Stuart Lancaster talks up Saracens and Owen Farrell

Fly-half scored 11 kicks from 11 attempts in the Heineken Cup

The England coach Stuart Lancaster had some nice things to say about Saracens today, but those sentiments are unlikely to be shared by the rest of the Premiership. The nomadic Londoners, on the point of moving to a home of their own in Barnet after years of wandering around the outskirts of the capital, struck a couple of mighty blows in the transfer market, badly wounding two of their nearest and dearest in the process.

Billy Vunipola, the 20-year-old Wasps No 8 who has been one of the talks of the town this season, signed a long-term contract with Sarries, as did the Harlequins tight-head prop James Johnston, perhaps the single most influential member of the reigning champions’ pack. With those two operating at the sharp end, Saracens will be a very serious force next term.

Both Vunipola and Johnston are Pacific islanders, but while the latter plays his Test rugby for Samoa, the back-rower from Tonga has declared for England, just like his brother Mako, who operates at loose-head prop for Saracens and made a highly encouraging red-rose debut during the Twickenham internationals last autumn. Neither Vunipola can be said to be short in the pounds and ounces department, while Johnston is on the large side of vast. When it comes to the "speak your weight" contest at Premiership level, there will be only one winner from now on.

Lancaster was in London – in docklands to be precise, at Millwall RFC’s splendid new clubhouse - to launch the governing body’s “RugbyForce” initiative, which is aimed at helping hundreds of grass-roots teams across the country improve their infrastructure and develop community-based business plans. By coincidence, he spent much of his time mulling over Saracens’ outstanding Heineken Cup victory over the powerful French club Racing Metro and, in particular, the phenomenal kicking of the current England outside-half Owen Farrell, who took 11 shots at goal and never once looked like missing.

“Owen has the competitive fire you look for in an elite player – something that is rare to find in someone of his age,” he said of the 21-year-old midfielder. “But he’s also as grounded an individual as you could wish to meet. From the moment we brought him into the England camp, his maturity shone out. When we dropped him to the bench in South Africa last summer he didn’t sulk or moan, because he understood the reasons why. He has a great role model (in his father Andy, one of Lancaster’s colleagues on the red-rose staff) and is coached well a club level.

“There are a number of teams who are making a big contribution to the England representative squads and that includes Saracens, who are now right up there in terms of numbers and are producing a lot of born-and-bred talent. The quality of coaching and the positive nature of the environment there is testament to how they have developed in recent seasons.”

All that is true. But right now, the likes of Quins and Wasps regard them less as talent-spotters than as talent-raiders.   

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world