Strettle keen to show improving Sarries belong at rugby’s top table

TWELVE months ago, shortly before his impending move to Saracens, David Strettle watched them edged out in a pulsating Premiership final with Leicester. And he admits that part of him enjoyed seeing them lose.

Now, as the north Londoners prepare to face the Tigers in a repeat of last year’s showpiece, the England winger’s wishes could not be more different. Strettle is desperate to help them avenge that defeat with a win at Twickenham on Saturday he believes will announce the club’s arrival at rugby’s top table.

And in doing so he also hopes to cement a place in England’s squad for the World Cup later this year, having been cruelly deprived by injury of a place in the 2007 team that finished runners-up.

Reflecting on last year’s final, he told City A.M.: “I didn’t know any of the Saracens boys before so I wasn’t thinking ‘I want my mates to win it because I know how much it means to them’. Part of me was thinking ‘I don’t want them to win it because I want to win it next year’.

“But then I realised I was going to a team that has the ability to win silverware – and I think they showed in that final that they do, they came so close. They say you learn more from defeat and I think the boys have learnt a lot. I can just sense the hunger from them.”

Victory over Leicester would complete a hat-trick for Saracens and justify Strettle’s confidence that they have improved again this term.

“The team has definitely progressed. We’ve equalled the amount of games won in a season, we’ve done the double over Leicester and Northampton,” he adds. “When we went down against Gloucester [in the semi-final], I thought ‘bloody hell’, but I knew we had 10 minutes left and I thought ‘Come on let’s go and win this’. It’s definitely going to be a tough game. But we’ve beaten them twice, we can definitely beat them – it’s just a case of rising to the occasion on the big day.”

Saracens may have attracted criticism for a style perceived as attritional, yet that does scant justice to a transformation that Strettle believes will continue to snowball.

“Winning this would be the moment we’re accepted as part of the elite,” he says. “The main thing is Saracens want to make sure it’s not a flash in the pan and create a dynasty where success breeds success – do a Leicester, pretty much, or Wasps.”

The 27-year-old, a Manchester United fan, is hoping for double joy on Saturday, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men in Champions League action hours later, and sees similarities between his two teams.

“We could be the new Man Utd,” he says. “I’m chuffed for United this year – they’ve had similar criticism to us with people saying they’re not playing flash football – but they get the job done.”

For all their improvement, Saracens’ league position has not been reflected in Martin Johnson’s squads. Strettle is the only Vicarage Road star in England’s current set-up, but he insists colleagues such as Brad Barritt, Alex Goode, wunderkind Owen Farrell (“If you threw an England shirt on his back I don’t think he’d look out of place”) and Mauritz Botha (“he’s English qualified, so it would be amazing to see him running around killing people”) are ready to join him.

Strettle himself will be happy just to avoid the heartbreak of four years ago, when he was told he’d be starting England’s first game only to break his foot two days before departing for France and missing the World Cup. “After what I went through, I just take it day by day,” he says. “But that’s life. I’ll never complain because although it might seem bad we’re very lucky to do what we do for a living.”

David Strettle is working with Cadbury Spots v Stripes to help raise awareness of Paralympic sport, playing alongside the Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby team in an exhibition match in front of hundreds of captivated spectators. Cadbury is the Official Treat Provider of the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games.