Friday 24 January 2020

Stringer believes Saracens perfect vehicle to drive his European ambition

Gavin Mairs

Peter Stringer only arrived at Saracens on loan from Munster on Monday, but the Ireland scrum-half has had an instant impact in imbuing the squad with his wealth of Heineken Cup experience ahead of their critical clash with the Ospreys at Wembley tonight.

Stringer, capped 98 times by his country, starts tonight's Pool 5 match on the bench for the English champions, having been signed on a three-month deal from Munster as cover following long-term injuries to Richard Wigglesworth and Neil de Kock.

Despite losing his place in the Munster squad following the return of Ireland first-choice Conor Murray from the World Cup, Stringer (33) retains a burning desire both to represent his country again and taste success in Europe, as he did with Munster in 2006 and '08, and believes this move will act as the perfect springboard.

"When I got the call from Saracens I had become frustrated at Munster, sitting in the stand and not even having the possibility of getting onto the pitch," Stringer said. "I am still driven, ambitious and have big goals and this is a great opportunity for me. It has come at a great time and was a no-brainer for me to come across.

"Munster were in full support of what I wanted to do. All I want is game time at the highest level and I am looking forward to getting stuck in. To have the opportunity to play at Wembley in front of a crowd of over 40,000 will be another amazing European Cup experience."

Stringer has had a few of those down the years with Munster. He has played in four Heineken Cup finals, losing to Northampton and Leicester in 2000 and '02 and defeating Biarritz in '06 and Toulouse in '08. His try in the final against Biarritz at the Millennium Stadium, when he fooled the French side's back-row defence with a stunning blindside break for the decisive score, remains the highlight of his career.

"I just put the ball in and I saw Serge Betsen behind the scrum," he recalled. "He had one side shuffle away from the touchline and I didn't look at him again. I watched the ball go back to the No 8's feet and turned my back on the opposition and hoped he had kept side-shuffling infield.

"I just had a go and hoped he wasn't in my face when I turned around. If I had even had a slight glance at him, I think he would have turned around.

"That was the key to selling it, to completely look like I was going to pass it infield. It was probably my most special moment."

Mark McCall, Saracens director of rugby, is keen for Stringer's experience to rub off on his squad, many of whom are relative novices on the European stage.

Stringer, who has made 90 appearances in the Heineken Cup with Munster, is likely to get significant game time from the bench tonight to ease the pressure on the young shoulders of Ben Spencer, who has been deputising impressively for Wigglesworth and De Kock.

"Last year was for a lot of our players their first experience of the Heineken Cup and they were taken a bit by surprise and it was kind of all over before we had started," McCall said.

"We played okay at Clermont and okay against Leinster at Wembley but were none from two and out of it.


"As the competition went on last year, the players who hadn't been involved before, like our South African players, said 'wow, we want to be part of that' and to do so we have to deliver in our pool, and the games against the Ospreys will be massive for us.

"Peter has been here all week and has fitted in brilliantly. We will fast-track him into the team. He is not here to be our No 2 or No 3, he wants to play some rugby. We run a rotation system and Ben has played a lot of minutes this year and he needs a bit of a break too."

Stringer is eager to play his part both on and off the field and is certain his experience of 14 years with Munster can benefit Saracens in their hunt for European glory.

"We were so many years trying to figure out how to win it and we had a lot of hurdles to get over and a lot of disappointment," Stringer added. "We lost two finals and a couple of semi-finals before we won it.

"That is what makes this competition incredible. If you look at the opposition, there are no easy games in any of the pools. That is what makes it so special when you do actually win it. We have learned that and it comes with experience, and hopefully I can contribute to this squad." ( Daily Telegraph, London)

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