The long list of potential replacements for Owen Farrell at Saracens

Jared Wright
A split image of Stormers fly-half Manie Libbok, Saracens' Owen Farrell and Italy's Paolo Garbisi.

Stormers fly-half Manie Libbok, Saracens' Owen Farrell and Italy's Paolo Garbisi.

Saracens are in the market for a fly-half after the confirmed departure of Owen Farrell to Racing 92 next season.

The Premiership club face the arduous task of replacing their experienced captain and playmaker, who has been nothing short of crucial to their success – which is an understatement.

In fact, it’s difficult to remember a time when it wasn’t Farrell barking the troops around the pitch and controlling matters from number 10. Yes, Brad Barritt’s tenure as skipper was not too long ago, but even the legends that filled the role before Farrell feel like distant memories – the likes of Charlie Hodgson, Michael Lynagh et al.

However, if reports are to be believed, the Premiership club have received a massive payment in the region of £500,000 from Racing 92 to complete the move.

This will certainly open the market for Saracens to attract just about any fly-half in the world to the London club, and Planet Rugby takes a look at who might be on the radar and who could be a good fit.

It’s unlikely that Saracens will be able to recruit a fly-half that ticks all the boxes that Farrell does, from ability to experience to pedigree and leadership, but there are certainly some tantalising prospects.

Front runners

One of the names that has already been linked with a move to Saracens is Paolo Garbisi with the Italian international’s contract at Montpellier expiring at the end of the season. The 23-year-old ticks a few of the same boxes as Farrell with his ability to play fly-half and inside centre and has the kind of tactical nous and drive that will be attractive to Saracens.

They will face competition from Benetton for his signature, and while they will certainly be able to compete with his salary demands, it may come down to the Italian’s personal preference.

Another French-based fly-half has been tipped as a potential replacement as Ihaia West looks set to depart La Rochelle, having fallen out of favour with Ronan O’Gara, with Antoine Hastoy and Hugo Reus, the first and second choice number 10s at the club. He has a proven pedigree in Europe and could fit Saracens’ more attacking approach in recent seasons.

There is an intriguing option in Ireland as Saracens could pursue Leinster fly-half Ross Byrne. The playmaker is set to miss the Six Nations through injury, and while he was part of the Ireland squad for the 2023 Rugby World Cup, he seemingly dropped down the pecking order, having become Johnny Sexton’s back-up before the tournament. With Jack Crowley seemingly set to be Ireland’s go-to number 10 in the coming years, and the likes of Ciaran Frawley, Harry Byrne and Sam Prendergast rising up the ranks at Leinster, Byrne could cash in on a move to the Premiership. Again, he has proven quality at Champions Cup level and could be the starting pivot for five years or even longer.

Meanwhile, Adam Hastings’ contact with Gloucester also comes to an end this season and would be a handy addition to the side despite his recent struggles with the Cherry and Whites. Especially with Saracens likely to sign more than one fly-half ahead of next season, he certainly has the experience and quality the club will be after.

Finally, Saracens may be tempted to approach Stormers playmaker Manie Libbok. The Springbok drew interest from Racing 92 as well, and while it is reported that he has signed a deal until 2027 with the Cape-based side, Saracens do have some money in the bank to buy the Stormer out of his contract.

Outside bets

As already mentioned, Saracens will reportedly have a war chest to fund a contract buyout for just about any fly-half, which really opens up their options. Several clubs will be looking nervously over their shoulder as Mark McCall scours the market.

The Stormers might be one of the sides, as Saracens might want to bring Damian Willemse back to the club as a versatile playmaker. Perhaps his future is more in the centres or at full-back, but his defensive prowess and overall skillset will be attractive to Saracens.

Meanwhile, Saracens could also target the next England fly-half prodigy, Fin Smith, from Northampton Saints. The 21-year-old inked a ‘multi-year’ deal with Saints in 2022, but again, Saracens may loosen the purse strings and sign a player who could be their fly-half for the next decade.

One cannot rule out the potential move for George Ford, either. This is more an unlikely scenario, but if Saracens are eager to get an England fly-half on their books to replace Farrell, Ford could be on their radar. He would slot in seemingly into almost any team and could be tempted to take on yet another challenge, but it is unlikely.

They may prefer to have an Englishman as their number 10 for the next decade, but there are other potential long-term options, one of them being Sam Costelow, who has also enjoyed a rapid rise with the Scarlets and Wales. The same could be said for Edinburgh and Scotland’s Ben Healy.

In the southern hemisphere, Saracens might consider Wallabies playmaker Noah Lolesio and Fiji’s star man Caleb Muntz.

Left field

The upheaval at Montpellier at the end of last year could open up another option for Saracens and a rather intriguing one in Louis Carbonel. The French international is hugely talented but is low down in the pecking order with France. It’s not only Montpellier’s potential relegation from the Top 14 that could make a move possible, as Carbonel also had a falling out with current Montpellier coach Patrice Collazo at Toulon, which ultimately led to his departure.

There are several other left-field picks, and Sharks pivot Curwin Bosch could certainly be one of them. The two-time Springbok has the raw talent to be a world-class operator and has never really kicked on and made the most of his talents. The Saracens coaching staff could potentially see him as a strong contender and the kind of player they can mould and build from.

Alternatively, they could dip into the ‘Tier 2’ rugby market and give Georgia’s Luka Matkava an opportunity to shine in Europe’s top leagues or even turn to Portugal’s Jeromino Portela or Chile’s Rodrigo Fernandez after stellar World Cup campaigns.

Surely not

Paddy Jackson was one of the names that quickly got linked with a move to Saracens when reports of Racing 92 pursuing Farrell emerged. The former Irish international is currently at Lyon, and while he is talented enough to slot into the Saracens starting XV, we doubt the Premiership club will take on the 32-year-old, considering the allegations of rape and sexual assault he faced in 2017.

While they will likely have the financial backing to chase a big-name star like Handre Pollard, we doubt that the South African will leave Leicester Tigers just yet. They might consider Beauden Barrett, but after he signed a contract extension with New Zealand Rugby, it’s unlikely that they will even fancy their chances.

Having already mentioned Fin Smith, Marcus Smith certainly has to be mentioned, but even if Saracens are eager to bring him on board, we doubt Harlequins would even tolerate any discussions around buying him out of his contract.

And what about Quade Cooper? Well, we can’t envisage Saracens recruiting the 35-year-old from Japan, particularly if they need to buy him out of his contract, as he would not be a long-term option for the side.

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