2019-07-08 08:20:00

On grand final days it often pays to ask a simple question: which team wants it more? The force is not necessarily with those who enjoy the bookmakers' faith. Leicester's set-piece armoury is formidable and most pundits expect them to retain their Guinness title tonight. This ignores the fact that Saracens are bang up for it and are finishing faster than Usain Bolt. According to their long-serving forward Hugh Vyvyan, a spectacular victory for the men in black would be no huge surprise.

Why? Because Sarries nowadays add up to more than the sum of a few imported mercenaries and a revolving-door coaching policy. Vyvyan has played 221 Premiership games – more than anyone else except Simon Shaw who is on 224 – and has seen enough coaches arrive at – seven in six years – to appreciate the quantum leap a league title would represent. Yet, even at 33, there is an unmistakable glint in his eye. "I've never felt as good at this stage of the season," he murmurs, gazing out across the green fields of Hertfordshire. "We've got a team that is not scared of reputation, it just goes out and plays. We play for each other and that's very powerful."

Big-game rhetoric is all part of the fun but Vyvyan sounds genuinely enthused by the South African-inspired transformation. Fourteen months ago he was ready to leave, disillusioned by the toxic fall-out from Eddie Jones's regime and uncertain about Venter himself, having always found the latter a spiky adversary. "This time last year I was very sceptical. I didn't see how Brendan was going to be any different to the people who had been there before." Only the prospect of uprooting his young family from their cosy north London existence in Chalk Farm persuaded the lock, capped once by England against Canada in 2004, to hang around. "I looked at a few other clubs but my family were settled and Brendan just said: 'Give it a chance.'"

"Remarkable" is how Vyvyan describes subsequent developments. The turnaround began before Sarries had even played a match, with the old sweats being catapulted out of their comfort zones. "After five weeks of pre-season I thought: 'Bloody hell, this is going to be tough. If we continue like this for the whole season I might not be alive by the end of it." A pre-season trip to Cape Town swiftly eased the pain. "It was absolutely brilliant. We played three games, did loads of socialising, climbed up Table Mountain and went on lots of wine tours. But it was important because there were a lot of new players who didn't know each other and we bonded very quickly. It was also immediately obvious that the squad members Brendan had brought in were not only good players but good lads."

The upshot was nine wins and a draw in their first 10 matches, albeit in a style that gained few neutral admirers. Then it all went sour, with five defeats from six. Vyvyan, perhaps not coincidentally, spent eight weeks out injured during this same period. Dr Venter's prescription was a boozy 48 hours in Brighton. "Brendan gave everyone the chance to speak and the players all said they wanted to play more rugby. The referees, by this stage, were changing their approach at the breakdown so Brendan decided to give the half-backs far more authority in how we play. First time out, we put 58 points on Newcastle. It almost felt like the start of the season."

Deep into May, with a rotation policy and revised squad values now bearing fruit, Sarries are still feeding off the same feelgood vibe. There is such collective empathy that Venter's much-publicised absence from Twickenham – the former Springbok will be at home with his five-year-old son Joshua after losing his appeal against a loudly-disputed touchline ban – might just make them stronger. Vyvyan, who will partner the returning Steve Borthwick in the second-row, does not disagree. "If the papers are getting stuck into your head coach you must be doing something right. We've got an uncompromising management who say what they think and are not going to back off. That's the way they want us to play. I don't think there's anything malicious about it. Brendan's a passionate guy and to suppress that is ridiculous."

If anyone should be an expert at fostering a happy family atmosphere it is surely Vyvyan, a fly-half until a belated teenage growth spurt prompted a switch to No8. Famously, he is one of seven brothers who formed their own team, winning the Penryn Sevens three times. His sibling Charlie used to play for Sale – their Army officer father was a 6ft 3in centre who turned out for Coventry and Richmond – but it is now Hugh's role, as youngest brother, to act as the tribe's social convenor. "When we got to the final I rang the Sarries' ticket office and asked the girls to keep 100 seats aside for the family. They assumed they'd misheard. But all my brothers are coming – they're old and knackered and happy to live vicariously through me – plus my sister who lives in Australia, loads of nieces, nephews and cousins and university, school and local friends. It's what it's all about, isn't it?"

Not quite. Even as he contemplates the post-match festivities, Vyvyan is aware that winning beers taste even sweeter. Saracens have lost two of the 18 league games he has been involved in this season, but today is different. "This is the competition that I've always wanted to win. I want to grab the opportunity with both hands. There's nothing to lose. are quite rightly favourites because they finished top and have reached six successive finals but we'll go in with every confidence. When you play against teams with huge self-belief you've got to front up and attack them."

It does morale no harm, either, that Sarries won at Welford Road in the final round of the regular season. "I'd beaten every Premiership team away from home apart from Leicester but half our team had never played against them before. There was no baggage, so the lads went out and played as they would normally."

Sarries will do the same this evening, irrespective of Venter's whereabouts.