Saracens swim with the Sharks to close north-south divide

London club set to play two games in 48 hours but they see money-spinner against South African side as the way to go

Sports News Correspondent

This is rugby’s phoney-war weekend, when talk is talked and game plans polished ahead of the opening salvo of the Six Nations. It is a time when the club game is asked to sit quietly in the corner while national issues are settled, in other words it is time to play the LV Cup. Except sitting quietly has never suited today’s Saracens.

The London club have an LV Cup fixture to fulfil, against Newcastle tomorrow, but today the gates of Allianz Park will be thrown open for the visit of the Sharks, the South African Super 15 outfit bristling with a dozen Springboks. A full house is expected; the attraction is obvious compared to the Sunday service.

Having once played a home fixture in Brussels, others at Wembley and with still more mooted in Cape Town and New York, Saracens’ latest innovation is concentrated at home. The Six Nations can be a difficult period for clubs with star names absent and supporters’ attentions distracted. Saracens invited the Sharks to mind that immediate gap yet this is a fixture that promises longer-term rewards too.

It is one that the club’s chief executive, Edward Griffiths, believes could become a norm with the eventual presence of South African sides in meaningful competition against their northern cousins.

Griffiths and Saracens had wished for something grander this weekend. According to Griffiths, South African sides are queuing up to play here. Such was the interest that Saracens floated the idea of a double-header at Twickenham. They took it around other Premiership clubs; there were no takers.

“There were other major South African teams that wanted to come across,” said Griffiths. “We thought it would have been good to have it at Twickenham, two top Premiership teams playing against two Super 15 teams. That sort of game could have had 50-70,000 people but unfortunately we couldn’t find another Premiership club prepared to play the game.

“Every Saracens player is going to be playing this weekend. Is it ideal from a purist’s point of view? No. Are the coaches having to compromise to get two teams out? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

“We want to create these events. We take a Harlequins game to Wembley in March and are getting on for 50,000 tickets sold – we are almost certain it will be full. So why wouldn’t you do it? The RFU understands we want to get people into stadiums to watch rugby. But unfortunately we couldn’t find another club prepared to do a double-header.”

This weekend leaves Saracens open to accusations of raising two fingers at the LV Cup. An entirely different XV will run out tomorrow, minus the likes of Steve Borthwick, David Strettle or Charlie Hodgson. Joel Hodgson, the Newcastle fly-half, suggested Saracens have delivered a “kick in the teeth” to his club. But as Newcastle are also exercising fringe players we are entering pots and kettle country.

“Let’s see by Sunday evening,” insisted Griffiths. “There is no reason we shouldn’t be successful on Sunday and if we are then we will have qualified for the semi-finals. Every game we play, we approach with the same desire to be successful.”

What may raise concerned eyebrows abroad, even as the impasse over the Heineken Cup rumbles towards agreement, is Griffiths’ admission that today’s game, broadcast live here and in South Africa, is financially more rewarding than a Heineken Cup tie against, say, Glasgow or an Italian side. The attendance for Zebre’s visit this season was 7,395; 7,242 came for the previous LV Cup tie against Scarlets. A capacity 10,000 is expected today and tomorrow. When Saracens played Toulouse at Wembley this season 61,428 turned up.

“It is not just a question of pounds, shillings and pence today, it is all about developing a brand later on,” said Griffiths. “There has been talk of including South African teams in an enlarged Heineken Cup – there is no question South African teams would enhance the competition. Within the north-south timeline it could work well and the commercial value of the competition in terms of sponsorship and television rights would increase dramatically.

“Do I think there’s any prospect of South African provinces playing an enlarged Heineken Cup? No. It is a possibility in the next cycle, maybe in six years. Everybody sees the potential and there’s considerable enthusiasm in South Africa for a new competition that’s north-south rather than with New Zealand and Australia but it’s not going to happen any time soon.”

Griffiths talks of a “fatigue” in South Africa over most matches being in a distant time zone. Kick-off time in London is little different from in Durban. Many in South Africa see their future up north rather than looking east.

“I absolutely think there is potential in the future for north-south competition,” said Griffiths. “I’m sure that in the future people will be playing more southern teams and they will go: ‘Why on earth didn’t we do this before?’”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions