Owen Farrell: Saracens captain an 'enormous loss', says new chief executive Mark Thompson

Owen Farrell prepares to kick for Saracens
Owen Farrell will make his 250th appearance for Saracens against Harlequins on Saturday

Mark Thompson has had to wait almost two months for his first taste of Premiership action.

As he sits down with 60,000 others to watch Saracens on Saturday as the club's chief executive for the first time, a club legend will be running out for the 250th time.

Captain Owen Farrell has won three Champions Cups, six Premiership titles and the Championship title in a glittering career in north London, but as he leads his side out at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, his time with the Men in Black will soon be coming to an end.

The ex-England skipper will join French side Racing 92 in the summer, bringing an end to a highly-successful 16 year-association with Saracens, and 12 years of playing for the national team,

"There's no getting away from it, he's a huge loss for us, an enormous loss," Thompson told BBC London Sport.

"Both the skills he brings as a rugby player and as a leader on the pitch, but also in the day-to-day at the training ground.

"We feel confident that we have the structures in place to move forward from that but clearly you don't replace someone of his stature on and off the pitch overnight.

"It'll be a huge loss for the club and the English game as a whole."

Thompson, formerly chief operating officer at Burnley Football Club, replaced Lucy Wray as Saracens CEO in January.

In the period since, England international Maro Itoje has signed a new contract at StoneX Stadium.

'Contingency plans'

But Farrell's exit will signify an end of an era at Saracens, with other senior players expected to follow him out the door in the summer.

The group have experienced the highs of winning some of the game's biggest trophies, including a Premiership and Champions Cup double in 2018-19, as well as the low of suffering relegation to the Championship the following year for breaking Premiership Rugby's salary cap.

Farrell stuck with Sarries through thick and thin but that time is almost up, and Thompson said the club had been looking at replacements since before his departure was announced.

Owen Farrell with the Gallagher Premiership trophy
Owen Farrell with the Gallagher Premiership trophy after Saracens' victory over Sale Sharks in the final at Twickenham in 2023

"Like all clubs we always have contingency plans for what our squad may or may not look like over the next 12, 24, 36 months," he said.

"So we've been active across a number of positions, looking at both internally what we have within our our squad, and what that would mean for individuals there, and also the people that might be able to come in and offer value to us as a club with their personality.

"That's been an ongoing process before and after Owen's decision.

"He's been a huge part of everything this club and beyond, in terms of rugby, has achieved in the last 12 years.

"I know he'll be keen to finish the next couple of months on a high, not just for himself but more for the team that he's been such an integral part of creating.

"We're hugely excited about the core that we've got that we think are going to take us through the next five to seven years."

'Deep community roots'

Alongside Farrell's landmark appearance, Saracens women's captain Marlie Packer will win her 100th England cap against Italy in the Red Roses' Six Nations opener on Sunday.

Saracens has been the only club to have a team competing in every season of the English women's top flight throughout its 35-year history and Thompson said he had been amazed by the "consistency of culture" throughout the club, from their international players through the academy and Saracens High School.

"I got to know the owner and we kind of realised that we saw the world in the same way," he said.

"It's obviously been an incredibly successful club on the pitch over the last 10 years.

"What some people don't realise is how much it also does off the pitch.

"We have really deep roots in a community down to where we're the only sports team in the world that owns a high school as well.

"That combination of great people, success on the pitch, north London geography and our community work made this something that I thought was just a really great opportunity to be part of."

Thompson spent two years at Burnley, overseeing the end of Sean Dyche's tenure and relegation to the Championship before Vincent Kompany took the club straight back up to the Premier League last season.

He believes his time at Turf Moor has equipped him well for the top job at Saracens and is relishing being closer to the day-to-day running of the sporting side of the organisation.

After starting during the international break for the Six Nations, his first game will come against a familiar foe in London rivals Harlequins, but in a less familiar setting at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Saracens could leapfrog their opponents into second in the table with a win and Thompson believes it is an opportunity to bring a new audience of supporters to matches at StoneX Stadium.

"There's no silver bullet but a match like this, the showcase of our players on that stage can only be a good thing in terms of increasing people's desire to engage with us more often," he added.