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Why Saracens are backing 'physically very blessed' ex-basketballer

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Saracens are looking at the positive of likely losing Jackson Wray to injury, coach Mark McCall talking up the potential of Samoan international Theo McFarland who made his first Gallagher Premiership start for the club in last Sunday’s win away to Northampton. The 26-year-old started at blindside in a game where fellow back-rower Wray suffered the horror of a fractured skull when clashing heads with a teammate two minutes from the finish. 

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Wray is due to see a consultant this week to plan treatment for the injury that showed up in a scan taken during a post-game overnight stay in hospital. In the meantime, though, Saracens boss McCall has suggested the upside of losing a seasoned forward to injury is that it will open the door for McFarland to further establish himself with the London club he joined last August.

The 6ft 6ins, 115kg 26-year-old, who has four caps with Samoa as a second row, has so far made seven league and cup Saracens appearances, making a debut off the bench in the last October Premiership defeat at Harlequins before going on to build his way up towards last weekend’s first start in the league as a flanker. 

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McFarland initially made his mark playing basketball before switching to rugby and he was picked up by Saracens on a long-term deal following a spell with the MLR Dallas Jackals. With Wreay now facing a long stint on the sidelines, McCall has called on McFarland to prove his worth and fill the gap.

The positive of injury, which is the way we like to look at it, is the opportunity that it gives other players,” explained McCall. “We played Theo McFarland at six last weekend against Northampton. He is a young player with real potential and we are really enjoying his performances at the moment. He will be a good stand-in for Jackson for whatever length of time he is injured.

“Physically he is very blessed and our S&C team are doing some great work with him to get him as good as he can be for rugby. In terms of just a natural skillset, he has got that as well. You combine his natural athleticism and the physical specimen that he is with his ability with the ball – and also he is a very fast learner. 

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He is somebody with a very young rugby age. He played basketball for a long time and although he is 26 at the moment, he feels much younger than that because of how long he has been playing the game for but his progress has been really quick since he came to the club and the coaches have done a really good job with him.”   

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