May 01, 2017
Departing legends thank Saracens faithful
Saturday afternoon’s bonus-point 27-9 victory over Bristol may well be remembered as an important match in the defence of Saracens’ Premiership crown; but it will primarily be remembered for being the match where Neil De Kock and Kelly Brown bade a fond farewell to the Allianz Park faithful.
The club legends both left the field during the second-half of yesterday’s win to a rapturous ovation from the 10,000-capacity crowd. Scrum-half De Kock was playing his last of 263 Sarries matches while Brown leaves after seven years that have seen the club transformed.
Speaking after the game, the two players talked about the atmosphere and what has changed during their respective careers with the club. De Kock will be remembered as a Premiership legend but says he was humbled by the reception he received leaving the turf on Saturday.
He explained: “It’s very humbling, I said it earlier but there are far better players than myself who didn’t have the opportunity to sign off in the way we did.
“To play in front of a full house at Allianz Park where you’ve got fans and mates that you’ve played with; just to have the opportunity to go out and play with the team one last time is fantastic.
“It puts a lump in my throat every time I think about it, when I reflect and sit down tonight for the weeks, months and years to come I’ll realise how lucky I was.”
Brown’s seven years at the club have seen a flurry of major honours, starting with the 2011 Premiership title which was followed by the 2015 and 2016 titles as well as the 2016 Champions Cup.
Since his debut, the club has undergone a revolution and the former Scotland captain told of the changes that have taken place.
“I think the club has evolved since I joined.”, He said, “When I signed they’d got into the (Premiership) final in 2010 and it was the start of the whole sort of ‘new’ Saracens.
“There were a lot of good players but there were no real ‘stars’ in the side.
“Obviously through time, through success it’s sort of gone from just a bunch of mates who just go out and just play.
That is still there but now there’s an expectation on the side, we have 5/6 superstars in the team so it has evolved but the core of the culture is still there.”
Ten-times capped Springbok De Kock spoke about those values as well, saying: “People tell me that I’ve contributed so much and thank me for what I’ve done but I think I’ve learned a lot from the way the club has developed over the years.
“Talking about what we were, I was at this club prior to the revolution we talk about when Brenden Venter and Andrew Griffiths came in.
“In all honesty, we were good players and we were mates but we were just like any other team, I think when things went badly we sort of pointed fingers and looked to play the blame game.
“I think what’s stood us in good stead over the last seven or eight years and even currently is that when things go wrong, there’s nobody pointing fingers at other people.
“There’s no players turning on other players or turning on coaches, we’ve got brilliant coaches who are very level-headed and think things through before they react and I think that puts us in good stead.
“Like Kelly said, we’ve changed and have got some really world-class players now who almost coach themselves at this stage and it comes down to relationships as well; people here really understand each other.”
The ‘culture’ was embodied by the comeback victory over Bristol and speaking about the win, the two long-time friends and teammates reflected on what was required to overcome the challenge of the West-Country side.
De Kock said: “We found a way to win, that’s the strength of the squad that we have. It’s that we try and get ourselves out of difficult and sticky situations, which we did today.
“I think it took longer than we would have liked, particularly when we left the field, so maybe it’s a good time for us to retire (laughs).
“We got the job done but we’ll have a debrief and look at why we were frustrated and work forward as it’s an important part of the year now.”
Brown added: “I think we came in after the first 40 minutes and we knew exactly why things were going as they were.
“We came in and everyone was very calm and the coaches were calm. Some teams’ coaches would come in and absolutely scream at the team if they’d played like that in the first 40 minutes; but the coaches were calm.
“We spoke about it, we figured out a plan and in the second-half we were able to execute it and ultimately, we scored the four tries so we were fairly happy.”
However, De Kock had other ideas as to where the praise should have been going, exclaiming: “We put on our try-scoring machine Petrus Du Plessis! That’s what turned the screw.”
Brown shared the sentiment but joked: “He’s gutted because he’s also finished at Saracens in four weeks and was thinking: if he could play 160 games and not score a try then he’s have been slightly prouder with that stat than actually scoring!”