Churchill Cup 2010
Goode making plans for No.10
June 11, 2010
Calling the shots: Alex Goode is set for a switch to fly-half © PA Photos
The end of the Guinness Premiership season did not go to plan for Saracens. Having beaten both Northampton and Leicester on their own patches Sarries romped into the final, barracked from all sides for having the gall to ruffle a few feathers on the way.
On the day, with coach Brendan Venter having air-kissed his way to a 10-week touchline ban and Leicester eyeing an unprecedented ninth English League title at Twickenham, there was just too little fuel left in the tank as Dan Hipkiss broke clear to seal a thrilling victory for the Tigers.
Love them or loathe them, Saracens' ascent to the top of the English game was one of the most interesting subplots in a season that all too often scraped the barrel in terms of entertainment value. The first half of the season saw them cast as the villains in the war against kicking, the second saw them flick a switch and, powered by hooker Schalk Brits, openside Andy Saull and fullback Alex Goode, play some dynamic, off the cuff football.
Goode's season was defined in similar terms. At 22 he has been pegged as a future star on the domestic and international stage and while the clamour for his inclusion on England's tour to Australia was ignored by the top brass, he is content to work on his transition back to fly-half in the company of the England Saxons at the Churchill Cup.
"With the loss at the end of the week it was a tough place to be. To get away and get into a new environment is good," he told ESPNscrum. "I'm happy to go on any tour, but I guess there was an element of disappointment, I thought I was playing well at the end of the year.
"I'd played some big games, semi-finals, finals, against top fullbacks and gone well. There's always going to be an element of disappointment as you want to play at the highest level but I'm not upset or angry that I'm not there [Australia]."
Venter was left incensed, a not uncommon eventuality, by the lack of representation for his players in England's summer squad. Goode, Saull and centre Brad Barritt are all in the USA, while England's skipper, Steve Borthwick, is rested after a string of knee problems. If Venter's fury rubbed off on Goode at all he does not show it, instead focusing on the task ahead as the Saxons prepare to face the hosts on Sunday.
Goode came off the bench as the Saxons opened their account against Russia with a 49-17 win on Wednesday, with Northampton's Stephen Myler at No.10, but his thoughts are now on the Eagles and a chance to test himself as a playmaker. His recent efforts have been all cut and thrust but he is confident that should the situation dictate it, he can steady the ship.
"There's always an element of nervousness, but the nerves are coupled with excitement," he said. "I've been playing fullback all year and haven't really played 10 so there's a bit of anxiety but it's been good to be involved with the boys and I'm looking forward to playing a bit at 10 to see how I'm going more than anything.
"In the first part of this year we didn't play the most attacking rugby and I was quite conservative from fullback. I kept the structure of the team and kicked a lot, kept my discipline. I think I was quite good and patient. By the end of the year we were attacking loads, bringing out the other side of my qualities. I'm not too worried about getting the mix, I guess there will be more of an element of trying to harness it and not play too much but there are hard grounds here and high skill levels so I think I'll be suited to the team's needs."
With the 2011 Rugby World Cup on the horizon there is scant time to mount a charge for the squad, but Goode's confidence in Saracens, who have further bolstered their squad for next season with the capture of England internationals David Strettle and Richard Wigglesworth as well as Scotland's Kelly Brown, suggests that there is plenty more to come. With Glen Jackson returning to New Zealand there will be more opportunities for the youngster to lead the way, something he will hope to be doing at Twickenham in a year's time.
"It was a massive turnaround for the club, if you think about where we were at the end of last season," he said. "You have to credit the coaching staff and the playing staff for that, but at the same time, as much as we're happy to play in the big games, we were bitterly, bitterly disappointed to lose in the final.
"To lose in such a way as that was always going to be tough. We know we can bounce back and proved this year that we can go from nothing to the top of the table so there's no reason why we can't do the same next year."
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.