Rugby followers here in the Duchy could see global superstars Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje in league action next season after both players signed new contracts with fallen giants Saracens this week, writes Gareth Davies.
The reigning Premiership and European champions were hit with record fines and a points deduction for breaking salary cap rules which has resulted in relegation to the second tier. Therefore, the London outfit will ply their trade in the second tier against the Cornish Pirates.
Somewhat surprisingly, there hasn’t been the mass exit from Saracens that many expected and prior to Farrell and Itoje committing to the side, England and British Lions hooker Jamie George also agreed to stay.
Understandably, Saracens will be red-hot favourites for an instant return to the Premiership, although the task of trying to stop the men in black is something the Pirates are relishing says their joint head coach Gavin Cattle, when he spoke exclusively to The Indy on Thursday.
“I think it is a great opportunity as a club and a league to go up against Saracens,” he enthused. “Let’s face it, they are one of the greatest sides in England and in these extraordinary circumstances, they happen to be in our league.
“I think it is exciting from a players point of view to pit themselves up against the best. The calibre of squad in terms of the experience Saracens have mean that playing against the likes of Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje will be the pinnacle for some of our boys in their careers. Some of the Saracens players have achieved an awful lot in our game at such a young age.
“The uncontrollable is the nature in which Saracens have come into the league, but from a players’ perspective, you have the vision of an opportunity to play in the Premiership, so here is the chance to put yourselves up against a really quality outfit.
“There is uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 currently with no one knowing when the start date for the league is coming, but what is exciting, when we do get going, is that you have a team like Saracens in your competition which is only going to elevate it.”
Cattle, who skippered the Pirates to their EDF Energy Cup win over Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham in 2007, revealed that the club have had no indication when any Championship season would begin, although it will almost certainly dovetail around Premiership plans.
“There are a lot of moving parts to it,” he added. “When you plan for any season, there are dates in mind along a timeline and we are still waiting for that timeline, but you have to also adapt to any given situation.
“The toughest thing for me has been the connection. With rugby, we are used to seeing everybody every day. The nature of zoom and technology is great, but it doesn’t replicate having that small conversation when you’re passing by someone. Not having the lines of communication has been really tough.”
The Pirates finished the aborted 2019-20 campaign sitting in third place, while they had also made the Championship Cup last four and Cattle feels that a lack of closure from last term and no start date for 2020-21, isn’t ideal currently.
“Like everything, when you have a group that has been together for a while, you’re a little further down the track,” he said. “It is about the continuous improvement for us – on and off the pitch.
“We were really disappointed with how the season finished because we lost our captain (Brett Beukeboom) and then Chris Sterling went back to New Zealand. It was just a bizarre time and it doesn’t really feel that we have closed last season off yet. When we get the date set for next season starting, we can then certainly put some meat around the bones.”
Meanwhile, also in Cornish rugby this week, The Independent understands that National League Two South outfit Redruth have re-signed Sam Parsons from St Austell in a player-coach role.