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Saracens will be 'double-dipping'

Thu, 15 May 2014 12:06
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Saracens boss Nigel Wray believes his team has a new take on 'double-dipping', as they take two shots at a major European title.

The Sarries chairman, who has invested an estimated £40 million of his own money in helping transform a 'Cinderella' side into a major force, recent said: "We are on the verge of history - or nothing."

Saturday sees Saracens play London rivals Harlequins in an English Premiership semifinal, while the weekend after they contest their first European Cup Final against French defending champions Toulon - the team that beat them in the semifinals last season.

"It's great to be there, but what we don't want to be known as is the side who played a great semi-final," Wray told AFP in an interview at Saracens' Allianz Park.

The ground, Saracens' home since February last year, is situated in the north-west London suburb of Mill Hill, close to the private school of the same name where Wray was introduced to the sport.

He later played at county level for Hampshire, but by the time Saracens came calling had already achieved considerable financial success in the City of London.

"When the game went professional in 1995 I thought 'it would be nice to get involved with that'," Wray recalled.

"Coincidentally, Saracens came to see me about sponsorship so we ended up not doing sponsorship but me, essentially, buying most of the club and thinking that would be enough money to keep it going.

"I think it had all gone within a year, so one had to have a pretty major re-think," added Wray.

Just as is the case now with a star-studded Toulon side bankrolled by wealthy publisher Mourad Boudjellal and featuring the likes of Jonny Wilkinson and Matt Giteau, Saracens soon became known for their impressive list of big-name players.

"In 1998 we won the [English] Cup and we almost won the league.

"I think the failure was we didn't understand why. It was because we had very good people - Francois Pienaar, Philippe Sella, Kyran Bracken, Paddy Johns, Michael Lynagh - these weren't just good players, they were very good people and we didn't actually get that.

"We then stuttered for the best part of 10 years."

But the arrival of Edward Griffiths, the former South Africa Rugby Union Chief Executive and directors of rugby such as retired Springbok Brendan Venter and current boss Mark McCall, helped create what Wray calls the "Saracens revolution" that propelled the club to the Premiership title in 2011.

On the field, this been exemplified by the 'Wolf Pack' defence instituted by coach Paul Gustard, but Wray said the changed environment extended far beyond the touchline.

"We now definitely have a culture whereby everyone matters from the kit man, everybody's family matters.

"I think if you asked any other Premiership club, they would say Saracens are a team," said Wray of a side now captained by former England skipper Steve Borthwick and including current Red Rose stars such as Chris Ashton, Owen Farrell and the Vunipola brothers.

"That's what we got wrong for many years."

With the Rugby Champions Cup set to replace the European Cup from next season, Wray believes club rugby is on the verge of "a major explosion in interest and activity" over the next 10 years.

"There's no doubt sport sells television," said Wray.

"But what about Google? What about all the social media channels? Sport is a language that everyone speaks."

While lamenting the absence of a common European salary cap ("we can't all play by different sets of rules"), Wray was relaxed about the recent television deal agreed by France's Top 14 worth £290 million in total over the next five seasons - by the far most lucrative broadcast contract for a domestic rugby tournament.

"I'm jolly pleased about their television deal because it means ours should do the same next time," he said.

And while some of the other 'new' owners from the 'Class of 95' have come and gone, the 66-year-old Wray plans on being around a while yet.

"How much longer is He [God] going to give me? I don't know but I'm not going to give up."

AFP

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