Friday, May 6, 2022

Jack Singleton: ‘The Saracen movement flew in my face but I love it in Gloucester’

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The salary cap scandal ended Singleton’s ‘homecoming’ from Sarries and brought his career to a halt in England, but now he’s looking up again, having found a home in Kingsholm, writes Hugh Godwin

In the summer of 2019, Singleton, then 23 years old and about to leave for the World Cup in Japan, landed a dream move to Saracens after five formative seasons in Worcester.

Jack Singleton doesn’t wish to be seen as a victim of the Saracen salary cap scandal, but the in-form Gloucester and former England hooker tells a remarkable tale of rise and fall and rise again as he prepares to face his old club at Friday in the quarterfinals of the European Challenge Cup in Kingsholm.

A ‘homecoming’, he called it at the time – as a Hertfordshire boy he had come through Saracens academy, his childhood home was 10 minutes from the training ground and the club had just won the Premiership and European Champions Cup double.

World champions under 20 and a two-time senior uncapped tourist, Singleton was England’s third-choice No2 alongside new clubmates Jamie George and Exeter’s Luke Cowan-Dickie. He played in two World Cup warm-up games against Wales and featured in the main event against USA in a 45-7 win in Kobe.

Then came trouble. “One of the reasons I wanted to come back to Sarries was to win trophies and that obviously blew up on day one,” Singleton recalls I now.

“We were initially deducted 35 points on my first day – I was off the plane from Japan and the next day into the club and an eight o’clock meeting. It was quite a turbulent time, a stressful time.”

Singleton made 15 appearances, but by March he was out the door. After another points deduction that ensured Saracens’ relegation, a number of players retired or went on permanent loan to other clubs or, in seven cases, on loan: Ben Earl and Max Malins to Bristol, Alex Goode to Japan, Alex Lozowski to Montpellier, Nick Isiekwe to Northampton, Nick Tompkins to the Dragons. and Singleton to Gloucester.

Six of them returned as Sarries was immediately promoted back to the Premiership – the exception being Singleton.

“I wasn’t really in shape after that World Cup,” he says, “and it’s not like I blame anyone at Saracens for losing my place in England, it was me at the end of the day. I still really enjoyed my time there, I met a lot of nice people with whom I still talk a lot today.

“It definitely made me a better player; Starting from Worcester I realized how to go about it if you want to be at the top.”

In Gloucester, he was enthusiastically greeted with a pun tweet of a manipulated clip from the ‘Take Me Out’ show, in which Singleton’s face was taped onto a contestant’s body, just as presenter Paddy McGuinness yelled: “Single man – reveal yourself !”

And in the final week of this 2019-20 season – amid the Covid disruption – Gloucester head coach George Skivington offered to call in the loan and make the move permanent. “I really enjoyed it under ‘Skivs,'” says Singleton, “and I thought, ‘Where am I going to play rugby the most?’ – and that was Gloucester.”

Called off by England in autumn 2020, Singleton tore a hamstring in the week of the delayed Six Nations game against Italy and has suffered the same fate three times in eight months.

But Eddie Jones has never lost touch, including in the summer and autumn 2021 training squad. This season, Singleton’s eight tries and 19 starts in 22 appearances for Gloucester have helped them climb to fifth in the Premiership and follow that European appointment a potentially crucial rematch with Saracens in the league finals on 4 June.

One of Singleton’s attempts came when he followed a break-off in Gloucester’s 25-24 league win at the Saracens in January – the Cherry and Whites’ first away game of the game in 14 years.

“It was a little strange,” says Singleton. “‘Skivs’ had contracted Covid this week so he wasn’t there for most of the week. We were a bit lucky that Alex Lozowski missed a rebuild at the end to progress. Still, it was one hell of a win. This week is a knockout game in Europe and I know how seriously Saracens take Europe. I think it’s going to be a completely different game.”

Last week Gloucester hammered local rivals Bath 64-0, ball-in-hand creativity grafted onto an impressive driving maw long in the making.

“I’m loving my time here,” says Singleton, who turns 26 next week. “For us now basically every game is a KO. We’ve slipped recently in the Premiership, losing points to Wasps and Sale, but we’re willing to give it a shot for that top four place and take each week as it comes.

Given Jack Singleton’s history so far, this seems like a wise move.

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