London – Alistair Hargreaves will hope to follow the “quiet, humble” approach of former schoolboy cricket teammate turned South Africa run-machine Hashim Amla should he play for Saracens in this weekend’s European Cup final.
Saracens captain Steve Borthwick’s chest injury problems are threatening to sideline the former England skipper from what could be a memorable finish to his 16-year playing career by ruling him out of both Saturday’s match against defending European champions Toulon in Cardiff and next weekend’s English Premiership final with Northampton at Twickenham.
Borthwick now has to prove his fitness during a Thursday training session if he is to face Toulon at the Millennium Stadium, with four-times capped Springbok lock Hargreaves standing by to take his place in the second row if he fails to make the grade.
Locks are generally known for their physicality and aggression but former Natal Sharks forward Hargreaves insisted playing cricket alongside the reserved Amla at Durban High School had made a big impression on him.
“We had a proud cricketing history and I enjoyed being a bit of an all-rounder,” Hargreaves said.
“I was selected for South African schools and made the decision to choose rugby and that’s been the story ever since.
“Bowling at Hashim in the nets wasn’t fun! His average was in something like the 90s as a schoolboy, and that’s incredible.
“He’s very quiet, humble, a very respectful guy and a hard worker. He’s everything you’d want in a world-class sportsman.
“Guys like that, they definitely rub off on you as they grow up.
“How you grow up, the environments you’re in and around, they definitely shape you, so I’d definitely like to think he’s had some kind of impact on my rugby career, although not directly.
“Certainly spending time with him and seeing what sets people like that apart, it can only do you good in the long-run.”
Looking ahead to the weekend, Hargreaves added: “Saturday's game probably is the biggest of my career, but I’ll prepare the same as always to make sure I’m ready.
“You try not to let the occasion overwhelm you, so our preparation is pretty consistent.
“Mentally that helps me not to build it up too much in my head.
“Hopefully Steve will recover in time, we all want him to be able to finish in style.
“We all owe a duty to Steve, he’s such a massive part of this club and the revolution of this club. In the back of the minds we’d like to send him off on the right note.”
Hargreaves left his native Durban to join north Saracens in 2012 and has recently signed a new three-year deal with the north London club.
While playing his club rugby in England may not have been helpful to his Test prospects, Hargreaves said he’d no regrets about joining the 2011 Premiership champions.
“I’d played for the Sharks in Durban my whole career by the time I made the move,” he said.
“I needed a change and a new challenge. I felt I was getting a bit stale, I had a few mates playing over here and they gave it rave reviews.
“I’ve absolutely loved my time here, it’s been great.
“It was almost a spur of the moment decision to give it a shot but it’s the best decision I've ever made.” – Sapa-AFP