Spencer and Bath prepare for must-win match with former team Saracens

‘I postponed my wedding and moved to Bath’: Now Ben Spencer needs to overcome the Saracens who he spent a whole decade with to make the play-offs with his new team

  • Ben Spencer left the Saracens in June after spending a decade with the team
  • The Bath scrum-half is now preparing for a crucial match against his old team 
  • Spencer and Bath need to overcome the Saracens to qualify for the play-offs 

Ben Spencer has learned to adapt, after lasting just an hour at university, overcoming jet-lag and lost luggage to play in a World Cup Final, postponing his wedding due to COVID and changing clubs mid-season.

The 28-year-old England scrum-half has tended to make the best of trying circumstances and that useful habit has been evident again lately. 

He had spent the best part of a decade at Saracens but, when the Premiership champions’ relegation from the Premiership was confirmed, as punishment for past salary cap offences, he had a decision to make about his next move.

Ben Spencer will face his former team-mates with Bath’s play-off hopes on the line

To avoid continuing upheaval for his young family, Spencer opted for a long-term deal at Bath and he has hit the ground running, with a series of authoritative, prolific performances to leave Stuart Hooper’s side in the mix to claim a play-off place. 

Sure enough, the script dictates that he will return to Allianz Park tomorrow, ready for an occasion laden with significance.

His new team need to beat his old team to be sure of taking their title challenge into the knock-out phase. There will be a head-to-head with the man who mentored him over so many seasons and the poignant prospect of seeing good friends who face uncertain futures.

Spencer is quick to acknowledge that his enforced departure from Saracens was a wrench. He said: ‘I probably didn’t leave on the terms I wanted to because of the whole COVID thing. 

 ‘I didn’t really get to say a proper goodbye to the lads and it would have been nice to be involved in the European games they’ve had. It will be great to catch up with them and hopefully have a beer after the game.

‘It’s Brad (Barritt)’s last game and Wiggy (Richard Wigglesworth)’s last game – and also Wiggy’s 250th game. So, for me, it’s quite nice to be involved in some way in their send-off. I have huge respect for both those guys and working closely with Wiggy for the past nine years has probably helped me get to where I am now.’

Saracens are being relegated to the Championship but without any clarity about when the second division’s 2020-21 season will begin and Spencer added: ‘I spoke to a few of their boys over the past couple of weeks and they don’t really know what’s going on next. 

‘We’re going there to get four points and hopefully nothing takes away from that, but I have huge sympathy for the lads involved. I hope they’re back in the Premiership as soon as possible really.’

He has adapted to his career move and new surroundings, just as he has adapted to everything else over the years. Spencer grew up in Cheshire and spent two in Devon before signing for Cambridge, which was supposed to allow him to continue studying, but it didn’t quite work out that way.

Spencer signed a short-team deal with Bath after Saracens’ relegation left him with a choice

Spencer was a regular part of the Saracens’ team, spending just under a decade at the club

‘The plan was to go to Bedford Uni alongside playing for Cambridge,’ he said. ‘But as it was, I went to uni for about an hour! Cambridge had financial issues. I was 17 at the time and we were basically told that we weren’t going to get paid for months. I had literally an hour at uni and my housemate called me and said, “You better come back, we’ve got a meeting”. I was meant to be studying sports coaching, but I went for an hour and I never went back!’

It wasn’t long before he was picked up by Saracens, which was when Spencer again had to adapt to circumstances. Suddenly, an opening presented itself. He took the leap and didn’t look back. ‘I had a bit of luck really,’ he said, of his major break-through.

‘I probably went in as fourth or fifth choice at the club, but it was a World Cup year so Wiggy was away, Neil De Kock had just had a hip operation and Luke Baldwin had broken his leg. I was still on trial at this point. I wasn’t even under contract with them and my first game was Toulon away in pre-season. I started in that game.

‘Wiggy came back from the World Cup and did his ACL, then Kocky broke his arm, so that was me; in at the deep end. Then they brought in Peter Stringer for six months and it was just me and him really. I was probably under-cooked in those early games but that situation stood me in good stead.’

Last year, Spencer had to react to another opportunity on a far grander scale. When Willi Heinz was injured at the end of England’s World Cup semi-final victory over New Zealand, he was summoned to the Far East as injury cover – and ended up appearing in the final. His short-notice inter-continental call-up was a personal landmark to cherish, but it wasn’t an entirely smooth process.

It’s been an eventful year for Spencer who also had to postpone his wedding due to Covid-19

‘It was definitely hard to take it all in,’ he said. ‘I probably spent 95 per cent of that week jet-lagged, which didn’t help! It was an amazing experience that I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. 

‘My missus and kids came out and I think my dad got in trouble with my mum because they were in Portugal on holiday at the time and my dad ended out flying out to Tokyo on his own. I don’t think my mum was too impressed with that, but he couldn’t really turn it down.

‘It was just unfortunate that it didn’t go our way – and it was over so quickly really. When I came into camp, the other lads were laughing, saying, “It’s mental that you’ve just flown out for a World Cup Final”. I was gutted not to make the initial squad so it was great to play some part in it.

‘Loads of different thoughts had been going through my head when I was sat on the plane, then I arrived at the airport and my bag didn’t make it. My boots and my gumshield were in there, so I had to wait a few days for my kit to come from Heathrow. Luckily I had a spare pair of boots in my hand luggage.’

Spencer has galvanised Bath but fate has put him in a crucial match against his former team

Much has changed since then, with the season shut-down preceding Spencer’s relocation west. He moved from Hertfordshire on what was meant to have been his wedding day. 

‘We were due to get married on June 26, but we ended up moving house that day instead,’ he said. ‘We had to postpone the wedding until next August.’

By then, he will hope to have earned several more Test caps. England head coach Eddie Jones has only picked him four times to date, but Spencer has been in supreme form since the Premiership resumed. 

He has galvanised Bath with his control, game-management, big-game nous and leadership, as well as a torrent of tries – to leave his new director of rugby mightily impressed. ‘Ben has been outstanding,’ said Hooper. ‘He’s been a massively positive influence on and off the field.’

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