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Hargreaves reveals Amla influence

If Alistair Hargreaves replaces Saracens captain Steve Borthwick for the Heineken Cup final, the Springboks lock will draw on his school days batting alongside Proteas run machine Hashim Amla.

Saracens skipper Borthwick's pectoral problem could deny him the chance to close a decorated 16-year career with back-to-back Heineken Cup and Aviva Premiership finals before he retires this summer.

The former England captain must train on Thursday to prove his fitness for Saturday's showdown with Toulon, otherwise four-cap Springboks second row Hargreaves will take his place.

The former Natal Sharks line-out boss has admitted starting the European showpiece would be the biggest game of his life.

When he lines up in the bowels of the Millennium Stadium this weekend, Hargreaves will once again try to take a leaf out of 'quiet, humble' schoolmate Amla's approach to top-class sport.

"I played cricket at school and Hashim Amla was actually a team-mate of mine when I was at school," said Hargreaves, who attended Durban High School.

"We had a proud cricketing history and I enjoyed being a bit of an all-rounder.

"I was selected for South African schools and made the decision to choose rugby and that's been the story ever since.

"Bowling at Hashim in the nets wasn't fun! His average was in something like the 90s as a schoolboy, and that's incredible.

"He's very quiet, humble, a very respectful guy and a hard worker. He's everything you'd want in a world-class sportsman.

"Guys like that, they definitely rub off on you as they grow up.

"How you grow up, the environments you're in and around, they definitely shape you, so I'd definitely like to think he's had some kind of impact on my rugby career, although not directly.

"Certainly spending time with him and seeing what sets people like that apart, it can only do you good in the long-run.

"Saturday's game probably is the biggest of my career, but I'll prepare the same as always to make sure I'm ready.

"You try not to let the occasion overwhelm you, so our preparation is pretty consistent.

"Mentally that helps me not to build it up too much in my head.

"Hopefully Steve (Borthwick) will recover in time, we all want him to be able to finish in style.

"We all owe a duty to Steve, he's such a massive part of this club and the revolution of this club. In the back of the minds we'd like to send him off on the right note."

Hargreaves swapped his native Durban for north London in 2012 and has just completed a new three-year deal with the Men in Black.

The 28-year-old hailed his Saracens move as the best decision of his career, despite the switch curtailing recent international opportunities.

Saracens have been heavily linked to signing Montpellier lock Jim Hamilton to offset the loss of the retiring Borthwick.

Hargreaves believes the 2011 Premiership winners have plenty of depth in the second row, whether a new recruit arrives or not.

"I'd played for the Sharks in Durban my whole career by the time I made the move," he said.

"I needed a change and a new challenge. I felt I was getting a bit stale, I had a few mates playing over here and they gave it rave reviews.

"I've absolutely loved my time here, it's been great.

"It was almost a spur of the moment decision to give it a shot but it's the best decision I've ever made.

"We have some great players with the locks already at our disposal.

"George Kruis has been excellent, Mo's come into some good form this season as well and then you've got Eoin Sherriff just bubbling along under the surface along with Hayden Smith.

"Then Maro Itoje has already stepped up, he played against Leicester and put in an unbelievable performance too.

"Whether we decide to get someone with a bit of experience to bolster that second row: that's up to the management.

"But we've certainly got experience there and we're a pretty tight unit as far as that's concerned."


From Belfast Telegraph