Two years ago, Hartpury student Rich Barrington would have thought you were crazy for suggesting he’d play in a Heineken Cup and Premiership final, but the young prop has hit dizzy heights most could only dream of since signing for Saracens.
“It’s been a crazy two years, I really do have to pinch myself sometimes,” said Rich, now a Hartpury graduate.
“If someone had told me when I was fresh out of university and just starting out with Jersey that I’d have played in both a Heineken Cup and Premiership Final by now, I’d have thought they were drunk because I just wouldn’t have believed it!”
After graduating from Hartpury, Barrington signed for promising Championship side Jersey at the start of the 2012-13 season before a string of promising performances saw him snapped up by Aviva Premiership mainstays Saracens.
“It was amazing being in the starting line-up for the Premiership Final but to lose in the final seconds of extra time was heart-breaking. I’d like to hope that I’ll have another shot at winning it – I’m definitely at the right club to do that,” he added.
Barrington found himself thrust into the spotlight with Saracens following an injury to England international Mako Vunipola and then grabbed his chance to establish himself as one of the country’s most exciting young front row talents.
The 25-year-old is the latest in a string of Hartpury stars from the same golden generation to make his name at the top of the game. Barrington played alongside the likes of Jonny May, Henry Trinder, Alex Cuthbert, Dan Norton, Tom Savage and Andries Pretorius.
“It seems like everyone from that time period has done very well,” he said. “Hartpury is a factory of young rugby talent and it's happening every year – we’re sure to only be a handful of guys reaching the very top level over the next decade or so.
“I learnt a lot at Hartpury playing rugby every week; game time was key at the age, especially as a prop. Having top coaches around you like Alan [Martinovic], John [Barnes] and Sean [Lynn] really helped me improve as a player.”
Barrington, a loosehead prop known to his close friends as Baz, helped Hartpury’s Saturday side to the then dizzy heights of National Two South as the team completed their astounding rise through the English leagues, all the while studying for a degree in Sports Business Management.
The front row has continued his exceptional start to life with Saracens, racking up more than 30 appearances over the last year. He has started their last four games, which included wins over Clermont Auvergne in the Champions Cup and Gloucester, Barrington’s Academy side, in the Premiership.
“We’ve had a good start to the season, there’s been a couple of performances that we know we haven't been at our best but we know we have more to give over the course of the season,” he added.
Barrington also started the season opener against Wasps as well as featuring from the off in a crushing 39-0 defeat of Harlequins.
“I like to take things a week at a time, but for future ambitions, it would be amazing to win some silverware,” he said, “I came so close in my debut season and it’s given me a strong desire to help the team win something in the future.
“We’ve just got to take every game as it comes. We need to be well-prepared for each match and if we keep doing that I think we’ll be in a strong position again come the end of the season.”
Barrington began life playing in the lower leagues as he helped Hartpury on their climb to rugby’s fourth tier but, like other Hartpury products, including Jonny May, he’s thankful he also holds a university degree as well as being a professional rugby player.
“Being a professional rugby player is amazing but doesn't last forever,” he said. “I would urge young players who have an eye on making it in the professional game to get an education alongside rugby.
“Hartpury is an ideal place to do that, you can see that through the number of players making their way into the top leagues over the last 10 years. Having that qualification gives you something to fall back onto when retirement eventually comes around or injury hits.”