Barritt proves a real eye-opener
England's new centre would have played every Test this year except for horrific injury
When Brad Barritt predicts his club Saracens' crucial Heineken Cup meeting with Munster today will swing on which team are the "most hungry, most physical and most clinical", these are not throwaway words from one who has no idea of their meaning. Barritt's year to date could justifiably be described as a mix of the glory and the gory, with a big, fat Greek wedding to top it off.
Most imminently for the South African-born England centre, Saracens need to reverse last weekend's 15-9 defeat by Munster in Limerick, preferably by a greater margin, to seize control of Pool One, with Racing Métro away and Edinburgh at home in January to come.
"The team that wins will definitely be in the power seat in the group," said Barritt. "Unfortunately for us we got several components of our game wrong last week. Munster did their homework on our line-out and we didn't get much ball. We've learnt from that, we'll rectify it and we're looking to put on a big performance at Vicarage Road."
Acknowledging Munster's muscular threat, Owen Farrell will start for Saracens at fly-half alongside Barritt, with Charlie Hodgson on the bench, reprising the Nos 10 and 12 positions when England unleashed their glorious victory over the All Blacks three weeks ago. It featured a try by Barritt – taking a pass from Farrell, he shot through a gap left by Conrad Smith and Kieran Read, and effected a give-and-take with Manu Tuilagi – that he accepted was the greatest moment of his career to date.
For a short time in the summer, halfway through Barritt's debut year in international rugby, such a feat appeared unlikely. He was temporarily blinded in his left eye on tour in South Africa – in his native Durban, of all places – when he was tackling a Springbok and Farrell, as he rushed in to help, jabbed his middle finger into Barritt's open eye. "I just remember going instantly blind, and feeling it closing up on me," Barritt recalled. "The physio opened my eye and little bits of blood started squirting out. I just saw a look on his face that didn't look too promising. That's where a bit of panic sets in."
Barritt needed two sets of stitches, to mend a three-centimetre laceration of the white of his eye, and to reattach the eyeball to the muscle behind it. This, remarkably, was good news. "My humble understanding of it is the coloured part of the eye is what's involved with your sight," said Barritt. "Once they'd told me it was the white bit, there was relief that my sight was safe. I spent the next week sat in a dark room, applying ointments every hour or so. That was a bit taxing."
So, having missed only the Second Test, he played as a replacement in the Third. And he finished an eventful trip with probably the most acceptable black eye ever presented by a groom, as he married his Cypriot-descended bride Giorgia at the Pantanassa Greek Orthodox Church in Johannesburg.
Had it not been for the eye injury the 26-year-old Barritt would have played all England's 12 Tests under the new head coach, Stuart Lancaster, in 2012. His acumen in the tackle and outstanding defensive generalship are steadily gaining plaudits, and though England may have lost to Australia and South Africa before landing the big fish of New Zealand, Barritt pointed out that across those three matches they conceded just five tries, one of them a freakish, ricochet-laden effort by the Boks.
This is how he answers any pundits' gripes over creativity. "What you can do at club level and Test level are completely different," Barritt said. "England's defence, led by [backs coach] Andy Farrell, is an aggressive, off-the-line defence, and through that you're going to create your own opportunities. Manu's interception try against New Zealand was a result of that." Look back at that score and you will see Barritt bearing down on the passer, Read.
"Personally I feel I've had a big role in attack," Barritt added. "Looking across all the England games, I've had a hand in most of the tries."
England have vowed to pitch up for the Six Nations in February at "the same level". Presumably, having beaten the world's No 1 team, that means winning the Championship? "I am sure we won't look any further than the first game against Scotland, and having Twickenham as jubilant as it was after the New Zealand game," said Barritt.
"But this team has been together for a year now and the building blocks will now be taken as a given. As a team that's hungry for success, ultimately you want to be Six Nations champions."
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