Feature Interview | Andy Christie
When it comes to mentors and role models, rising back row star Andy Christie has had some good ones in his short time at Saracens – Schalk Burger, Billy Vunipola, Kelly Brown, Calum Clark, Michael Rhodes and Jackson Wray.
It was three years ago this month that the 22-year-old made his debut for the ‘Men in Black’ against Sale Sharks in the Premiership Rugby Cup. His rise from the senior academy into the senior squad, along with an initial contract through to 2022, has given him the chance to find his feet at the club.
He was in the Saracens Storm team that won the Premiership Shield so emphatically, 55-14, against Newcastle Falcons A in May, 2019, and then helped the senior side regain its Premiership status last season, featuring in the second leg of the Championship final against Ealing Trailfinders.
The Championship gave Christie the chance to play more regularly and he found the experience, after the initial shock of losing to Cornish Pirates, hugely beneficial to his development.
“We certainly got a bit of a shock in our first game in Cornwall, it was a bit of a wake-up call. It showed us what a competitive league the Championship is and that result probably did us a favour,” said Christie.
“I loved getting more regular game time and I learned a lot. Being part of the team that won the title at the end of the season was also pretty special.”
Now he is fast developing into a senior figure in the squad and wants to use this season’s Premiership Rugby Cup to demonstrate just how far he has come – and how much more he has to offer.
“The Prem Cup gives everyone a chance to show what they can bring to the club. It is your chance to show what you can do and what it means to you to play for Saracens,” said the former Scotland U16 and England U18 and U20 international.
“I made my debut in this tournament and I’ve been fortunate to graduate upwards ever since. I’ll be looking to take on a leadership role in the team to ensure the younger players, who will be just like me a few years ago, are comfortable and can bring out the best in themselves.
“I’m enjoying the way things are going for me and I’ve had a reasonable amount of game time back in the Premiership this season. All I can do is try to better myself, do my job well and try to help those players around me.”
A number of the Storm side with which he won the Premiership Shield two years ago are still vying with him for regular first-team opportunities. Others will be given further chances to shine in the upcoming Premiership Cup.
“It’s a special feeling every time you get to play for Saracens regardless of the competition. There has been a good crop of young players coming through the ranks and it is always special to play with the one’s I’ve come through the pathway with - Manu Vunipola, Elliot Obatoyinbo and Sean Reffell,” added Christie, who has figured in six Premiership games this season.
But there has been a broader perspective to his development than merely learning from the back row masters at Saracens. A season spent in New Zealand, with the Petone club in Wellington, also had a major influence on him.
“Going to New Zealand with Elliott Obatoyinbo was huge for my rugby development. It is a completely rugby mad country and it enabled me to work under the former All Black No 8, Rodney So’oialo, who was the coach at the club,” said Christie.
“He was got to be one of the most knowledgeable rugby men I’ve ever met and he worked with me on a whole range of skills. He’s got the tightest grip I’ve ever come across, as I found out first-hand at one session.
“He challenged me to try to rip the ball off him once in training. Everyone was watching and I wasn’t sure how hard to go at first.
“Then it quickly became obvious that he wasn’t going to mess around and I had to put everything I had into trying to get the ball off him. I couldn’t do it.”
That trip down under in 2018 certainly accelerated his progress and he looks to have taken on board all the rugby nous that some of the biggest back row names of the past 20 years have passed on to him.
Now he is looking forward to doing the same thing as he takes on a more senior role in the Premiership Cup – a case of the apprentice becoming the master.