Daily Mail

Sarries ask Itoje to take pay cut of 50 per cent

- by Chris Foy Rugby Correspond­ent

MARO ITOJE is facing a major career dilemma, after being offered a new contract by Saracens worth around 50 per cent of his current deal, which expires at the end of this season.

The 29-year-old England lock is believed to earn approximat­ely £800,000 per year, as one of the highest-paid players in the country, but Mail Sport understand­s that his club have only been able to offer him £400,000-425,000 per year to extend his stay. This is because a change to the salary cap regulation­s means clubs can now only designate one ‘marquee’ player, rather than the previous two, and Owen Farrell — also out of contract in the summer — will retain that category at Saracens.

While that allows the England captain to be paid outside the cap, Itoje’s wages will now have to fit within the spending limit, which applies across the top division. That figure is due to go back up next season from the lower threshold of £5million to £6.4m — which was the cap before the disruption caused by the Covid pandemic. However, the rise seemingly still isn’t sufficient to allow Saracens to offer anything like the sort of lucrative terms they were able to previously.

The upshot is that Itoje is grappling with a major quandary about his future. While he would be able to command a much higher club salary in France — where Racing 92 are admirers — or in Japan, where All Black flyhalf Richie Mo’unga is believed to be earning £1.2m per season, the equation is complicate­d. As an England regular, Itoje can earn £23,000 per Test match, which serves to significan­tly increase his annual income.

As the decorated Lion reveals in an exclusive interview with

Mailonline today, another factor is the likely roll- out of so- called ‘hybrid’ contracts, for 25 England players. This will mean the RFU pay for increased access to core squad members, which will ease the financial burden on clubs and reduce the threat of an increased exodus of players across the Channel, or to the Far East. Itoje is certain to be offered a deal by the union to keep him at home, if the scheme can be agreed soon.

Just a couple of months ago, reports suggested he was aiming to negotiate a pay rise at Saracens, to put him on a par with new Bath recruit, Finn Russell, who is understood to be earning £1m per year. But such salaries are rare as English clubs are having to tighten their belts in an era of financial turmoil.

Even the wealthier Premiershi­p sides are struggling to match the wages on offer in France. Jack Willis agreed a new deal at Toulouse after the former Wasps flanker received insufficie­nt offers to return to England. And Henry Arundell is weighing up interest from Bath and Gloucester — but they cannot match the money Racing 92 are prepared to pay, to keep him in Paris for longer.

Itoje has a lot to consider. He will want to play on for England — which won’t be possible if he moves abroad, in the circumstan­ces — and he will want to go on another Lions tour in 2025. But he is also a shrewd individual who understand­s that he has a significan­t market value, in a short career. The onus is now on the

RFU to hurry through their hybrid contracts plan, although it remains to be seen whether that concept would have the unanimous support of the clubs. DANNY CARE has labelled Harlequins’ match with Saracens the ‘biggest of the season’ as the rivals prepare to do battle at the Stoop this evening. Quins are in fine form, having won four on the spin. And Care, who will start on the bench, said: ‘When Quins play Sarries, it’s still the biggest game of the season. There’s always the added edge of the history between the clubs. They’re the best team in the league, the team to beat with the players they’ve got.’

 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? Money talks: Itoje has spent his career at Saracens
GETTY IMAGES Money talks: Itoje has spent his career at Saracens
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