Wray hails strength of Saracens squad ahead of Premiership clash at Gloucester
PUBLISHED: 12:00 22 October 2015 | UPDATED: 12:22 22 October 2015
Jackson Wray says this is the strongest squad Saracens have had during his time at the club, and that the reigning champions showed their strength in depth in Saturday’s home win over Sale.
Sarries were missing a number of internationals due to their World Cup exertions as they kicked off their Premiership campaign at Allianz Park, but they thumped the Sharks 41-3 at Allianz Park.
Wray, who came through the club’s academy before making his debut in 2009, told Ham&High Sport: “The first game of the season’s always a tough one, to gauge where you are, especially with the World Cup being on and players being away for long periods. It was always going to be an interesting game but I felt we dealt with a lot of the areas that we focused on really well.
“Our squad is looking really strong this year. We’ve always had good cover in most positions and this year’s no different. I think we’re even stronger than we have been in the past. That’s played a big part - people putting their hand up, ready to play. I think you saw some really good performances at the weekend, and there were a lot of examples of people doing just that.
“Is this the best squad during my time at Saracens? For sure, definitely. You’re looking around the squad and looking out at training and there are just so many good players at the moment. Training’s so competitive and that only brings out the best in the squad and in the team that’s going out at the weekend.
“We’ve got real depth in most positions and that only works for the benefit of the team, with people pushing each other for places. It’s a really competitive squad and that’s what we need in this intense season that we’re starting.”
Wray wore the number eight shirt against Sale and is keen to have a run in the side. The absence of Billy Vunipola, who suffered a knee injury in England’s World Cup defeat to Wales, increases his chances - and he has kept his place for tomorrow’s (Friday’s) trip to face Gloucester - but the 24-year-old is aware he has plenty of other rivals.
“Billy did really well in the World Cup and it was a shame for him that it got cut short,” he said. “He was one of England’s best players, in my opinion anyway, and I think they could have gone further with him in the team.
“It’s not just Billy though, we’ve got so many good players – Kelly Brown, Jacques Burger, Will Fraser, Matt Hankin. It’s a really competitive position and that’s good. As players you want to be in the top teams, and the top teams always have great squads. It’s all about playing as well as you can when you get the opportunity.
“I just want to keep improving my game, like I did last year. There were a lot of areas which I was pleased with.
“I wanted to get off to a better start this year, I wanted to play on a regular basis and have a big impact and make a difference to the team and then play in those big European games that are coming up against Toulouse and Ulster [on November 14 and 20]. They’re massive games and you’ve got Northampton [on November 7] there in that area of games too so it’s a big period coming up.
“I want to try to break into the international set-up as well and be involved there. Most young players in England want to play for England and I’ve no problem saying that, I think everyone’s the same.”
Saracens are now preparing to visit Gloucester tomorrow night. The West Country outfit won the corresponding fixture 24-23 last season, thanks to a last-minute 50m penalty kick from James Hook – and they started their campaign with a 39-27 away win against Newcastle last Friday.
“Gloucester are a very tough team down there - Kingsholm’s a very hard place to go,” said Wray. “Over the years we’ve had some really good performances down there and then a couple of not so good ones, so it’s a very mixed ground for us, but it’s always a tough place to go – especially on a Friday night. Something’s a little bit different.
“It’s always a great atmosphere down there anyway but I think even more so on a Friday night. There’s a little bit more of an edge. You really know you’re going down into a really hostile environment and you have to be on your game if you’re going to get anything from it.
“It’s definitely a big occasion and we’re the title winners and they’re going to be wanting to put down a marker after winning at Newcastle.”
Saracens’ schedule means Wray will be free to watch both of the World Cup semi-finals on Saturday and Sunday, and he hopes the interest in the tournament will filter through into the club game.
“I think it’s a bit early for that at the moment,” he said. “Obviously the World Cup’s still going on. Granted England aren’t in the latter stages, which is unfortunate - and I think the impact would have been a lot higher if England had gone further - but the competition’s still going and people are supporting other nations.
“There’s no doubt it’s brought a great exposure to the game. I think we might see the benefits of that, though, after the World Cup. People might think ‘we really enjoyed that, we’ll probably go and watch our local side play’. That’s how we might find it.
“Now it’s about the Premiership taking over the mantle and I think with the reputation of the league and the way it’s shaping up to be this season… There will be a lot of teams in with a shout, which makes it exciting, which helps with the viewing and the exposure that the sport’s gained over the last few months - and that would be great. It’s up to the Premiership now to really push on and build on that exposure.”