Barritt wants to fill central place England's plans

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The Independent Online

Despite Saracens' strong start to the season, the name of their inside-centre may not yet be tripping off your tongue. Strange, really, when you consider the names which Brad Barritt – for it is he – can drop into a conversation. Past team-mates include Butch James, Frans Steyn and John Smit; a few weeks ago, Barritt trained with England in a midfield comprising Jonny Wilkinson and Mike Tindall. If this man is off your radar, you need to check your radar in for a service.

"Percy Montgomery advised me that coming to the UK would be a good move," said Barritt over a coffee in the swanky part of north London the Durban-born 23-year-old now calls home, where the Saracens and England captain, Steve Borthwick, is a near-neighbour. Sarries' recent defeats of London Irish at Twickenham and Northampton at Wembley were watched by South African directors including the former Springbok captains Morne du Plessis and Francois Pienaar.

"I'd met them before," said Barritt, who joined from Natal last October. "But, yes, they are iconic, influential people and it's great to know how stable the club is, going forward."

Barritt is too good a player to need to trade on "it's not what you know but who you know" and he played a diplomatic dead bat to the next question: how much contact had he had recently from Martin Johnson, the England manager? The South Africa Under-21 played for England Saxons in last summer's Churchill Cup in Denver. He has retained his place in the Saxons squad. The England No 12 jersey is up for grabs, with the incumbent, Riki Flutey, out of the autumn Tests against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand and Jordan Turner-Hall, Toby Flood, Sam Vesty and Olly Barkley also crocked.

"There was no sense of holding back at the training camp as you had to show what you could do," said Barritt, who is heftier than all the aforementioned, at 6ft 1in and 15 stone. "I thought I took advantage of the opportunity. I had one session with Jonny and that was great. As a kid at school I watched the World Cup final of 2003. He's a tough individual and doesn't hold back."

Barritt might have signed for Bath when, aged 18, he spent a week at Brian Ashton's Junior National Academy alongside Danny Cipriani, Shane Geraghty, Dom Waldouck and Anthony Allen, among others. But it was December 2004 and the snow at Bath University helped to put him off. Last year, after 36 Super 14 matches for the Sharks, Barritt joined Saracens and settled quickly.

The main influx of South Africans came afterwards; so too the call to Saxons arms from Brian Smith, the England attack coach. Barritt's maternal grandparents are English, though his parents were born in what was then Rhodesia, moving to South Africa before he was born.

"My grandfather played for English Universities and Wales Under-21s and he's always wanted me to play for England," said Barritt. "I thought I would have a bit of time to think about it but it came around quite quickly. It's what I'd hoped for and I am grateful for the opportunity."

Barritt was recruited by Eddie Jones, Brendan Venter's predecessor as Saracens director of rugby, but he is thriving under Venter's rigid gameplan. Saracens will chase a fourth win in four when they host Gloucester in Watford today. England's season kicks off on 7 November, and Johnson's inside-centre options include Geraghty, Waldouck, Allen, Dan Hipkiss and Tom May, or, just possibly, Wilkinson.

Asked his view of the No 12's role, Barritt – who had Waldouck as his outside-centre in the Churchill Cup – said: "He's the kingpin in terms of defence, the communicator who sets everyone up and makes big hits. If it's a dry-weather game he can act as the second fly-half, so having distribution skills, a bit of vision and a kicking game is important. In wet conditions he can be the go-to man in ball-carrying, breaking tackles, taking it over the gain line."

Tindall of Gloucester can take a good look at him this afternoon; Wilkinson's Toulon are European opponents next month. For Brad Barritt and Saracens, opportunity knocks.

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