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.   

News
news
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
New Articles
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Sport
sport
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

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all