Bird-Tulloch already a big hit at Saints

Reuben Bird-Tulloch left Saracens to join Saints during the summer
Reuben Bird-Tulloch left Saracens to join Saints during the summer

Reuben Bird-Tulloch may only have made one brief appearance in the black, green and gold so far, but the young centre has already earned the admiration of his team-mates.

That is because he was the winner of this year's Blakiston Challenge, which is an endurance race named in honour of Freddie Blakiston, a flanker for Saints, England and the British Lions.

Blakiston performed a heroic act in the First World War, rescuing wounded men when an ammunition delivery to the front line was attacked by the Germans.

He was subsequently awarded the military cross, and Saints have honoured him with the pre-season challenge, which can last close to an hour and is a gruelling test of stamina.

Bird-Tulloch arrived at Saints from Saracens during the summer, and he was in the thick of it as he took the Blakiston Challenge title Dan Biggar held last year.

"It was a bit of an eventful day for me," Bird-Tulloch said.

"It was a tough fitness test that we do annually and I pushed myself a bit too hard at the end.

"I ended up winning, which was good, but I had a bit of a moment at the end where I needed to catch my breath a bit.

"But I was fine, I just had heavy lungs and a heavy chest.

"My fitness is one of my points of difference so I was just trying to give it my all and make a good impression.

"One of the best ways to earn respect from the lads is by working hard and it ultimately led to me getting a good time.

"My aim was to go as hard as I could and to see what happened at the end."

Cambridge-born Bird-Tulloch does not turn 21 until November 28 and he has joined Saints' Senior Academy after leaving Saracens.

He had been part of the Academy set-up at Allianz Park since the age of 13, captaining England at both Under-16 and Under-17 level.

Bird-Tulloch also represented England Under-18s during the 2016 Five Nations Festival alongside future Saints team-mates James Grayson and Ehren Painter.

But he was happy to secure a change of scenery at club level and hopes his switch to Saints will pave the way to a big future in the game.

"When I knew I was leaving Sarries, I had a bit of a look around and Saints was definitely a club I was drawn to," Bird-Tulloch said.

"I was fortunate enough that they got in touch with me pretty early in the process.

"I came here and had a meeting with Chris (Boyd) and the coaches and I really like the direction the club is trying to go in, especially for the younger players.

"It's a really good place to try to develop and to learn from the older players and you get rewarded if you're doing well, regardless of how many games you've played.

"Whether you're a youngster or an international, it feels like an equal playing field and I really like that atmosphere.

"It was a really good move for me.

"You see guys like Rory Hutchinson and Lewis Ludlam, who were given their opportunity, and you see they got the international call-ups so it's something me and the other young guys can really aspire to.

"Everyone wants to play for their country and that's one of my long-term goals.

"I'm in the best place I could be to achieve that, learning from guys like Rory, Dan Biggar and guys like that. Hopefully I can take things from their game and improve my own game."

Bird-Tulloch got the chance to get a close look at his new team-mates back in March as he attended the Premiership Rugby Cup final at Franklin's Gardens.

Saints managed to beat Saracens, leaving Bird-Tulloch with a strange mix of emotions.

"When I was looking around at the atmosphere, I thought it would be a really nice place to play," he said.

"It was a bit of a win-win for me because if Saracens won I'd have been happy for my mates who were playing in the game, but when I knew Saints had won I had to pretend to be a bit upset for our lads.

"I was happy for the Saints boys to get a bit of silverware and it's always good for the club and the fans to get a trophy.

"Hopefully we can build on that this year and have a bit more success."

Now Bird-Tulloch will be part of the team that is defending the Premiership Rugby Cup, starting with Saturday's game at Sale Sharks.

"I'm really looking forward to this weekend - it should be a good challenge up at Sale," he said.

"Having been there in the past, I know it's a tough place to go. It's quite a cold atmosphere, you don't get much love from the fans but if we stick to what we do, go into the game with clear minds about what we want to get out of it, we'll hopefully get a good result.

"We've got some young players playing, a couple of guys, including myself, are making debuts, so it should be really exciting for us as a group."

So what can any travelling fans expect to see from Bird-Tulloch on Saturday?

"I give my all every time I play," he said.

"I always like to be a leader on the pitch, a voice for guys and to provide constant energy.

"I try to rally the lads as much as I can and I want to contribute to some big performances."