Hamilton: A Foot in both camps
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Jim Hamilton's career began and ended with memorable spells at Leicester Tigers and Saracens.
He believes that both of his former sides will regard their Christmas Eve Premiership showdown as 'must-win'.
The 35-year-old, who called time on his playing days at the end of last season, got his 14-year playing career up and running at Leicester in 2003 before signing off after helping Saracens win back-to-back European Rugby Champions Cups last term.
Both teams head into their meeting at Welford Road on Sunday desperate to claw themselves back to winning ways, Matt O'Connor's Tigers having lost their last four matches in all competitions while Saracens' losing run currently stands at seven games.
Naturally, Hamilton, who played in two World Cups for Scotland and was also the 1000th man to be capped by his country, will be a thoroughly interested spectator this weekend.
He believes victory is paramount for both sides but doesn't feel Leicester or Mark McCall's men should be sweating over their current form with just three points separating them in the Premiership table, Saracens sitting third and Leicester sixth.
"It's a must-win game for both teams and that's why everyone's talking about this game - it's difficult to predict who's going to win," said Hamilton, who currently works in an ambassadorial role for Saracens.
"It's not a worrying time at Leicester because they're scoring points and winning games but they are in a place of not knowing their identity.
"They've had a couple of injury problems, in terms of Manu [Tuilagi] just coming back and [Matt] Toomua coming back last week, and [Telusa] Veainu broke his cheek as well.
"No-one can expect them to be firing at the level at which they will be in three or four weeks' time.
"I think Sarries' losing run is a lot more in the limelight and a lot more of a talking point than Leicester's but, for me, you have to put a bit of perspective on it.
"You're looking at it on face value - seven losses, which is the first time that's happened for a very long time - and two of those were Anglo-Welsh Cup games.
"The losses that we've had have been close - we lost at Kingsholm (to Gloucester Rugby), and that's a notoriously tough place for any team to go and play.
"There's been a last-minute loss to Harlequins and a last-minute loss to Exeter at home.
"The big one was the Clermont game at home [a 46-14 loss on December 11]. That was a shock to everyone.
"But, for me, I'm not worried about Saracens. I think this will put them in a situation where they can recover mentally.
"They know that now, they're beatable, and it just refocuses what they're doing."
Hamilton holds both clubs dear, the former Gloucester captain having learned his trade at Leicester and having savoured multiple glories at Allianz Park, even if he only played a single minute of last May's Champions Cup final triumph against Clermont.
Just one piece of nostalgia has been given pride of place at his home, however.
"I keep the memorabilia away, although I might bring it out one day and show it off, but at the moment, I don't do that," said the former lock, who has embarked on a post-playing punditry career.
"The only jersey I've got up on my wall is my first Leicester jersey, which was given to me when I left the club - it was the number four, which was obviously Martin Johnson's number.
"I'm very proud to have played for Leicester.
"It's interesting that the bookends of my career were with two successful clubs and humbly - or realistically - it had nothing to do with me!
"I was involved in two amazing cultures, two amazing clubs. To finish my career at Saracens having won back-to-back European Cups and two Premierships in three seasons was pretty special.
"I'd say that Leicester is in my heart probably more so because of the opportunities I was given as a kid but now I work for Saracens."