By Neale Harvey
Evergreen winger Dave Strettle is eyeing an England return at the age of 35.
Strettle, who hit that landmark yesterday and rejoins Saracens next month after spending the last three years at Clermont Auvergne, won the last of 14 Red Rose caps in 2013.
However, an unexpected chat with England boss Eddie Jones last year means Strettle is imbued with fresh hope of a belated Test recall if he can take the Premiership by storm.
Strettle, who notched 35 tries in 97 Premiership games during his previous five-year stint at Sarries, told The Rugby Paper: “Eddie Jones rang me completely out of the blue in my second season at Clermont to say that if I’d still been playing in England, I’d have been in.
“He thought I was playing out of my skin and I was a bit blown away by that, but I knew what the score was with regards being ineligible because I was playing in France.
“I’m back now and I’m feeling great. I was a bit of a late developer in Premiership terms anyway so I’m feeling fit, fast and I’ve lost none of my top-end speed.
“Some people might be wary of signing a 35-year-old, but you’ve only got to look at what Schalk Brits is still doing at 37 and Saracens can still see me playing well.”
With Brits earning a South Africa recall at his ripe age, Strettle added: “It’s my job to play well for Saracens and if the call up comes is out of my hands. But if someone asked me do I expect to go back and play well enough to be considered, I’d say ‘yes’.
“I don’t want to be cocky or arrogant in saying that, but you don’t sign for a club like Saracens thinking I won’t play well this year. If I play as well as I did before or when Eddie gave me that call, why couldn’t I get back in and put my hand up for selection?
“It would be quite a story but at the end of the day it’s down to me.”
Strettle returns to Saracens a more rounded individual, having helped Clermont to the 2016-17 Top 14 title and benefitted from sampling a different lifestyle.
He regrets the fact that restrictions on overseas-based players representing England prevent more stars from broadening their horizons beyond the Premiership. Strettle explained: “It’s been a hugely fulfilling experience and if I had my time again I’d make exactly the same decision to go to France, where the crowds are at a different level.
“When you play year-in, year-out in the Premiership, going to the same stadiums and playing the same teams, you can get a bit stale with it, so experiencing a different culture is brilliant and I’d definitely recommend it to other guys at some point in their careers.
“It’s tough because everyone wants to play for England and the temptation is to stay, but that chance doesn’t always come and you can spend ten years hanging around.
“Everyone knows the reasons why England won’t pick from abroad and it’s done with the right intentions, but in a way it’s just denying guys the opportunity to broaden their rugby and lifestyle experiences and I hope others get the opportunity to do it.”
Strettle faces a battle with Liam Williams, Sean Maitland, Alex Lewington and up-and-coming flier Rotemi Segun for a Saracens place but is hungry for the challenge.
“If you asked me whether I wanted to walk into a team and just be comfortable or go back to a team where you know you’re going to have to be on top form to play, I’d take the latter because it makes it more fun and gets the best out of you,” he said.
“The hardest thing sometimes as you get older is the mental game because sport can be quite monotonous, but Saracens have always been good at keeping things fresh and these last three years in France have allowed me to press the re-set button.
“I can’t wait for the start of pre-season at Saracens now because being up against good players is the exciting challenge I need at this stage of my career.”
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