Mark McCall has admitted that Sam Simmonds’ move to Montpellier is “a worry” for the Premiership and hopes it does not signal the start of an exodus among England internationals in the prime of their careers.
Exeter Chiefs confirmed on Sunday that Simmonds, who was included in Eddie Jones’ latest training squad fewer than 24 hours later, would be heading to the Top 14 for the 2023-24 campaign as a replacement for Zach Mercer.
Although the Premiership salary cap is due to rise again for 2024-25, it will stay at its current level, £5m plus £1.4m in credits, for next season. McCall, the Saracens director of rugby, conceded that recruitment has become “hugely complicated” as a result.
“My answer is I hope not, and I say that because Sam is 27, nearing his peak and is now making himself ineligible for England,” he said when asked whether Simmonds’ decision could spark a flurry of high-profile departures.
“I kind of understand someone who is in their early 30s doing it after they’ve had their international career and want to experience something different.
“To start losing the best young talent in the Premiership, someone like Sam, is a worry.”
Simmonds' Exeter team-mate Jack Nowell has also been linked with a move to France, while the likes of Sale's Manu Tuilagi and Bristol's Kyle Sinckler are also out of contract at the end of this season.
McCall also confirmed that Maro Itoje will be out for “a few weeks” as he nurses an injury to the AC joint of his shoulder, but he suggested that the lock will be back for England’s autumn fixtures.
Saracens host Leicester Tigers this weekend in a rerun of last season’s Premiership final at Twickenham. Off the field, they are in the midst of some difficult recruitment decisions. As with many clubs across the country, they have a number of influential first-team players out of contract next year, or pondering whether or not to trigger extensions.
“It’s hugely complicated and it’s one of the more difficult puzzles you can do,” McCall explained.
“We had some plus one contracts the players had signed a while back. In the past, you wouldn’t start to have conversations about what is going to happen this year and the year after until October or November. Those conversations began on day one of pre-season, to be honest, about understanding where people want to be in a year’s time.
“With those are people who have got plus one contracts on both sides, it was important to know where they were going to be because every decision has an effect on someone else. There will have to be difficult decisions made and we need to be skillful about how we do that.”