From Rubber Ducks to Rucks: Bath Time With Saracens
Saracens' rugby stars may look tough, but how strong is their resolve during a bubble bath? We sent one brave reporter to find out.
I'm flicking through my Twitter feed when I see an Evening Standard headline for a Champagne Bath Bar. You drink champagne in a bath that's filled with champagne. This has my name hand-embroidered on it in gold leaf. I once visited Monaco and instantly recognised myself as trans-Monegasque – I was born in the wrong country. Seriously, I was named after Grace Kelly's character in High Society – I couldn't be more qualified to bathe in champagne.
I quiz Laura, the patient PR, about the brands of the champagne they'll be serving. How were the canapés chosen to complement it? Have they been made by a celeb chef? What champagne are they filling the bath with?
Laura the patient PR tells me the baths are filled with water. Water? What are the canapés then – bits of stale bread? Doesn't she know I'm Grace Kelly incarnated? She tells me there'll be Moet and some snacks; I'm never going to flog this to a food site. I ask who else is going. "Lots of ladies rsvp'ing!" trills Laura, who then adds as an after-thought, "there's going to be some Saracens players so that should help?!"
I'm back in the game! My editor at VICE Sports says he'll run the piece if England lose against Australia. He likes the idea of a bath time chat with the boys about England getting knocked out of the World Cup. I feel like a traitor to my country – I want England to win, but I've got a piece riding on their failure. When England lose, I feel terrible. I made this happen – I am an appalling person.
The hopes of a nation were dashed, but at least Sammy got to write her article | Photo by PA Images
I plan my tan and blag some bikinis off a PR I met at a party, in exchange for a blatant plug. Thanks Moontide. I spend the morning watching Hugh Vyvyan videos on You Tube and the afternoon in the bathroom with my camera on a timer.
I'm pretty chuffed with myself when I'm barely late, after beetling about a Hoxton industrial estate. Saracens players Henry Taylor, Scott Spurling and Juan Figallo are having PR shots taken, while Hugh Vyvyan watches from the sidelines. I give Vyvyan my camera and ask him to take a few shots while I'm having a bath with the boys. I've been promised photos by the PR but I want my own as back-up. Vyvyan seems like a safe bet.
Bath time with the boys is the foundation of my feature, but Vyvyan vetoes us sharing a tub. He outlaws any loofah action and lets the boys hold my sponges as long as they keep them at a distance akin to my prospects of getting on the property ladder. In Monaco. The boys have done a shot where Figallo pours a jug of water over Taylor's head. Can I pour a jug of water over Taylor's head? No.
We get dressed and go outside to do the interview. There's a bubble machine going so it's like being stuck in Hamleys' doorway. "Thoughts on England's World Cup showing?" I ask, reading my editor's email verbatim. Figallo suggests the English guys take this one. Taylor, who's played in the England U20s says: "Disappointing, but I think the team is unbelievably talented and things didn't go our way at times. I don't think the finger can be pointed at anyone. We've got one more match left – I think the whole country should get behind England and I think we should finish the group well."
Vyvyan adds that England doing well in the World Cup would have meant a halo effect on rugby, with more kids coming to watch them play. He echoes Taylor when he says: "It's not like football where there's a witch hunt, but unfortunately one or two heads may roll. It's not been great for English rugby but the most disappointed people will be the players and the coaches."
I ask Spurling for his thoughts on England's decision to go for a try in the final few minutes of the Wales game. He looks uncomfortable. Vyvyan says to him: "Be honest, mate." Spurling, who also played in the England U20s says: "As the captain on the field, you want to go for the win – you don't see yourself settling for the draw. So in the heat of the battle, going for the win is the first point of call. In hindsight, everyone can say we should have gone for the three, but I think most people would have gone for the corner at that point."
Vyvyan follows this up: "The disappointing thing is, in Farrell you've got probably the best kicker in English rugby, and he was playing so well. The disappointing thing is, I suspect England would have drawn that game and then gone into the Australian game still with a chance to qualify for the quarter-finals. It's these fine margins on which games are won and lost and that decision was probably a poor one because, although getting a draw in that game wasn't the desired result, it was probably enough to qualify for the quarter-final."
Spurling looks aghast. Vyvyan laughs and says: "You've got to give them a little bit!" He adds: "In the World Cup you've got to go for it. It's [essentially] a knock-out game, you've got to see the bigger picture."
Taylor chips in: "We don't know if they went through it with their coaches, if they had a meeting during the week and said, 'right, if we're in this position, what do we do?' Robshaw's in the middle of a packed stadium and he's made a quick decision. Yes, in hindsight it's the wrong decision but-"
"If they score, he's a hero," interjects Vyvyan. "If they score, he's a hero," continues Taylor, "but it's the wrong decision isn't it? But, you know anyone could have made it. He was just the man that had to make it."
