This week we have a special treat – pasted below is a piece written by ex-bok and now Saracens captain, Neil de Kock, to the Saracens fans in the build-up to this weekend’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Munster.
All the best boys and give those Paddy’s horns!
The wait is nearly over.
Barring the Captain’s run on Saturday, all our training and work on Munster has been finalised – now it’s just a case of waiting for kick-off and I would be a liar if I told you I didn’t have any butterflies in my stomach. I’ve got those feelings of nerves and excitement all rolled into one. I’m now at the stage where I just want the hours to be eaten up so I can get out on the pitch and play.
We’re heading up to Coventry on Saturday afternoon. There’s a game of football on at the Ricoh Arena tomorrow but when that’s all finished, we’re popping along to the stadium in the evening to get a feel for the place, have a look around the dressing rooms and allow the kickers to have a bit of practice.
My approach to the game won’t be much different because I think it’s important to keep some consistency about things. This week, I’ve spoken to the guys about making sure we seize the opportunity – we’ve all committed to each other to ensure we make the most of every opportunity. We’ve spoken about margins a lot this year, and in a match like this those ‘little one percenters’ and small margins can make such a big the difference.
At club level, this is pretty much the biggest stage on which you can play and many of the squad have not experienced a match at this level before. From a personal perspective, this is the biggest game I’ve played in since my last test match for South Africa.
I’m expecting a near test match intensity on Sunday. Munster have proved over many years that they are a European force and their performance against Gloucester in the quarter-finals was very impressive. We studied them and had a good week in terms of preparations and I think we’ve done all that we could.
I’ve also been asked what it means to be Saracens captain this week. That’s tough to put into exact words. It’s more about feelings. Clearly I will be a very proud man on Sunday – it will be a great honour. But to understand where I have been pleased with the achievement of making the semi-finals, we have to go back to a conversation with the players at the beginning of the season. We sat down to discuss our goals and write a mission statement. The big focus of that was for this group of players to earn respect around Europe and to be consistent. There is still some work to be done on the consistency, but we are earning that respect.
On the pitch on Sunday, I have a significant role to play and must lead from the front. I play in a position where I can influence the game and that is what I will have to do against Munster. As a team, we’ve not played well in the past two weeks and we all have to hold our hands up to that – myself included. I have to step up and perform better otherwise I can’t expect the rest of the team to do so.
What we were able to do in the second half against Wasps last weekend was force our own game on them. We did that because individuals took the game by the scruff of the neck. I realise as captain it is my responsibility to make sure that happens – starting with my own performance. It is something I have addressed with the players this week.
The build-up this week has been different – the sight of 40 journalists and five TV crews at training on Wednesday demonstrated that. It’s usually a handful, but it was great to see, and hopefully a sign of what is to come in the next few seasons.
All this just adds to what will be a special occasion – for the club and the players. As kick off approaches, I’ll be reminding them of the chance they have to show everyone that we are a side that competes at this level and as individuals, belong on the big stage. There are guys in our squad who deserve to be recognised at international level, well this is their chance to put their hands up and say ‘look at me’. There are others who are reaching the end of their careers and the opportunities of playing on the big stage are running out – yes that’s you Hilly…
But let me make one thing clear – we are not satisfied with making a semi-final. Having come this far, all that’s in our sights is a place in the final. This is our fourth semi-final in the past two seasons and now is the time to take it to that next stage.
As ever, your support will be crucial on Sunday. Think of that atmosphere you generated for the Ospreys game – we need that again. We all know that the Munster fans will be at the ground in large numbers so let’s all make sure we Back Black. Wear you home shirts, bring your flags and make sure you are dressed in black. It’s going to be a special occasion – make sure you enjoy it.
All the best,Tweet