As Saracens look to translate five wins from five in the Aviva Premiership into a winning start in the Heineken Cup it would be easy to assume that “boring Sarries” will just go through the motions against Connacht in tonight’s clash at The Sportsground. For Scotland centre Duncan Taylor, though, there is never anything mundane about life with the London outfit.
“We get a fair bit of stick for the way we play,” 24-year-old Taylor says of his side, often labelled as the monotonous sloggers, “but the ‘boring Sarries’ tag is a bit unfair and it is only because we are so professional.
“We still get the same enjoyment out of throwing the ball around as every other club and we have still gotten three try bonuses in the Premiership so far. We just put more of an emphasis on structure.
“There will be no expectations at all of giving Connacht a hiding on Friday because we have great respect for them and we know it will be a physical game there, where Harlequins lost last year. We will play how we know in a Heineken Cup competition which we see as the pinnacle, but we do throw it about.”
While some teams play rugby by numbers, Saracens are often accused of squashing their opposition with their ledger. So for a versatile player such as Taylor to rise through their ranks after a low-profile move from Bedford Blues in 2011 and make himself at home in the matchday squad of one of England’s premier clubs, it is clear that the north London bullies are not as easy to typecast as some would have you believe.
Raised and initially trained in Olney near Milton Keynes, Taylor was a young man at the mercy of his father’s job. As a pharmaceutical salesman, Glaswegian Colin Taylor took his family with him from Olney to Sydney and back again during future international Duncan’s formative years, which included a spell at Davidson’s Mains Primary School in Edinburgh.
Taylor insists that the few teenage years spent in Australia helped him appreciate the skillful side of the game as he threw the ball around in the sunshine, even if he admits he did not go looking for Australian heroes to model his game on. As the centre himself says: “No matter where we went my dad always told me, ‘you’re Scottish’.”
After returning to Olney and earning an academy contract at nearby Bedford, Taylor found himself lucky enough to slot into a team that were consistently challenging in the English Championship. After two seasons Saracens snapped him up and from then on he has continued to progress.
Now, with England and British and Irish Lions centre Brad Barritt clearing a Saracens spot for Taylor after injuring his own foot and ruling himself out for a large part of the season following the first league game against London Irish, the impressionable back has taken to the task of playing a starting role with relish. He starts on the bench in Galway but has started three out of Saracens’ five league games and is keen to cement his place.
“No-one is particularly safe here. You have to keep fighting,” Taylor says. “There are lots of quality players and there is always pressure. For example, if I am selected for Scotland in the autumn, I can come back and other players at Saracens can step in and I will have to start all over again. But competition is good. You can always learn, and with guys like Barritt, Owen Farrell and Charlie Hodgson and so many other players from all over the world, I can pick up a lot from them about running lines and timing; stuff like that.”
Taylor toured with Scotland in South Africa in the summer and he also credits Saracens team-mate Kelly Brown as a big help to him. Brown introduced him to the international squad when many were just familiar names to him and he has stuck with the Borderer ever since – “I’ve been sweet-talking him and buying him coffee.” He is quick to agree that Brown is a top international operator.
However, while some Scots grumble about the international allegiance of young fly-half Tommaso ‘Tommy’ Allan, Taylor is at pains to reiterate that becoming a Scotland international was no knee-jerk decision. He claims that wearing the thistle was a childhood dream and that Scotland team manager Gavin Scott had been in regular communication with Taylor for a full year before he was eventually selected to tour with the team.
Three unexpected caps from the bench later and the Saracen had realised one of his dreams.
Now he and his burly pals train their sights on the one competition that has eluded Saracens. It could be the last ever Heineken Cup so Taylor wants to give a good account of himself. After that he can look at squeezing past Scotland’s Matt Scott or Alex Dunbar.