Brad Barritt: 'I was shocked to see my England career end - I hope Eddie Jones doesn't do it again'

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Barritt, who had been a central figure for England under Stuart Lancaster, would not add to his 26 caps following Eddie Jones' arrival - Getty Images
Barritt, who had been a central figure for England under Stuart Lancaster, would not add to his 26 caps following Eddie Jones' arrival - Getty Images

‘The first selection was the biggest shock,” says Brad Barritt, recalling the moment that he feared his England career was over, just as he felt he was hitting the best form of his life.

Even now, as the former Saracens captain looks back on a career that includes five Premiership titles and three Champions Cup triumphs, it is clear that the emotions are still raw when he recalls that day, in January 2016, when Eddie Jones revealed his first squad as England’s newly-appointed head coach.

His first instinct proved correct. Barritt, who had been a central figure for England throughout Stuart Lancaster’s four-year tenure, would not add to his 26 caps, the last of which was the defeat by Australia in the final pool match that confirmed the side’s humiliating World Cup exit in Oct 2015.

The Durban-born centre was renowned for his politeness and humility off the pitch, a stark contrast to his reputation as a blood-soaked warrior on it.

But in a rare moment of candour, the 35-year-old admits, for the first time, that it was a decision that he found hard to accept. “I don’t like to say it but I was probably one of the form centres in the Premiership and in Europe at the time,” he tells Telegraph Sport.

“I was three years on from a bad injury and I was playing as well as I had ever played, so I think I got a sense that things had moved on. They had gone for a different philosophy or they were looking to blood new players.

“I certainly believed I had shown the form good enough to play. He (Jones) did reach out. I was told I was certainly being considered, as was probably a big pool of players. But no, it sadly never materialised.

“That is the face of rugby, you have to accept that sometimes a coach is ultimately the end decider of your destiny. And it wasn’t to be.

“I was grateful that I was part of a hugely aspirational, forward-thinking and really strong club team that went on a remarkable journey.”

It was the disappointment of his international exclusion, at just 29, that drove him on to success with his club Saracens and tonight Barritt will gather with some of the key people from that journey as he finally gets to celebrate his testimonial at a gala dinner at a hotel in London, which had to be postponed on three occasions because of the Coronavirus pandemic.

It is just over a year since he played his last game for Saracens. A concussion sustained in the Champions Cup semi-final defeat by Racing 92 in Paris denied him a chance to play in his club’s final two Premiership matches. Ten days later he had relocated with his family to Cape Town to take up a job as the managing director of the South African arm of a UK fintech company.

Barritt will be remembered as one of the Premiership greats, making 262 appearances in 12 seasons with Saracens - Getty Images
Barritt will be remembered as one of the Premiership greats, making 262 appearances in 12 seasons with Saracens - Getty Images

It was an undeservedly low-key finale for a player who will be remembered as one of the Premiership greats, making 262 appearances in 12 seasons with the London club and also representing the British and Irish Lions on the tour of Australia in 2013.

Perhaps more than anything, he is a player who will be remembered for putting his body on the line for club and country. His injuries included a lacerated eyeball and he needed two metal plates inserting in a fractured cheekbone.

Tonight he will get the chance to “close the book” on his career with family, friends and former team-mates. The fact that South Africa was removed from red-list countries on the day he arrived back in the UK, having spent 10 days in Dubai to avoid having to hotel quarantine in London, is only a minor inconvenience.

“A part of me thought that the testimonial would never happen,” he says. “With Covid, no one knew how long or when there would be social gatherings and I’d almost accepted that it possibly wouldn’t happen. I am just grateful it is going ahead.

“I get to see a lot of the people who’ve been a part of my career, both family here in the UK, friends as well, and all the great people at Saracens and England that I’ve met over the years.”

Among the high-profile guests will be former Saracens and England team-mates Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Mako and Billy Vunipola, Alex Goode, Richard Wigglesworth, Alex Lozowski and Manu Tuilagi.

That the likes of the Vunipola brothers and George have been omitted from the England training squad for the autumn Test series is not lost on Barritt, given his own experience with England.

While the influx of new talent, spearheaded by Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith, has raised excitement and expectations ahead of the autumn internationals, he insists it would be a wrong move to discard them at such a critical moment ahead of the 2023 World Cup in France.

“I can’t speak in terms of what Eddie is thinking, but I have no doubt that in, many ways, it will galvanise those players and they’ll do everything they can to prove him wrong,” he says. “Whether that changes his mind or not, I don’t know. I had the experience of ‘not’.

“But to be brutally honest, looking good in the Premiership and then having to win away in Ireland in the Six Nations requires very different skill sets and mindsets.

“So while everyone wants the free-flowing, attacking game, the brutality of the Test arena doesn’t create half as many opportunities for players. There are certainly options going forward, but those Saracens players, in particular, are tried and trusted and top-class internationals. So, I think it would be foolish to overlook them all.”

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