Alex Goode – one of Europe’s best but not wanted by England
Goode has been with Saracens for 13 years

Of the five nominees for European player of the year, two of them – props Mako Vunipola and Tadhg Furlong – are widely thought to be the best in the world in their positions.

Another two – the Ireland hooker Sean Cronin and centre Garry Ringrose – are also established current internationals, and destined to feature in the upcoming Rugby World Cup.

The one anomaly in the quintet is Saracens full-back Alex Goode, last capped by England back in 2016, and repeatedly considered surplus to requirements by current national team boss Eddie Jones.

Unlike former English winners of the award in Nick Abendanon (2015), Steffon Armitage (2014) and Jonny Wilkinson (2013) – who were all playing in France at the time – Goode is eligible for England selection. He just isn’t being picked.

“He continues to knock out big performances, all the time,” Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall says.

“Especially in the big games he has been sensational. He’s been such an important player for Saracens over the last 10 years.”

So with that in mind, if someone fresh to the game witnessed one of Goode’s performances, and then found out he was in international exile, surely they would be staggered?

“I think so,” adds McCall.

“He’s certainly played well enough to deserve [England selection], but that is someone else’s choice.

“It is [Eddie Jones’] prerogative.

“But if you are going to pick players based on performance – especially in bigger matches, rather than run-of-the-mill Premiership matches – and every time there has been a semi-final or final he produces the goods, then he does have a big-match temperament.”

Goode in action for England against Italy in the Six Nations in 2016

A trip to the Saracens training base a matter of days away from their huge Champions Cup final against Leinster leaves you in no doubt how highly Goode is valued by his club, if not his country.

“His ability to read the game is second to none, and I have never seen a guy make so many breaks with a brick wall in front of him,” adds scrum-half Ben Spencer.

“His nickname is ‘The Spider’, because his legs deceive everyone and he makes breaks everywhere – I don’t know how he does it.

“He’s a brilliant player, and has been phenomenal for us for years now. Hopefully he can bring a bit of magic on Saturday.”

At 5’11” and around 90 kgs, Goode is not the biggest or the strongest, nor can he be labelled an out-and-out speedster in the Anthony Watson or Elliot Daly mould.

It is thought his pace, or lack of it, has counted against him in the eyes of the England head coach.

But according to McCall, Goode has made constant developments in those areas, combining a physical improvement with an innate skill and understanding of the game.

As well as excelling at full-back, Goode has also played fly-half regularly this season, and pulled the strings with class in the European quarter-final thrashing of Glasgow.

“He sees the game very clearly, and sees the game early,” explains McCall.

“He is two steps ahead of most people and he anticipates things but he has also worked really hard physically, and I think he is quicker than he has ever been.

“There was a criticism of him five or six years ago that he doesn’t have out-and-out wheels – and maybe he doesn’t compared to the speedsters in the Premiership – but he is quick, and his hunger to get better in those areas has really paid dividends.”

Saracens beat Clermont Auvergne in the 2017 European Champions Cup final

Goode himself says he has “kept pushing his speed and strength”, but does he think he is a better player than the one that made his England debut in 2012, or the one that made a solitary appearance under Jones in 2016, the last of his 21 international caps?

“I don’t think I was a bad player then, but you learn from experiences and try and layer on different areas of the game,” he says.

“I would like to think I am constantly trying to improve, so maybe I have got better.”

With a place in Jones’ World Cup squad looking highly unlikely at this stage, Goode is philosophical about his England snub, preferring to focus on his achievements at Saracens, where he has played all his career.

Saturday’s final in Newcastle will be an eighth final out of a possible eleven for Premiership champions.

“I would obviously love to play for England, and it was an amazing feeling running out for your country,” he reflects.

“But I have been here for 13 years and I love representing the club. It is a pretty special place.”

And while he says it is “lovely” to be in the mix to be named the best player in Europe, Goode insists the respect of his team-mates is what matters most.

Regaining the European title from an outstanding Leinster outfit would also eclipse any personal triumph.

“I would bite your hand off to get a victory over the weekend over any individual accolade – that has always been the way at Saracens,” he says.

“When you start playing in finals, you are nervous a few weeks out but you learn to relish them and enjoy them.

“You are playing in front of a packed crowd, against the best players in the world, and really testing yourself with your best mates.

“You have got to enjoy that.”

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