Owen Farrell and Saracens have confirmed that the two parties have reached a deal to extend the incumbent England captain’s career with the club.
The news comes as something of a surprise, given that Farrell – along with many highly-paid Saracens stars – were originally thought to be destined to leave following the club’s relegation to the Championship. This presumption, however, has not proven to be true: while many of the club’s stars have moved on, others – including Elliot Daly and in-demand hooker Jamie George – have also decided to remain.
There has been some speculation as to why this might be the case. Championship rugby is another world in comparison to the Premiership, especially for those who hope to play international rugby. The Championship also offers relatively little to players who may have entered the sport at least in part due to an interest in “big matches”; playing in the second tier means no thrilling Heineken Cup finals, no classic derbies – just a series of unfairly-matched battles where the end result is decided before the first whistle has been blown.
So, why have so many chosen to stay with a club whose reputation will likely never recover, and where they will play rugby in an atmosphere that is only a couple of ticks above the amateur levels?
Assessing the possible reasons
One possible explanation is Eddie Jones’ willingness to continue selecting Saracens players that are playing in the Championship; a willingness that is, in and of itself, something of a surprise.
Another explanation is that players just love their club. Perhaps Saracens are a team of “club men”, who played not for the – often illegally inflated salaries – or the glory of winning multiple titles, but to experience the famous ‘culture’ and the love of the Saracens fans.
Then, amongst the cynical, there is a third suggestion: that these players know what side their bread is buttered on. Financial fair play is something Saracens have clearly always seen as optional, and the players were as involved in that as those actively skewing the figures. The salary cap breach has often been discussed as if the beneficiaries are unknown and household-name players were entirely innocent of the club’s wrongdoing, but those inflated salaries were being paid to someone – and perhaps those players are willing to stay with a club for whom a trifling matter of obeying the laws of the game didn’t mean much in their pursuit to recruit and keep the best players around.
The truth is likely a combination of all three, and there’s also the not-insignificant factor that the pandemic will have had on players who might have left struggling to find a new home. Nevertheless, it is curious; very few players in any sport are willing to join a ‘lesser’ league, yet some of Saracens brightest stars – including the brightest of them all in Farrell – have chosen to do just that. We definitely do live in the strangest timeline.