PRESS NOTES | Alex Austerberry (PWR - Rd 6)
Director of Rugby Alex Austerberry admitted that ‘The Christmas Cracker’ against Bristol this weekend was one that jumped off the calendar when the league fixtures were announced.
Sarries head into this one off the back of an unbeaten start, but they will be wary of a Bears side that possess power and pace aplenty in their ranks.
“Every weekend is a tough test. The league is filled with quality teams but on paper this is the toughest test so far. Bristol are a quality team and have been in and around the top four for the last few seasons. They are a side we have the upmost respect for, and we expect it to be tough on Saturday. This is one that jumped out on the calendar being two days out from Christmas, so hopefully we can head into Christmas day full of festive spirit.”
One of the hallmarks of the start to the season for Saracens has been the depth the coaching team have had at their disposal. Austerberry credited his squad for giving him plenty of selection headaches, with players constantly putting their hands up for selection every week.
“It’s a very strong squad. The thing that makes my life the hardest is players not playing. You need that competition for places to drive standards and force people to be better. We think we’ve put together a very good squad but managing players doesn’t get any easier when you know that everyone wants to play every week.”
There’s been a fair amount of change at Saracens over the summer, but Austerberry has been thrilled with how his players have been challenging each other and working alongside each other to drive up their own standards and performances within the team.
“It’s a very good group. They’ve come together and even though they are going head-to-head in positional battles for shirts, it’s being done in an incredibly supportive way. That helps drive Saracens forward. If everyone keeps pushing each other to raise their game, then every player will be a better player by the end of the year and that’s what you want as a coach.”
The match against Bristol is set to be a huge fixture in the context of both team’s seasons. With several former Saracens in the Bears ranks, Austerberry has challenged his side to channel the emotion of the game in a positive manner.
“The players naturally want to be involved in the biggest of games. These are the ones that they will look back on and get excited by the most. It’s more about keeping focus and discipline on the pitch with everything going on around you. Emotion is positive if channelled in the right way and the players will have a bounce in their step. We’ve got some players that moved over there in the summer, so there’ll be that dynamic to things too and I know that it will be a great battle come kick-off.”
Whilst results have been impressive at the start of the season, the Director of Rugby has been most pleased with the performances of his side across the league campaign, as they search for momentum to carry across into 2024.
“You want to keep building on performances. Sometimes, results don’t go your way and that’s okay. The important factor is momentum and performance. We’d love to be going into Christmas with five from five but if we don’t, then it’s not a disaster, it’s a little setback that we will learn from. People say that you learn more in defeat than in victory, but I want to learn more whilst winning as well! For us, we obviously want those results on the board, but the real focus is that momentum and putting in performances that show we are growing each week.”