When it comes to choosing an overseas club to play for at a certain point in a player’s career, there are no shortage of options for those based in New Zealand.
Players from across the country have departed for offshore clubs in their droves since the dawn of professionalism, with the riches on offer in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Europe and Japan often far better than the pay packages available in New Zealand.
For Crusaders and North Harbour halfback Bryn Hall, though, it’s the title-winning success that has become synonymous with Saracens over the past decade that has made the London club the overseas team he would like to join the most.
Speaking to the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, the Maori All Blacks representative revealed that interactions with Saracens stars during New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown was enough to sway him in favour of the five-time English and three-time European champions.
“I’d love to go to Saracens,” Hall said when asked what overseas club he would like to play for if the opportunity presented itself.
“During the COVID break, we were actually pretty lucky to actually talk to the Saracens boys and had some Zoom calls with them.”
Seemingly unfazed by Saracens’ salary cap scandal that has seen them relegated to the RFU Championship for the 2020-21 season, Hall suggested he was eager to continue the title-winning run he’s enjoyed since joining the Crusaders three years ago.
“I see that team, they’ve got a lot of success around them, some quality players there, so if it was in Europe, Saracens would be a pretty cool spot.”
By comparison, Hall’s North Harbour teammate James Parsons said if he was to head overseas, he would like to play at a club that features a number of his former Blues teammates.
The veteran hooker pinpointed Premiership club Bristol Bears as one of his preferred destinations due to the presence of ex-Blues personnel such as utility back Charles Piutau, loose forward Steven Luatua, prop John Afoa, lock Chris Vui and director of rugby Pat Lam.
“I’d absolutely love to go join my Blues alumni at Bristol,” Parsons said. “They look like they have plenty of fun when they play.
“They’ve got plenty of dough. It’s all spent, though, so I’ll be going for nothing, but yeah, that looks like a bit of fun.”
The two-test All Black added that there are a couple of other clubs that have piqued his interest, noting that a move to France holds particular intrigue.
“[Former England loose forward] Thomas Waldrom told me Exeter Chiefs is a hell of a lot of fun and they’ve got a great environment and, from what I can see, Jerome [Kaino] and Charlie [Faumuina] and Pita Ahki are loving Toulouse,” Parsons said.
“I think anywhere in France would be pretty cool. I think it would be pretty cool experiencing their culture and the way they do things over there. Obviously they love a scrum, so that suits me.”
While the idea of playing in France appeals to Parsons, Hall seemed more reluctant on plying his trade in the Top 14 due to the language barrier that would come with moving to a non-English-speaking country.
The 28-year-old said his role as a halfback is heavily dependant on communication, which would prove to be difficult as he isn’t able to speak French.
“I’d find it [in] France… being a halfback and game management is massive, and communication is massive. I think going to France, it would be an awesome lifestyle experience, I reckon, but… I’d have to learn French.”
Parsons, however, urged Hall to reconsider his stance on the matter, saying that learning the language and understanding the culture is all part of the experience of playing in a foreign country.
He highlighted former All Blacks playmaker Luke McAlister, who spent seven years playing for Toulouse, Toulon and Clermont, as an example of someone who flourished both on and off the field during their time in France.
“I think that’s what it’s about. You sort of look at the players that have immersed themselves in the culture, became long lost sons of the place, look at Luke McAlister,” Parsons said. “He was over there for a number of years, he’s speaking fluent [French].
“I think that’s part of the experience, learning the language and the culture and just going all in. No point going over there half-arsed, Bryn. Get into that culture, mate.”
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