World Cup winner Vincent Koch believes the “bad words” aimed at Saracens helped underpin their recovery from relegation to contesting another Gallagher Premiership title.
Saracens will secure the Premiership crown for a sixth time in 12 seasons if they topple Leicester at Twickenham on Saturday.
It is barely 15 months since they were beaten by Cornish Pirates after being demoted to the Championship following repeated salary cap breaches.
South Africa international Koch started that game at the Mennaye Field in Penzance and he has been a key part of Saracens’ rapid renaissance under rugby director Mark McCall.
“It was a challenging time for us, I won’t lie,” Koch said, ahead of his Saracens farewell, before he heads to Wasps later this summer.
“Mentally, it was tough. We got all the heat from the media, which wasn’t great, but it brought us closer as a group.
“We knew that people from the outside were not going to say great things about us, but we had to stick in the group together. Our main focus was to prove a point this year in the Premiership.
“When you go down to the Championship, it’s easy for people to jump the ship, but if you look at the players, everyone stayed – internationals, British Lions stayed at the club – which just shows there is something special.
“You have to get some feedback to grow. Bad things don’t always pull you down – they are something to grow on.
“The bad words said to us made us stronger, tougher. In the six years I have been here, there hasn’t always been positive feedback towards Saracens, but it definitely played a role in where we are as a team.”
Koch featured as a second-half substitute when South Africa defeated England 32-12 to win the 2019 World Cup final in Japan.
He is firmly established as one of the game’s finest tighthead prop exponents and he credits Saracens’ coaching staff with playing a pivotal role in his development.
“I remember that I joined the club in 2016 after the autumn internationals, when I was with the Springboks,” Koch added.
“I didn’t play for eight weeks, and Mark’s words were ‘we think you are a good player, but we just don’t think you work hard enough’.
“For me, that was a massive eye-opener. Coming from an international set-up, I thought I would probably be the full package, but they were like ‘you don’t work hard enough’.
“I had a nice chat with them and they said they wanted to make me a better player, and they invested so much time in me.
“The things like kick-chase and how hard can you work off the ball.
“For a tighthead prop, that is something people don’t really expect you to do, but if you can do it, it just stands out. They have made me a better player.
“Back in South Africa, I didn’t really win any trophies at club level.
“Coming to an environment and club like this, managing to play with world-class players at club level and of course the victories, it has just been unbelievable.
“It is all credit to the squad and the management who were able to build the squad and keep them through the tough times.”