Sport marches to a relentless beat of training sessions and matches that can allow little time for reflection, but the forced interruption of the pandemic gave Jackson Wray pause for thought.
The Saracens back-row forward has had a front-row seat for one of rugby union’s most remarkable stories: the club’s rise, fuelled by home-grown talents such as Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Wray himself, to sustained dominance of the European game, and then its fall from grace to England’s second tier following an enforced relegation for salary cap breaches.
But he admits it was only when play stopped last summer that he was able to fully appreciate the wild ride he had been on.
“In the moment, everything has been massive and unbelievable. But it has definitely been a case of having down time to really digest it and say what we did was unbelievable for that period,” Wray tells City A.M.
With that reflection came even more motivation to write another successful chapter in the club’s history. “That’s ‘to be continued’,” he says.
Saracens may be down among the part-timers in the Championship this term, but there is a palpable urgency among the squad not just to return to the top flight at the first opportunity but to add to their five Premiership titles and three Champions Cups.
“We’re hungry to finish this year strong and say hello again next season,” says Wray, who joined Saracens at 14.
“My mind has been preoccupied with wanting to be back at the top. And I think I’m not alone in that. The club deserves to be there and that’s all we’re focusing on. All we’re talking about is getting better.”
Wray on life in the Championship
Life in the Championship has been no cakewalk, though. Saracens lost their opening match of this truncated campaign at Cornish Pirates. Although they are unbeaten since, another slip-up in their final three fixtures could cost them a play-off place.
“The league is difficult,” says Wray. “But we know that when we are at our best we are very difficult to play against, no matter who it is. That’s what we’re focusing on. We’re doing a lot on ourselves and where we want to be for these games.”
Wray is careful not to sound like Saracens are taking promotion as a given. Rather than use the P word, he talks about trying to “do what needs to be done”.
But it’s clear that he and a squad that has retained most of its star names despite relegation are impatient for what comes next.
“I don’t think anyone will be looking forward to playing us next season,” he says.
“Whatever will happen will happen. But I can tell you that the players at the club are unbelievably motivated to be European champions again. And I don’t think there’ll be any stopping until that happens.”
What trading and sport have in common
Wray found another way to use his unexpected downtime when sport stopped last year: financial trading.
The 30-year-old had been dabbling since 2017, taken a few courses and even built up a modest pot. Without rugby – and when being a father of four allowed – he enjoyed honing his skills.
“I was trying to use the time as best I could,” he says. “Yes, for when I finish playing but also for now, to build something. And it’s just something I found really interesting.
“Whether it’s to do with psychology or mental skills or discipline I don’t know, but the relationship between trading and sport is a big one.
“I think it’s that approach to risk, to discipline and maybe to dealing with the pressure – of a trade that isn’t going your way, how you react to that, how strict you are to your principles.”
Now Wray has a chance to prove his trading chops as one of 10 Saracens men’s and women’s players taking part in a charity challenge with the club’s sponsor, City Index.
Whoever makes their £10,000 go furthest using a demo account gets £20,000 to donate to good causes. Wray’s are the Saracens Sport Foundation and the Matt Ratana Foundation.
“I’m hoping there’s going to be an award for the most active,” he laughs. “Because my approach to risk and the type of trading I’m doing can either win me the competition or lose it. I don’t like to be in positions for too long.
“I don’t think it needs to be a massive account to win it. There may be someone who lands on their feet with an outrageous shout.”
Wray on his coffee business and Saracens’ entrepreneurial culture
Wray has another sideline, away from Saracens and occasional trading, in his cold-brew coffee business Eighty20.
The venture was just beginning when lockdown closed off many of its potential sales outlets, such as gyms and coffee shops.
Eighty20 has been “in consolidation mode” for much of the last 12 months, but Wray and his schoolfriend turned business partner Matt are preparing for a relaunch.
“Fortunately we’re in a good position. We don’t have a mad amount of overheads and we can tread water a little bit til we really want to go,” he says.
“We’re producing more of our cold brew coffee in the next few weeks. We’ve increased our products and now we’re going again with more production to take it on to the summer and beyond.”
The Saracens dressing room has been something of an incubator for start-ups in recent years.
Wray’s former team-mates Chris Wyles and Alistair Hargreaves launched Wolfpack Lager, while George Kruis and Dom Day founded CBD brand Fourfive.
“I always want to be busy and that’s where I feel best,” he says.
“So I think the theme is trying to use the time we have, use any money that’s there to grow and learn. I think it’s just a common trait that we all want to be active and doing something well.”
Jackson and nine of his Saracens teammates are currently using demo accounts to compete in the City Index Trading Places competition for charity. You can view the leaderboards and learn more about the Trading Places Competition here: https://www.cityindex.co.uk/saracens/trading-places/