‘Every part of our club is in good shape’

When Schalk Brits flies past you driving a spray-painted old banger with four large, loud rugby players as passengers, you realise this isn’t your average club.

‘Every part of our club is in good shape’

Most sides have their team-bonding methods, but few do it as openly as Saracens.

They are a club that divide opinion, but it certainly works. Trips to Munich’s Oktoberfest and post-match war cries — which were practised under former boss, Brendan Venter — are not run of the mill for most sides.

Yet Saracens have created a team spirit and a bond that occasionally brings to mind Millwall’s old slogan: ‘No-one likes us, but we don’t care.’

The silly thing is that once you get to know the people at the club, they are almost all universally likeable. The executives may have had a few run-ins with other clubs in the past, but the bond between the players cannot be overstated.

Coming into this environment could be intimidating, but there are routines in place to ensure new recruits feel at home, such as being made to indulge in a singing contest with Kelly Brown, Scotland captain and Saracens’ resident crooner.

And then there’s the fining system that culminates in your mode of transport being the most garish known to man. It’s not subtle, but it is effective — and as Munster are likely to find out at Vicarage Road on Sunday, it is hard to combat.

“In my first year here, the club bought this old car and we all spray-painted it,” laughs Brown. “One of the fines is that you have to drive the car for a few days, a week, or a month.

“I’ve managed to avoid it; I don’t mind the spray-paint, it’s more the fact that it’s constantly on the verge of breaking down.

“What I do know is that we are an incredibly tight bunch of boys and we enjoy each other’s company. When we go to Oktoberfest, that sort of trip brings us together.

“Things like my singing are a bit of fun, it’s something I enjoy. There are quite a few of us who enjoy a sing-song.

“When Matt Stevens joined the club his first day contained a few challenges and one of them was a sing-off against me (Stevens’ rendition of ‘My Way’ stood no chance when Brown belted out ‘Bat out of Hell’).

“It’s always good when you’re on a long coach journey to sing a song.

“And it shows every part of the club is in good shape. Now it’s up to us as a team to go out there and perform.”

Right now, Saracens are performing. They were disappointed with their efforts at Thomond Park last Saturday but still escaped with a losing bonus point to leave their Heineken Cup destiny in their own hands.

Win against Munster on Sunday and the odds will be on the English side securing a quarter-final berth. It is a tantalising prospect for Brown.

“It’s a massive game,” he says. “It will be an incredibly intense and physical battle. We know we didn’t play very well last weekend, and that is something you have to give Munster credit for.

“But it’s something we spoke about straight after the game at Thomond — it’s very rare in sport to have the opportunity to put things right the next week, but we can. These double-headers always have added spice going into the second week, there is a lot on it.

“Whoever wins will have control of the pool, and there’s a lot to play for.”

In many ways, the focus on Saracens will have come as a relief to Brown. Appointed Scotland captain for the autumn internationals, he admits to huge disappointment at what was a woeful series.

Defeats to New Zealand and South Africa culminated in that shock loss to Tonga that saw Andy Robinson resign. Yet while it was difficult for Brown, he does not believe it will act as extra motivation for him this weekend.

“It’s been tough,” he admits. “What happened wasn’t down to Andy or the coaches, it was due to us as players not performing. We just need to make sure that when we return to camp in late January we are all improved as players. We want to make Scotland proud, and in the last match or two that clearly didn’t happen.

“Will it act as extra motivation this weekend? That doesn’t come into it as every game I want to play the best I can. When I came back to Saracens, it was great as the England boys were buzzing after beating New Zealand.

“This weekend will be incredibly tough. But we know we can put in the right performance that will see us do well.”

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