Bonding trip can boost Saracens’ Premiership title charge, says Burger
15:59 26 March 2014
PA Wire/Press Association Images
If you’re ever fortunate enough to find yourself in the Saracens players’ lounge at Allianz Park, the chances are you’ll have walked through a corridor dotted with framed memories of club bonding trips.
Straight after they beat capital rivals Harlequins 39-17 in front of 83,889 fans at home away from home Wembley Stadium – a world record crowd for a club rugby game – Sarries jetted off to New York.
Some would say that’s strange preparation for Saturday’s league clash at Wasps, but for Jacques Burger it’s the kind of break from the norm that unites a squad of more than 30 men and seals bonds of friendship that, in the case of the flanker’s favourite extracurricular trip, preceded Saracens’ first and only Premiership title to date.
That was a week-long Miami training camp in 2011, and the hope is that the Big Apple can provide the small margins that will see the Namibian and his team-mates crowned kings of England once more in May.
“We went to Miami for a week, which was incredible,” said Burger “We had such a great time.
“We trained in the Miami Dolphins’ facilities but it was such a great trip. We had about six RVs, driving around in different teams. [We] had barbecues, a couple of drinks and just really got to know each other.
“It didn’t feel like we were rugby players, it just felt like we were a couple of mates on a road trip.
“I’m from Namibia so we don’t get to do those things often, so when you get an opportunity to do it you jump on the wagon straight away.
“When I do go back [home], these are all the things I’m going to remember – not just the rugby matches but the trips away with your friends and your team. It’s really important.”
The details of this week’s hop across the pond were a well-guarded secret at the weekend, when Burger scored the fourth of five tries against Quins – a bonus point victory that, in the wake of Northampton’s defeat at Sale, saw them return to the top of a league they had led for most of the season.
Burger said: “Our CEO, Edward [Griffiths], wants us to be good friends as well, not just a good team and it’s all part of us growing.
“If you spend a lot of time together you become stronger and better friends. Eventually, when you get into tough situations on the pitch, you will do anything for your friends and guys you’ve spent time with, had a couple of beers with, worked hard with and bled with.
“It’s just about building relationships and keeping guys fresh. It’s just a relaxing couple of days, the boys getting together and just really enjoying each other’s company for a while and getting your head away from rugby and the every-day job you do - which is incredible and we are very fortunate to do it, but it’s hard.
“Your body takes a big toll and your mind as well, so it’s great to go over there.
“It does add a lot of value, even though people don’t see it that way. You build a lot of relationships.
“We’ve got some tough games ahead of us towards the end of the season. It’s not just going there, relaxing and thinking the job is done. We know the job’s not done and there’s a lot to do still.”
Sarries weren’t at their best to beat play-off chasing Harlequins, so the impressive scoreline could be ominous for Wasps if, as expected, they returned to Blighty in good spirits today.
“It’s going to be massive,” said Burger of the trip to Adams Park. “It’s always tough and they want to get a Heineken Cup spot and maybe into a play-off spot.
“It doesn’t get easier. Every week you’ve got to be up for it, as we’ve realised before this season. If you just let you guard down slightly someone knocks you off your pedestal.”
He added: “We are in a good position [in the league], we’ve been working really hard and it’s been paying off. But the job is not done, not by a mile.”