Courage League and we played three tough games. It was an old-style tour, with plenty of initiations and drinking.
My competitive debut for the club was slightly strange. I wasn’t picked for the first team for the game against Gloucester and there was not game for the seconds. I was on my way out on the Friday night when I got a call and was asked to come onto the replacements bench the next day. Apparently, they had changed the rules on reps being able to come on for tactical reasons, rather than just injury. My versatility came into play, and I actually got on for the second half on the wing. I was 6ft 6in tall and weighed in at 17 ½ stone, so once I picked up speed I was very difficult to stop. They used to use me coming in off the blindside wing to act as a fourth back row forward to carry off the No 8 at scrums. It was the Jonah Lomu era and everyone was comparing me to him. I nearly scored with my first touch, but it took a late Andy Lee penalty to win it for us.
I spent 14 years at Saracens and loved every minute of it. It was wonderful to go back for the game when Alex Goode broke my record. I got a big hug from Francois Pienaar, a double kiss on the cheek from Philippe Sella and a big handshake from Jamie George. What a pleasure and what an honour it was and still is to be a part of the Saracens family.
Nigel Wray coming into the club just after I’d joined made it such a wonderful experience. I got the chance to play with so many great players and made so many wonderful friends. I was delighted to see Goodey go past my 338 games. He epitomises everything that is good about Saracens.