The idea of England stars Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell playing for the Chiefs in Super Rugby next season has been described as “unbelievable”, “great for the game” and “awesome for spectators” by two of Super Rugby Aotearoa’s leading players.
Speculation of the pair joining the Hamilton franchise in 2021 has been rife over the past week after it was revealed that Saracens are considering loaning their players out next season as they face a campaign in the RFU Championship.
The London club will be relegated to England’s second-tier competition for the 2020/21 domestic season as a result of salary cap breaches.
That could see a slew of top players in contention for selection for the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa next year leave the reigning English and European champions before returning ahead of the 2021-22 season.
There are currently six players in the Saracens squad who featured on the Lions’ most recent tour of New Zealand in 2017 – Farrell, Itoje, Jamie George, Elliot Daly and Mako and Billy Vunipola.
Some typical straight talking from Dimes ahead of the Premiership restart https://t.co/vUVcXMdQeK
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 11, 2020
All of those players would be among those expected to depart the club in search of top-level rugby ahead of the 2021 tour, and it may be FMG Stadium Waikato where the likes of Itoje and Farrell end up.
Saracens boss Mark McCall last week revealed he has been in discussions with Chiefs head coach Warren Gatland about the possibility of sending his players to Super Rugby on a short-term basis.
Gatland, who lead his side to a winless Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, won’t be at the club next year as he takes charge of his third Lions tour as part of the sabbatical deal included in the four-year contract he signed last year.
That seemingly hasn’t stopped him from playing a key role in potentially landing the Chiefs two of the biggest names in European rugby. “I don’t think it is out of the question,” McCall said last week when asked about the possibility of Super Rugby loans.
“I don’t think, if that was to happen, it would be for very long. It would be to get enough rugby to make sure they are firing come the Lions tour. I talked to Warren on Monday and he was very happy with the situation.”
Speaking on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, Crusaders halfback Bryn Hall and Blues hooker James Parsons made no secret of how significant a move it would be for rugby in New Zealand if Itoje or Farrell were to join the Chiefs.
Parsons used his former teammate and three-test England midfielder Joe Marchant, who joined the Blues on a loan deal from Harlequins this year, as an example of how well players from Europe can adapt to the fast-paced nature of Super Rugby.
“They play a different style, but use Joe Marchant as an example. He’s a great player, he was exceptional for us when he played,” the two-test All Blacks rake said.
“He fully adjusted his game to our style and looked right at home towards the end there, and he’s just finding himself at international level. Bring guys like that [Farrell and Itoje] over, man, that would be great for our comp. It would be great for players, as well, to test themselves against guys like that. [The] Chiefs will be really wrapped.”
Hall, who was part of the Crusaders side that claimed the inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa title in their 32-22 victory over the Highlanders on Sunday, replicated his North Harbour teammate’s sentiments. The Maori All Blacks halfback noted the addition of Itoje and Farrell would help add star power and international flavour to a competition that is likely to be restricted to teams from New Zealand and possibly Australia from next year onwards.
“I just think it’d be great to have those kinds of calibre players coming over,” he said. “I’d love to see it. I’d love to see Itoje. I love watching him play and, even the likes of Owen Farrell and the calibre of those guys coming into our competition, especially moving forward, with the possibility of us not playing South African teams or anything like that, having the calibre of those kinds of players coming and playing with us, it’s only going to add to our competition.”
"If I don’t get the result here, I could seriously be in a lot of trouble down here in Christchurch." ?https://t.co/EJKkcvNR2r
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 11, 2020
Hall did, however, express concerns over whether the recruitment of world-class foreign stars would hinder the development of young, local talents. Parsons refuted that notion, highlighting how much up-and-coming youngsters could learn off players like Itoje and Farrell.
He added that could be especially beneficial for the Chiefs’ youthful and relatively inexperienced squad, which he believes contributed to the Hamilton franchise’s luckless run through Super Rugby Aotearoa. “Warren Gatland’s been saying that the age of their team [has held them back], and yeah, I agree the only way you can learn is by getting out there, but you can certainly learn off guys like that,” Parsons said.
“It’d be massive. They’re young men as well, they’re not old. I don’t know, it would be great for the game, awesome for the spectator, and I’d love to see how Itoje would go, like week-to-week. I’d just love to see it. It’d be a good test study. Both hemispheres are like ‘We’re the best and toughest’. It’d just be great to mix and mingle and see how well they go. It would be great.”
Listen to the full episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now