When the Premiership’s early season fixture list dropped, Hugh Tizard received a text from his Dad. “You can’t write it,” it read. “It just had to be.”
That was because Tizard’s first game for his new club Saracens was to be at the Stoop against Harlequins, the club from which he had moved. The rivalry between the sides has been fierce in recent years, not least in last season’s Premiership semi-final, when there was trash talk in the build-up and fireworks on the pitch. On that occasion, the lock was on the losing side.
“I have always felt it’s a friendly rivalry more than anything,” he says. “Certain players said things and the media grabbed a hold of it. At that stage I still had massive aspirations to win the Premiership again with Quins, so my sole focus was that and I hadn’t really thought about the move.”
The move had been confirmed months earlier, after Saracens made an approach late last year. Since the salary cap scandal, second row has been among Sarries’ hardest-hit areas, with George Kruis and Will Skelton leaving, then Tim Swinson retiring at the end of last season. That was the hole they were recruiting Tizard to fill, working with Maro Itoje and Nick Isiekwe.
“It was a tough decision because there are a lot of boys there [at Quins] who I went through the junior academy with, then lived in the academy house with. Some of my closest mates are still there. In terms of rugby I was excited for a new challenge, and a fresh start.
“Maro has been back for a few weeks, it’s been nice to pick up a few things [from him] in a short space of time. That was one of the big reasons [for the move], to learn off the best lock in the world. It will be good to pick bits out of his game.
“I made it clear when I met Sarries that I wanted to play a lot. I played a lot of rugby last year and I’m at my best when doing that. So it’s about learning the system and I can’t wait to get stuck in.”
Tizard lines up alongside Itoje in the second row in a strong Saracens side that also sees Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola straight into action after England’s summer tour. He is also opposite George Hammond, one of his great mates from Quins who is benefiting from his departure in terms of playing minutes.
“We are very close,” says Tizard. “We came up through the junior academy together, lived together. We always wanted to play in the Premiership together. Sadly it didn’t happen, but he played well last week and it’ll be nice to play against him. The last time I did that was at school. I was at Cranleigh, he was at Whitgift. That was probably a bigger rivalry there than this one!”
The 22-year-old is expecting a few “lighthearted comments” from the opposition about his defection, but it is clear his new team-mates already have his back.
On a recent BBC podcast, hooker Jamie George said signing Tizard was “an absolute steal” for Sarries, adding “you could see him creeping into the England squad by the World Cup” in a year’s time.
“I have massive aspirations to play for England,” says Tizard. “I hope that as I get more comfortable playing for Sarries, that becomes a possibility.”
By the time of the World Cup? “It’s clear that if you play well, with Henry Arundell being an example, the chance can come,” Tizard says.
“He played a handful of games [for London Irish], did well, and the call came. It’s definitely on my mind that if I have a season like that, it’s not too late.”
Saracens: 1 Mawi; 2 Woolstencroft; 3 Judge; 4 Itoje; 5 Tizard; 6 McFarland; 7 Earl; 8 B.Vunipola; 9 van Zyl; 10 Farrell (c); 11 Lewington; 12 Tompkins; 13 Lozowski; 14 Malins; 15 Daly.
Harlequins: 1 Marler; 2 Head; 3 Collier; 4 Hammond; 5 Herbst; 6 Kenningham; 7 Evans; 8 Dombrandt (c); 9 Gjaltema; 10 Allan; 11 Murley; 12 Anyanwu; 13 Marchant; 14 David; 15 Green