Aug 18, 2016
In Focus: Saracens and Bedford: A Special Relationship
As Saracens tilt for more titles in 2016-17 draws ever closer, the pre-season preparations are turned up a notch with the usual friendly matches, staring with Friday night’s visit to the ever-welcoming Goldington Road to take on Championship semi-finalists Bedford, writes Jason Harris.
Down the years there have been many competitive and friendly encounters between these two friendly rivals, including a famous Premiership match in April 2000 during which Ryan Constable scored six tries, and more recent warm-up matches where players from both clubs get to stretch their legs in readiness for the upcoming campaign.
The friendly rivalry has been extended beyond 80 minutes in August, during which the best part of fifty players will take to the field to stake their claims for inclusion in the first team squad come the first weekend in September, because Bedford and Saracens have, for quite a few years now, established a very fruitful player exchange scheme. One of the early beneficiaries was Sarries academy boss Don Barrell, who played with distinction for both clubs, paving the way for the “special relationship” that exists today.
A lengthy list of players who followed in Barrell’s pioneering footsteps can be drawn up, as Sarries have sought to give their young and A team players more regular outing, while the Blues have enjoyed additional resources themselves.
Among the players with dual-registration and who have turned out for the Blues in recent years, then moved on to pastures new have been Biyi Alo (now at Worcester), Aaron Morris (Harlequins), Nick Fenton-Wells (Bristol), Ben Ransom (London Irish), James Short (Exeter) and Nick Auterac (Bath). Others have gone on to regular first team squad places at Allianz Park, like Will Fraser, Jackson Wray and Jared Saunders, with Mark Flanagan who made the move down the M1 over the summer looking to join them, while Jake Sharp, a former Sarries academy player, is a fixture in the Bedford back line.
Best of all, are some players who have worn the blue and the black who have gone on to exalted recognition. Former Blues regulars Mouritz Botha and Duncan Taylor achieved international honours for England and Scotland respectively, and Owen Farrell, loaned to Mike Rayer’s team early in his career, has become a Lion and a household name.
This special relationship will carry on with Joel Conlon (back row), Hayden Thompson Stringer (prop), Tom Griffiths (centre), Matt Gallagher (fullback), Tom Whiteley (scrum half), George Perkins (wing/fullback) and Billy Walker (prop) out to make a difference for the Blues, and continue simultaneously their development though the Saracens Storm. There is a collective benefit for all involved, and hopefully the arrangements in place will continue for many years to come.
Jason Harris has worked as a summariser and commentator on Sarries matches since 2002 and is columnist in the Saracens Matchday Programme.