According to South African advocate Vincent Koch, the English Saracens boys are in pain, but they won’t sulk
“I could lend him a tenner to stream it,” laughs Vincent Koch, while considering whether Rassie Erasmus will watch the game against Richmond at the Athletic Ground on Sunday.
The thought of the Springboks’ rugby director tuning into a live stream of a runner-up match would have seemed laughable a year and a half ago, but a lot has changed since the World Cup final.
“I spoke to Andy Edwards, our old strength and conditioning man at Saracens, who is now with the Springboks,” adds Koch. ‘They go through every game. It doesn’t matter if you play in South Africa, Japan or the championship. I guarantee they will watch … but hopefully they haven’t seen the game against Cornish Pirates! ‘
Vincent Koch, the Saracen shortage, won the World Cup with South Africa eighteen months ago
For Koch it was a humiliating experience. The South African prop has gone from demolishing the English scrum in Japan to tasting its own medicine in defeat to the Pirates. Today he will take on part-time riotous Jonny Harris, who is a massage therapist.
“It’s been tough, I’m not going to lie,” says Koch. ‘I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy ride with 50 point wins. I played in the second division at home in South Africa, with the Pumas, and you always had this extra motivation against the top teams. There would be a Springbok or someone on the opposition team and you would like to prove a point.
‘If you enter the championship with a bunch of international players, the opposition guys will have a point to prove. We experienced that in the first game against Cornish. That hurts. My personal performance was awful. The opposition attackers are big boys, so the physicality is definitely up there.
Koch won the Champions Cup in 2017 and 2019: two of the three titles the team won in four years
As a pack, we were quite ashamed to be Saracens players. Our strength is to dominate the opposition forward so our backs can score the nice tries, but on that day they dominated us.
[Saracens boss] Mark McCall said after the game, “You’re getting heat on social media … don’t read it.” When thousands of people tag you in it, it’s hard not to see it. I’ve gotten a lot of heat and I want to prove those people wrong.
‘That match shook us awake. Now we know what the teams stand for and we realized how hard we will have to fight. ‘
Rugby has been reduced to the basics. Cold showers and beer on the bus. In the age of live coaching box analysis, the club had to adapt to things like a lack of Wi-Fi and power.
But now the 31-year-old sits on the second level, facing a part-time massage therapist
Koch joked that he would borrow South African boss Rassie Erasmus a tenner to watch his games
“A lot of guys have been away with the Six Nations, but there is an incredible atmosphere and we try to make it fun,” says Koch. We all start this game because we love it, and sometimes it gets a little serious. There is a lot of pressure and we forget why we start playing. This is almost a step away and reminds me why I play. ‘
Koch today is joined by two of the Saracens household names of the Six Nations. Hooker Jamie George has returned from England, while Scottish winger Sean Maitland is mentioned on the bench. Lion coach Warren Gatland will also keep an eye on it.
“The energy Jamie put into training this week was incredible,” says Koch. ‘He wasn’t angry that he had to play, he’s motivated. I said to him, “Are you ready for this?” and he said “Mate, I am so excited”. It’s gonna be incredible.
International whore Jamie George (second right) starts against Richmond on Sunday
If you had asked them a few months ago, most probably would have said they won’t be playing in the Champ. If you look at where we are at the moment and where they are, they like to play.
The Saracens boys in the England team have received a lot of heat from the media in recent weeks. They’ve been through worse – we’re in the spotlight and people want to see Saracens fall. They hurt and they will want to prove a point to everyone outside. They want to help Saracens get out of this. They won’t sulk and don’t need anyone to tell them what to do. Once they walk through Saracens’ doors, they know what to do. ‘
In the same vein, Koch knows what to do to be part of Erasmus’ plans for this summer’s Lions series. He welcomed last week’s news that the games will be played in South Africa – and believes the showpiece could help lift the country out of its Covid rut as the world champions return to a field for the first time since 2019.
“For a South African, you want to play against the British and Irish lions in South Africa,” says Koch. ‘It is where it is intended. You want them to travel to you, fly and prepare in another country. We will be in our own comfort zone.
Scottish winger Sean Maitland (left) also returns to the club action and is mentioned on the bench
Saracens lost its Championship opener against Cornish Pirates 25-17 earlier this month
‘If the request for crowds is honored, it will be great. They are so hungry for it. Either way, we want to make the country proud again.
“It’s been over 500 days since the Springboks played a game, but I can guarantee you that if you run to that field against the British and Irish lions, you won’t have one Springbok that isn’t in top form.
As soon as they put on the green jersey, they fly and shoot at all cylinders. We cannot become world champions and then have a very average performance against the Lions.
The ultimate goal, of course, is to get into that Springboks lineup as there is nothing better than that, but now my focus is on helping Saracens get out of the Champ. Like Rassie and Jacques [Nienaber, the head coach] like what they see, that’s a bonus. ‘