Bath-bound England scrum-half Ben Spencer heads to the West Country next month with a remit to stamp his mark on proceedings at the Recreation Ground and boost his Test chances.
Spencer, whose dramatic late call-up for the injured Willi Heinz saw him come off the bench in last November’s World Cup final, has bucked the trend among Saracens team-mates who opted for loan deals and will instead cut ties completely after signing a three-year deal at Bath.
It was a decision he made with a heavy heart with Spencer, 27, telling The Rugby Paper: “Potentially I could have gone on loan too, but the thinking involved my family as well.
“I’ve just had my third child and my eldest starts school in September so that was a big factor and I didn’t want to uproot them all for a year and then come back.
“It’s been an awesome nine years at Saracens and I’m sad to be going. I can’t speak highly enough of the people there and I wouldn’t be where I am now without their help.
“It’s not just me but my family as well and all the off-field stuff they help you with. Unless you’re in the environment you don’t really see that, but they’ve been amazing to work for.
“Having Neil de Kock and Richard Wigglesworth to work with early on benefitted me and it’s rare that you go to a club with two scrum-halves of that calibre. To have them around day-in, day-out to learn from allowed me to get my game to where it is now – I’m grateful for that.
“Hopefully, my experience will stand me in good stead and I’m excited about the move. Bath’s a lovely place to live, so alth-ough it will feel strange finishing the season with a different club, I’m looking to get stuck in and make a good start.”
Capped just four times by England in an era where Ben Youngs, Danny Care and more recently Willi Heinz have held sway, Spencer is among an army of No.9s looking to press cases as head coach Eddie Jones assesses changes he might make ahead of the 2023 World Cup.
With Wasps star Dan Robson hitting top form and young guns Alex Mitchell, Harry Randall, Ben White and Jack Maunder pushing hard, Spencer concedes the onus is on him to take charge at Bath and prove to Jones why he should be the man to lay claim to the jersey.
Spencer explained: “Bath have got a young up-and-coming pack and a world-class backline, which is great, so they wanted someone to come in and be the link between the two and have a bit more of a leadership role in the team – and hopefully I can do all of that.
“I know all the England boys in the Bath squad and Christian Judge was at Saracens last year, so there’ll be a few familiar faces which will make my transition easier. My aim is to put my stamp on things and, hopefully, move us in the right direction.”
As for his England ambitions, Spencer adds: “Everyone wants to be No.1 and there are a few guys pushing for those spots. I had a chat with Eddie Jones before the Six Nations when he just told me to be ready, so all I can do is get to Bath and be as fit as possible because Eddie wants No.9s who are super-fit and get the ball away quicker than anyone else.
“I hope I can get back into the England set-up because while not making the 31 going into the World Cup was disappointing, to get out there eventually and have a run-out in the World Cup final is something I’ll hold on to forever. It’s been a bit frustrating being in and out of the squad but I’m hoping now will be a good time to get into that team more regularly.
“At 27, I should be coming into my peak and if I can step things up at Bath, hopefully things will fall into place. It’s been difficult with lockdown and having a new-born as well, but I’ll soon get into the routine and improve from there.”