The Aviva Premiership enters its latter stages, Tom James spoke to Saracens’ Ernst Joubert, February’s Aviva Player of the Month.
As the Aviva Premiership enters its latter stages, the Saracens number 8 Ernst Joubert acknowledges that it is not a time to lose concentration. “Anything can happen between now and the end of the regular season. It’s all about making it to that semi-final and the next step towards that is the home match against Newcastle”. The team’s recent victory over the Leicester Tigers at Welford Road gained Sarries some element of revenge over their Premiership final conquerors, but Joubert refused to dwell on the potential significance of the victory. “If their kick had gone over in the last minute then it would have been a different story. We’ve gone to lots of places and got important wins, and that’s what matters”.
Having just been rewarded for his fine recent form with the Aviva Premiership Player of the Month accolade, Joubert stated that he was very happy with the way that he and the rest of the team had been playing. With improved weather approaching, Joubert may be hoping that will lead to some more expansive rugby. “In England the weather very much dictates how the game is played. There’s no difference (compared to the Southern Hemisphere) in game speed since the new rules, but if it’s raining then it really affects the game you play. I do enjoy the more open game but fully accept you have to play to the conditions”.
Whilst many are quick to deride Saracens’ South African connections, it is clear that they are building a rather formidable production line of young, English talent. Joubert has been impressed. “We’re really not scared to give the young guys a chance. Jackson Wray has come in and played well and so have others. When you look at these guys it’s easy to forget about (Alex) Goode and (Andy) Saull being so young too”.
Whilst these youngsters attempt to establish themselves amongst the Saracens group, there is another player hoping to re-build his rugby career in North London. Former England prop Matt Stevens left his previous club Bath under a cloud after receiving a two year ban when he tested positive for cocaine. Having spent his time out running his own coffee shop and practising Jiu-Jitsu, Stevens elected to return to club rugby with Saracens and has surprised many by the speed in which he has returned to first team action.
“Matt’s personality is great. We’re a really welcoming bunch here and he has fitted in very well. We spent a lot of time together before playing so when the matches came around Matt was so hungry to play”. A strong second half performance against Leicester tight-head Martin Castrogiovanni in the Sarries’ victory reinforced several other fine cameo performances, and Stevens looks ready to press his claims for a recall to the England squad.
Like Stevens, Joubert was born in South Africa, but with a current dearth of in-form English number 8s, many English fans may be interested to know that Joubert will qualify for English residency in just over a year. When quizzed on whether he would be open to playing for England, following the likes of Stevens and current squad members Shontayne Hape and Riki Flutey, Joubert responded positively. “If you’re a good player and can play for the country then why not? It’s still a while yet and there are younger guys coming through but if my rugby goes well then it would be a great honour”.
With landlords Watford football club electing to not renew Saracens’ contract at Vicarage Road, the immediate future of the side remains uncertain. But if Joubert and his teammates can continue their current form, they will ensure that the outcome of their regular season is rather more clear.
By Tom James
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