This week, Eddie Jones is a Saracens fan. He may always have been, of course, having once worn their colours, but he definitely is now.
England have of late been usurped by his beloved Irish, as have Saracens by Leinster, as the pre-eminent examples of their kind in European rugby. If he needs reminding, though, of the Wheel and the way it turns, he need only cast his mind back a couple of seasons, when Leinster were sent packing from Europe, bottom of their pool, hideously thrashed home and away by Wasps. They turned it round, and Ireland are thriving on the back of it.
Saracens have had their own encounter with humiliation this season, that 46-14 home defeat to Clermont in the bleak midwinter as galling as it was suggestive of the end of an era. But it turns out Saracens have created a culture like no other in England for producing ruthless, insatiable rugby players of the highest order capable not only of winning relentlessly but of suffering fall-offs in form and emerging the other side as ruthless, insatiable rugby players of the highest order.
They reckon the Premiership final between Saracens and Exeter on Saturday will be close. Certainly, Exeter have a unique culture of their own for coaxing the best out of each other (and the clubs’ respective balance sheets would not bear much comparison), but when it comes to ruthless, insatiable rugby players of the highest order with a history of collecting trophies, there’s only one team in it.
Saracens’ stock has fallen lately, but let’s not forget they were by far the best side in Europe only last season – and Europe includes England. After that midwinter slump, they appear rejuvenated, 274 points in their last five games, 78 against.
Which is why they are of interest to Jones. With a tour to South Africa imminent, England are in a similar slump after a prolonged period of success. Jones desperately needs the next kink in his curve to be of an upward trajectory.
Luckily for him, the players he’ll be looking to for the kind of steely-eyed relentlessness we all crave when the edges fray have just turned Saracens round. By any measure, Mako Vunipola should be taking June off, but his form, somehow, is sensational all over again. He’s just one of a host of England Saracens back in form. And then there’s the steeliest-eyed of the lot, the ruthless, insatiable accumulator of points and guardian of the flame, Owen Farrell. He’s England captain now. Don’t expect that to change for a while.
The job Saracens have worked of reviving these players, so that they enter the next four weeks back at the top of their form, has been remarkable. England must harness this energy in South Africa, because six defeats in a row is a whole lot worse than three, which feels bad enough as it is.
But those four weeks begin on Saturday in Saracens colours. Well might Eddie cheer them on.
Michael Aylwin’s novel about the future of sport, Ivon, is out now