They may not be everyone’s favourite club but over the last few years Saracens have really led the way in terms of club rugby. As a Sale Sharks fan I often find myself looking on in envy as they continue to innovate both on and off the pitch in ways that most teams can only dream of.
It was during Debbie Knight’s recent interview with Saracens Chairman Nigel Wray that it really dawned on me just why the club has been so successful in recent seasons. Now I’m sure there will be fans who point to the vast amounts of money available to the club, however there is far more to Saracens than big budgets.
The most obvious initiative (beyond the recruitment of top quality players) is their ‘Big Game’ events, with the most recent game at Wembley breaking the World Record attendance for a club game with 83,889 supporters turning up on the day. With an average attendance of less than a tenth of this figure at Allianz Park the club really do pull out all the stops for their ‘Big Games’ as they turn the day into a full blown family event.
As far as I’m concerned there are probably only 2 other clubs in the Premiership at the moment who might be able to pull off a similar kind of attendance figure at a one off event, although both those sides have a significantly higher average attendance. The 83,889 crowd is even more impressive given that Wasps are hosting a similar event (The Stinger) at Twickenham in a few weeks and have announced that so far 30,000+ tickets have been sold.
Whilst Saracens ability to attract fans to huge one-off events is mightily impressive, the thing that really stands out for me about the club is just how much the players seem to love being there. I am yet to see an interview with a Saracens player who looks disheartened at the club or who has anything but complete praise for all things Sarries. There is clearly an incredible bond forged between the players at Saracens that has every player excited to be at the club and willing to put their body on the line for the cause. Just see the video below for a demonstration of how strong the team spirit seems to be.
The camaraderie between the Saracens players hasn’t happened overnight however, it has been a work in progress for a number of years with the club continuing to put the players welfare first. Trips to New York and Oktoberfest have been highlighted over the past couple of seasons as great team bonding exercises and a fantastic way for players to relax mid-season whilst still being around the team.
Whilst the trips away are obviously a huge bonus to the players, they are just one of a number of benefits that a player receives when joining Saracens. From a club crèche through to club support in preparing for life after rugby Saracens really do have it all covered. Players have been provided with advice and opportunities on starting new businesses and work placements that ensure players are well looked after, even once they have retired from playing. It is therefore no wonder that players are so keen to join the club.
Saracens also recently sent scouts to a rugby union try-out in the US for NFL drop-outs in a bid to find the next Carlin Isles. It is this kind of willingness to embrace every opportunity rugby offers that will continue to see Saracens at the forefront of club innovation. We must also remember that Saracens were the first professional team to embrace the 4G turn which seems to be paying dividends for the club as we speak.
It just seems a shame that whilst Saracens are so committed to pushing the boundaries of modern professional rugby, so many clubs continue to live in their dark ages in both their thinking and approach to the game as a whole. It is therefore no wonder that players seem so keen to join the club whilst those already there look like they would be happy to never leave. It is this kind of set-up that is going to ensure that Saracens continue to be a major player in club rugby, and as the old saying goes “success breeds success”…