If Saturday’s European Champions Cup final had been held at a stadium other than BT Murrayfield you sense Jim Hamilton might have kept the news that he was retiring at the end of the season up his sleeve.
Work remains to be done, as Saracens look to follow up their brilliant retention of the European title with a similar job in the English Aviva Premiership in the next fortnight and secure that ‘double double’. However, at a place where the 63-times capped Scotland lock enjoyed some of the most special memories of his glittering career, it seemed like the right time to make public that this was (almost) the end.
“I got my picture taken in the number five booth [of the home dressing room] with the trophy after the game and I spent eight or nine years in that position for Scotland so it felt right to end it here,” said Hamilton after he made a two-minute cameo at the end of Sarries’ 28-17 win over Clermont Auvergne.
“I had an option to go to London Irish but I feel the time is right to finish,” added Hamilton. “If it had been different today would I have retired? I am not too sure, it just feels right.
“It is not a rash decision to bow out after a European Cup final win. I know we have a couple of games left but it feels like the time is right.”
Hamilton will hang up his boots as Scotland’s most decorated player.
“I won a Premiership with Leicester, two Premierships with Saracens and two European cups. A couple of LV Cups in there as well,” he said.
“Look, it’s always a bit surreal after the game chatting about it but I feel incredibly honoured to play this game. I know I am not the most talented but I have worked as hard as I possibly can and I have made the most of every opportunity presented to me so I am extremely proud to win in Europe today.”
The whole of the impressive Saracens organisation can reflect with pride on this latest achievement in what they often refer to as “the journey”. They were a joy to watch in what was a compelling and high-quality final befitting of the continent’s showpiece club occasion.
Clermont were game opposition, scoring one of the tries of the season through Nick Abendanon and somehow managing to remain in with a shout until the last few minutes, but the scoreline did flatter them as Saracens dominated from start to finish.
Chris Ashton, pictured above, broke the tournament’s tries record with his 37th to open the scoring as he pounced on full-back Alex Goode’s perfectly weighted kick through. George Kruis hammered home Sarries’ dominance but centre Remi Lamerat finished off midfield partner Aurelien Rougerie’s surge to the line to make the most of Clermont’s only real threat in the English side’s 22 to keep in touch.
Abendanon finished off a spellbinding attack by the French in the second half but Goode’s try pulled Sarries clear. Moments after first-choice kicker Morgan Parra had been withdrawn, Camille Lopez missed a makeable penalty that would have cut the deficit to five points with five minutes to play and Owen Farrell made no such mistake to make the trophy safe. That allowed Saracens boss Mark McCall to empty the bench and Hamilton got his taste of the action 24 minutes after compatriot Duncan Taylor had come on to add another Scottish flavour to this English triumph.
“I know where my place is in the team. Maro and George are going away with the British Lions and they were always going to start,” said Hamilton. “But I have played in every game bar one, over 20 games for Sarries so I deserved to be on the pitch at the end.
“I am good enough to be on the pitch so it is only right that the coach put me on. Obviously the game was won which was fine by me. To be on the pitch and winning it is an amazing feeling.”
Hamilton’s efforts this season have earned him the supporters’ player of the season award. “Again, unbelievable for me. It is nice to be recognised for hard work,” said the former Edinburgh lock. “I am not a flash player, but a lot of people can resonate with me because I am not that powerful, not that athletic but I get stuck in. I was honoured to get that award and be recognised for hard work. I know I came on near the end there but in five years’ time nobody will remember if I was on for a minute or on for an hour. I played against Glasgow in the quarters and started all the games before that bar one. I played against Munster [in the semi-final] so for me to be on the pitch I felt was deserved and was an amazing feeling.”
Hamilton said that representing Scotland was the stand-out highlight of his career but was in no doubt that this magnificent Saracens outfit, where he has enjoyed a glorious Indian summer to his career, was the best team he has been a part of.
“It is not even up for debate,” said Hamilton. “It is not even that we have world class players as a lot have come through the academy so they have not been bought in. Jamie George, Owen Farrell, the Vunipola brothers [Mako and Billy], George Kruis, these guys have come through the system. For me at the end of my career it is a pretty special place to be.
“It is not about just the 23 guys. Sean Maitland who was injured has been a big part of our success. It is not a cliché to say so has all the backroom staff, the physios, everybody, we are all in it together. We are a big family. Having our kids on the pitch at the end is not a one-off. Every single week it happens, win, lose or draw.”