Maro Itoje’s England and Saracens future has been plunged into doubt after it emerged the lock has been asked to take a 50 per cent pay cut by the north London club.
Saracens fear the British and Irish Lions forward could be poised to leave them and, indeed, the Premiership, with Itoje, 29, one of the league’s highest-earning players on a reported £800,000 a year, said to be unhappy at having to accept such a huge reduction and contemplating his next move.
Changes to the salary cap mean Saracens have been forced to choose between the forward and Owen Farrell for “marquee” deals and that their preference is for the England fly-half to receive one.
It could mean Itoje following his fellow England international Henry Arundell to France, with several Top 14 sides watching the situation. The Rugby Football Union’s regulations currently rule out picking players who play their trade outside the Premiership.
Itoje started Saracens’ 38-10 victory over Harlequins on Saturday night but is facing a huge career dilemma with his contract due to expire at the end of the season. Farrell’s current deal also finishes then but while any new contract would allow the England captain to be paid outside the salary cap as a “marquee” player, Itoje’s wages will have to fit within the spending limit that applies across the top division.
Mark McCall, Saracens’ director of rugby, said after the game at The Stoop: “We are never going to talk about someone’s contract.”
Arundell, who plays for Racing, received an exemption from the RFU to play for England due to London Irish’s decent into administration being treated as an exceptional case.
Other England internationals have already made the move to France with Joe Marchant at Stade Français, Jack Nowell at La Rochelle, Sam Simmonds and Harry Williams at Montpellier, Joe Simmonds at Pau, David Ribbans at Toulon and Jack Willis at Toulouse.