FEATURE INTERVIEW | Theo McFarland
He's a big man and he's starting to make a big impression. Basketball's loss is certainly turning into rugby's gain and Saracens are at the forefront of that benefit.
Theo McFarland is not a name many people in the Northern Hemisphere have heard of, but at 6ft 6in tall, and with a skill set brought from another sport that give him a real point of difference, he is fast making headway in the Gallagher Premiership.
The Samoan international's journey to the StoneX Stadium is remarkable enough in its own right, but it is where he wants to go next that will determine whether or not it turns into a true 'Boy's Own' story.
And the 26-year-old back row man is hoping to cement a place in the Saracens side and wants to use that as a springboard to take him to the World Cup in France next year. Don't bet against either happening!
His performances to date for the 'Men in Black' have revealed the potential that Mark McCall first saw - and why he offered him a new contract last month.
“The dream is to get to the World Cup in France next year with Samoa, but before then I'd love to be able to help Saracens finish in the top four in the Premiership this season and push for another title,” said McFarland.
“The coaches have been pushing me hard here at Saracens but I love that. I like being challenged and I just want to improve.
“I'm still quite young in rugby terms but I've learned so much since I've been here from the likes of the Vunipolas and Maro. It's amazing that only a few years ago I was watching these guys on TV ripping it up for England and the Lions and now I'm playing alongside them.
“I came over with my girlfriend, Dolly Keil, and it would be great for us to be able to get back home this summer if possible. We're both enjoying being in England, but we are missing family.
“The only problem is to get back into Samoa you have to spend three weeks in quarantine, which is about the length of time my break will be at the end of the season.”
McFarland is one of the most naturally gifted players in the Saracens squad, which his physicality, and ball playing ability marking him out as a special talent. Rugby wasn’t always the 26-year-olds first love, with McFarland having started off as a basketball player.
“When I was at school I wasn't really bothered about sport,” he said. “My elder brother was always used to be the sporty one - sprinting, playing basketball and he was a great rugby player.
“I was always one of the tallest for my age and the other kids used to poke fun at me because I didn't play any sports. That's when my brother got me involved in basketball and then I got involved in a bit of rugby as well.
“I played basketball for Samoa but there wasn't really much of a career path there. So I tried my hand at rugby.”
McFarland was introduced to rugby by Samoan legend Brian Lima who spotted his potential from a young age. The 115kg, 6ft 6” lock forward eventually had to choose between rugby and basketball and chose rugby. The rest is history, and the beginning of his journey as a professional rugby player.
“The legendary Samoan centre Brian Lima was the one who first introduced me to 15-a-side rugby,” he said. “Then he took me into the Sevens programme. There was a chance of maybe going to the Olympics, but instead I decided to try to make a career in 15s.
“I signed for a major league rugby team in America, in Dallas, but that all fell through two weeks before the season started because of Covid. Then Saracens got in touch and told me that if I could win a couple of caps for Samoa they'd be interested in taking me on.
“I wanted to play professional rugby and it was a huge opportunity for me. I'm loving being a professional sportsman and I realise just how fortunate I am to be able to do what I do for a living.”