Feb 15, 2017
In Focus: Jim Hamilton on striking the right 'balance'
On the eve of Saracens’ Friday evening trip to face Gloucester at Kingsholm we take a closer look at Sarries lock and former Cherry & Whites captain Jim Hamilton. Here, Tony Roche talks to Jim who provides a snapshot into life at the club.
JIM HAMILTON looks ideally suited to be part of Saracens renowned forwards’ ‘Wolf Pack’. In fact you’d back Hamilton’s icy stare to give any self-respecting wolf second thoughts.
The Saracens forwards have cultivated the art of reducing the thinking time, not to mention the breathing time of opponents to such an extent that some errors really are unforced – because opponents anticipate pressure before it arrives.
All of which appears to indicate a military training regime, unforgiving and unfunny. Hamilton reveals a wholly different picture, one that might surprise the club’s supporters.
“I’ve known nothing but success since signing from Montpellier in 2014, and there’s a specific reason for that.” Hamilton insisted.
“The coaches have created an environment that is perfectly balanced. And they know exactly how to maintain that balance so that players are rotated, looked after and really appreciated.
“When we train, it is very serious yet never boring. I played for clubs where training was, above all, monotonous. No imagination, very little variety.
“Here, the quality of the coaches guarantees that training is creative and inspiring. That brings the best out of players who feel challenged all the time.
“But the flip side of the coin is having fun. We enjoy ourselves a lot, not least because we get on as a group, enjoy being together. You must enjoy your success as well as earn it.”
James Leigh Hamilton, son of an Army sergeant-major from Scotland also named James, was born in Swindon on November 17, 1982 and lived for periods in Germany and Scotland before settling in the Midlands.
He was educated at Counden Court School, Coventry and played for Barkers Butts and the Warwickshire Colts side before joining Leicester in 2003.
“I came to serious rugby later than most lads because I gave it up for a while as a youngster, I fancied myself as a footballer. I returned to rugby at 15.”
Hamilton initially played for England Under-21s before opting for Scotland, and became the 1000th capped Scot when he made his debut off the bench against Romania in 2006, the first of 63 caps.
During that time-span he also played for Edinburgh, Gloucester and Montpellier before signing for Saracens.
“I had some success with Leicester during my five years there, but nothing in my career compares with my time with Saracens.” He said.
“I was proud to play for Scotland, yet did not enjoy it as much as I’d hoped and decided to retire from Test rugby in 2015.
“When I trained all the summer with Scotland only to be told I had not made the World Cup squad, it hurt me a lot because of all the hard work I’d put in.
“However, I respected the choices made, took them on the chin. It was not easy to decide to retire from Scotland duty at that point because you won’t find anyone more passionate about representing their country than me.
“I just believed it was time, and also that I would be able to focus even harder on Saracens and nothing else. And given the quality of players around me at the club, it’s pretty much an international set-up anyway.
“With Saracens, I have known nothing but success, although I realise that a lot of hard work had been put in by so many of the players before I turned up.
“They’d started the journey a few years earlier, reaching semi-finals then finals before completing the climb by becoming champions, never allowing the disappointments to knock them off course.
“Once again, the quality of the coaches is a huge part of that journey. When I arrived, the job was all about maintaining standards and battling to stay at the top – tougher by far than actually getting there.”
Hamilton feels spoiled for choice when it comes to chosing the highlight of his career – but nothing tops last season’s European Champions Cup final victory over Racing 92 in Lyon.
“The fact we went on to win a European and Premiership ‘double’ means it’s the memory I’ll turn to most when I’m in the pipe and slippers period of my life.
“I finished the game on the pitch, having come on for Maro (Itoje), and the feeling was absolutely wonderful. It was made even better when my five-year-old son James joined me on the pitch.
“You look around and try to take in everything, yet a matter of days later we were utterly focused on retaining our Premiership title, and we succeeded.”
Another example of that coaching quality Jim Hamilton holds in such esteem.