Austin Healey Column
Improving Sarries will miss Venter
Austin Healey
December 8, 2010

Saracens' win over Harlequins on Sunday catapulted them back into contention at the top of the Aviva Premiership but it rounded off a mixed week for the club following the announcement that Brendan Venter is going to return to South Africa in the New Year.

To me, the former Springbok centre is like a troubleshooter for clubs with cultural issues. I think the work that he has done at Sarries isn't necessarily about the way they play on the field, it's about how people are treated, how they view the club and how they behave. Once he has got all those things in place, he can move on.

The club say that he will have some influence, and I'm sure he will always have contact with Saracens, but his impact will be less, definitely.

A lot of people started off with a misconception about Brendan. I was one of them in that I thought he was abrasive, possibly overly aggressive and liked to speak his mind. I didn't mind the last one but on the first two counts, I couldn't have been further from the truth. He is all about bringing back old principles to a modern club, to a professional club.

He wanted them to enjoy playing, enjoy their mates' company, look after each other's families and look after each other. The camaraderie he created at Saracens is clear to see, as is the youth development. There is also a great work ethic at Sarries and flanker Jacques Burger epitomises that.

He's a real workmanlike back-rower; he puts his body on the line every week and is a very good player, as is No.8 Ernst Joubert. At openside, Andy Saull complements them well. The back-row were very good at the weekend, as were the tight-five. Carlos Nieto had a very good game at tight-head and they were physically better than Quins for the full 80 minutes.

Also, Brendan is without doubt a loss to the Premiership as a character and to be fined, as he has been on numerous occasions, for speaking your mind is ludicrous, let's be honest. If someone has been slandered, by all means get the fines out, but as I said last time, we don't live in North Korea and we can say what we want.

Another major talking point to emerge from the game was the performance of Owen Farrell at fly-half. With Gavin Henson nearing a return and a possible debut at Wembley on the horizon, the 19-year-old's place in the side will come under increased scrutiny in the coming weeks.

I saw a sign at the ground last weekend that said 'Strictly no dancing, just rugby' and after the three games I've seen Farrell play in the last few weeks you would have to be insane to drop him for Henson or Alex Goode, who started the season at No.10. Henson hasn't played rugby for over 18 months, he's just had a bit of a dancing competition.

"I'd be pretty miffed if my Dad dropped me. I probably wouldn't speak to him for a few weeks. He could keep his pocket money."

For me, Goode's best position is fullback and Farrell has shown composure, control and he's kept Saracens moving forward, which was what they lacked without Derick Hougaard. Anyway, I'd be pretty miffed if my Dad dropped me. I probably wouldn't speak to him for a few weeks. He could keep his pocket money.

The other big result of the weekend came in Reading, where Leicester put themselves back in contention by beating London Irish. Leicester are carrying a lot of injuries, they have a smaller squad, and to come away from Irish with a win like they did will be hugely uplifting and confidence-boosting.

On the flipside, Irish were woeful in parts. I had a go at Ryan Lamb for his performance after the game and I think I was pretty fair in what I said. He can show moments of brilliance, as he did for the try, but then he makes the wrong decisions at vital times. I don't know what that is down to.

He made a decision to run the ball from under his own posts when they were only two points behind with about 10 minutes to go and he made the decision to shout at the ref in the middle of the field, which cost them a penalty and 10 yards. That's what the old Ryan Lamb would have done. The Ryan Lamb that we've seen so far this season wouldn't do that.

Despite their game against Leeds being called off because of the weather, it was another good weekend for Northampton, who are now six points clear with a game in hand on their nearest rivals. If you look at how teams are playing at the minute it's difficult to see anyone getting past the Saints before the lottery of the play-off kicks in.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Austin Healey is Lead Analyst for ESPN Rugby

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