Alex Goode relaxed and ready for England challenge

There is not a trace of nervousness about Alex Goode. For a man on the cusp of a first senior appearance for his country, the young Saracen seems remarkably at ease. Discussing England’s upcoming visit of South Africa, his words are laced with lucid excitement rather than edgy apprehension, his relaxed manner almost disarming. Then again, perhaps this charming blend of self-assurance and enthusiasm shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, those are the traits that have got him here in the first place.

“I guess consistency has been the key for me,” Goode shrugs, forthright yet thoughtful. “That is what I pride myself on. I played in every Premiership game this year and although it’s a cliché, it is so important to keep playing well. Only then do you knock on the door for higher honours.

“It was disappointing not to get a look in during the previous regime but now I have got a chance and I strongly believe that I can make the step up effectively. As far as I’m concerned, I need to make sure that I use my qualities to the best of my ability.”

Named in Stuart Lancaster’s 42-man touring party just three days after his 24th birthday, Goode is continuing an inevitable ascension up the pecking order. Presently, only Mike Brown and Ben Foden stand in the way of a cap in the number 15 shirt. Some dark fog still surrounds Toby Flood’s involvement too, meaning that other opportunities closer to the scrum may surface over what will be – with three Tests and two bruising midweek matches – an extremely arduous five weeks.

Creative enough to direct Saracens’ attack, Goode has also shown impeccably unflappable skills under the high ball and with the boot since making his competitive debut back in 2008. He has been a key cog in the Fez-heads’ immense resurgence that, after a first foray into the Heineken Cup knockout stages this term, is gathering momentum.

Having presided over the former Oakham School pupil during his tenure of the Saxons, Lancaster is clearly an admirer. Just a fortnight ago upon announcing his squad to take on the Springboks, the England head coach publically outlined his faith that Goode would provide ample cover at fly-half. Naturally, player and boss agree on that point.

“Stuart has played me at ten for the Saxons before, so I know he trusts me there,” Goode smiles, before becoming slightly more pensive again and opting for pragmatism ahead of mischief.

“You can’t just walk into a fly-half berth though because it is a very tough position, even more so if you don’t play there regularly. Having said that, if a chance comes my way I won’t shirk it. If I am required to come off the bench for twenty minutes here and there, I will try to attack the gain-line and add some spark.”

A sure-fire sign of how highly Goode is rated came just prior to this season’s Six Nations when he was called into the West Park training camp as cover for the injured Toby Flood. Though a pair of Saracens teammates – Charlie Hodgson and, later, Owen Farrell – were preferred when game-time rolled around, this is a source of encouragement rather than envy or ill-feeling.

“Charlie and Owen did fantastically during the Six Nations and it was a real boost to see the guys you play with week-in, week-out succeeding at the highest level,” Goode continues. “ I suppose you think to yourself: ‘You know what, I’d be OK there too.’

“I really enjoyed working with the guys up in Leeds prior to the tournament. It was amazing how well they did considering that it was a new team. They worked so hard for each other and put their bodies on the line. The public – both supporters and the media – really reconnected with the team because of that.

“That is what Stuart can do – he is an honest man-manager who doesn’t beat around the bush. Players really respect that and when everyone pulls in the same direction, you become a powerful force.”

Before boarding the plane to visit Heyneke Meyer’s men – who are shaping up ominously if the Super 15 form of both the Stormers and the Bulls is anything to go by – there is a gilt-edged opportunity for Goode to showcase his talents at Twickenham in Sunday’s exhibition game against the Barbarians.

From a spot among the replacements, Lancaster’s most versatile weapon will probably be deployed at some point during the second period, when burning lungs, aching limbs and open spaces are there to be taken advantage of. That, at least, is the theory.

Of course, with John Smit set to captain the start-studded invitational side, there will be special club bragging rights on the line for each of the seven Saracens in England’s match-day 22. For that very reason, Goode staunchly refuses himself the comfort of complacency.

“This fixture is traditionally open but it will be very hard for us,” he explains. “The Barbarians have absolutely nothing to lose. They can come out and throw the ball around without a care in the world. On the other hand, it will be more about structure and playing for places in South Africa for us.

“It will be quite funny if I meet John at the bottom of a ruck. I have thought about chucking him a couple of quid to miss a tackle on me and make me look good. He’s got a serious reputation to look after though, so I doubt he’ll be in a friendly mood.”

It is fitting that Goode ends by pondering on reputation. By the end of next month, his own one could have enhanced out of sight.

by Charlie Morgan