While Saracens have rightly been lauded for their recent Champions Cup and Premiership exploits, somewhat less publicised was last month’s victory in the Premiership Shield (formerly the A-League) and the emergence of even more budding young stars.
One of those tyros, back rower Andy Christie, spent last summer in Wellington, New Zealand, under the watchful eye of ex-All Blacks star Rodney So’oialo and has also done hard yards at Old Albanians and Bishop’s Stortford as he battles to reach the top.
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After helping Saracens claim the Premiership Shield and then being handed a Premiership debut in his side’s last regular season league game at Worcester, Christie, 19, said: “It’s been a fantastic season for the club and a great one for me personally. Getting a taste of Premiership rugby at the end of it was something I hadn’t really expected going into the season.
“Going down to New Zealand last summer was huge for my rugby development. I went to Wellington with Elliott Obatoyinbo, who’s a winger and a good friend of mine at Saracens, and there were a lot of positives, the main one being to work closely with Rodney So’oialo.
“He was one of the most knowledgeable people I’ve ever been coached by and he showed me a lot of different perspectives on things I’d not seen before. He’s played back row at the highest level for New Zealand and is a great guy, so I relished working with him.”
Christie explained: “Rodney’s an academy coach at Wellington now. As well as playing for Petone, I did a lot of sessions with him and covered pretty much everything there is in the game skills-wise, from breakdown work to high ball practice and every topic under the sun.
“Saracens gave Elliott and me the opportunity to try New Zealand and we took it, so to come back and have a really good season in which I represented England U20s as well has been superb. I was disappointed not to go to the U20s World Cup but I’m fully focussed now on having a good pre-season with Saracens and trying to take any opportunities I get.”
Born in Bristol, where he attended Bristol Grammar School as well as being on the books of the Bears, Christie opted instead to take up a scholarship at Harrow School aged 16. At Saracens, he is now being mentored by some of the best back rows in the business. For the odds on the senior World Cup in Japan see these World Cup predictions.
A No.6 by trade, he explained: “Billy Vunipola’s been great with me this year and always goes through my clips with me. He’s very generous with his time, as has been Schalk Burger who’s been fantastic in imparting his huge knowledge and pearls of back row wisdom.
“There’s always a lot of competition from world-class players at a club like Saracens but I’ve been getting phenomenal advice and I’m ready to be patient. Guys like Jamie George and Ben Spencer have done that and reaped the rewards, so I aim to do likewise.”
NEALE HARVEY / Photo: Getty Images
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