I ask Spurling what could have been done differently against the Aussies. He says: "Maybe be a bit more conservative. Maybe play percentages a bit more. It was a bit harsh – England didn't play badly that game, Australia played very well. Maybe just put it behind them a little, put pressure on their line-out, put pressure on their exits."
I ask the guys what's next – who should England fans get behind? "Everyone support Argentina!" declares Vyvyan. The guys laugh and Argentine international Figallo, who joined Saracens last summer, makes a heartfelt plea: "Please England, support Argentina! We are going well in this World Cup – I hope Argentina go to the quarter-finals!"
There's laughter from the guys and I ask if they agree – should we all support Argentina? Taylor says: "Everyone should back Northern Hemisphere teams!" He names Ireland as his number one and Spurling agrees: "Ireland are dark horses! It's better to get behind a Northern Hemisphere team, because Australia and South Africa dominate World Rugby." Vyvyan concurs, saying fans should: "Get behind the green horse!"
Taylor says we should remember England still has one more game: "The World Cup's not finished yet so we need to get behind England and make sure the support's still there."
Figallo adds: "England is hosting a beautiful World Cup, the atmosphere is wonderful every game, so keep enjoying it." Vyvyan agrees: "The Rugby World Cup is great for the sport. Although our team's been pretty rubbish and it would have been better if England had done better, we're showcasing a fantastic event and attendances have been amazing."
It's time to move on to the frothier questions and I ask how the guys relax after a game. "In a Bathstore bath!" They announce in unison. Figallo tells me he likes a barbeque: "Likes his red meat and Malbec!" chips in Taylor, who tells me he goes home for a roast: "I like to see my family, get the grandparents over!" I ask if his family are into rugby: "Well, they're very supportive of my rugby, but yeah, they are keen rugby fans."
I ask Spurling how he psyches himself up for a game. He says: "I like to get into the right mental space. My preparation during the week has to be right – I have to know the detail, know the opposition. I wouldn't say I psyche myself up – I just keep a very calm, clear head. Even two minutes before I go out, I like to keep a smile on my face, and remember I'm going out there to play a game, like I've done since I was 12."
Figallo tells me he likes to pack his bag the day before. He seems pretty set on this: "I have to make my bag the day before. It has to be the day before because, I don't know why, but I have to do it the day before." I ask him what he puts in his bag. "My boots. They have to be checked a hundred times before going to the game. All the studs must be in the right position!"
I turn to Spurling, who tells me he wears lucky pants: "They're pink and they've got kiwis on them." Taylor adds: "They're a little bit like lycra." I ask Spurling why his pants are lucky: "Cos I play really, really well in them." Vyvyan explains their origins: "I played him in a game at Twickenham when he was 18 and he scored an 80 metre try." We establish that Spurling has worn these pants every game since, for the last four years. "He doesn't wash them either," says Taylor: "They stink!" He asks Spurling if he wears them on any other occasion – he says no: "I wouldn't want to lose my luck!"
Pants aside, Spurling tells me he likes to have two pairs of boots: "Because I always break them!" Taylor says: "I think the fat boys tend to break their boots more often than us little lads!" Vyvyan chips in: "I've broken a lot of boots!" Spurling bats back with: "It depends how hard you work - people who work harder break more boots!"
I ask the guys if they want to add anything. There's a flurry of: "Thanks to Bathstore! Bathstore has hosted us and they've put on a lovely evening for us!"
Later that evening, I hear a rumour that Bathstore is in talks to sponsor Saracens. It doesn't come as much of a surprise.
Next morning, the PR-promised photos don't arrive. I spend the day chasing, but my emails go unanswered and my phone calls aren't returned. I finally receive one image. I ask for a link to the rest, but I'm told: "I've just checked with the Saracens and they're the images they approved last night so this is all we can offer." I ask the PR to clarify: Have Saracens vetoed the rest of the photos we're in together? No response.
I'm left with the uneasy feeling that in Saracens' eyes, I'm less Grace Kelly and more Josie Cunningham. I critique the one photo I do have and berate my boobs – they are definitely too big for that bikini. Saracens don't want to be sullied by me but my editor is clear: we are definitely going to need more than one photo and there is nothing of use on my camera. I email the PR, explaining that without more photos, the piece won't run. I receive no response, but when I check the link later, additional images have been added. The guys seemed lovely, but no bubble machines or Bathstore baths will rinse off the residue of this event. I feel dirty.