Warren Gatland’s embattled Chiefs could be given a Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell lifeline by Champions Cup holders Saracens.
The English club, who will be relegated to next season’s Championship due to salary cap breaches, are considering loaning out the pair and other stars to Super Rugby.
Gatland’s Chiefs would be the favourite to be the main beneficiaries if the proposal comes off ahead of the Lions tour of South Africa.
They have been beaten in their seven matches in the all-New Zealand Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament to be bottom of the table with one fixture remaining.
That has taken Chiefs’ losing streak to eight in all competitions this year to put the former Wales boss under growing pressure.
Although Gatland won’t officially be on duty with the Hamilton-based franchise next year because of his sabbatical with the best of British and Irish rugby, he would be a key figure in putting any deal together concerning Farrell and company.
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall revealed he has already been in talks with Gatland about Itoje, Farrell, Jamie George, Elliot Daly and Mako and Billy Vunipola.
Apart from No.8 Billy Vunipola, who was injured, the others starred for the Lions in the Gatland-plotted drawn Test series with New Zealand three years ago.
Asked about possible Super Rugby loans, McCall said: “I don’t think it is out of the question.
“I don’t think, if that was to happen, it would be for very long. It would be to get enough rugby to make sure they are firing come the Lions tour.
“I talked to Warren on Monday and he was very happy with the situation.”
Should it happen, it would be after next season’s Six Nations with Farrell, George, Mako and Billy Vunipola, Itoje and Daly all set to be integral figures in England coach Eddie Jones’ squad.
“The Lions have a warm-up game before the tour where I would expect all of our players selected to tour to be involved,” said McCall.
“There are some warm-up games before the first Test match and that might be enough for them.
“The opportunity has arisen for these players to have a little bit of a different year and we will look to use it as wisely as we can.”
McCall said Saracens are ready to use his super six stars sparingly in the Championship.
“The most important thing for us, if I am honest, is that we get promoted, that is going to be the first priority.”
But he added: “Those senior players might only need a couple of Championship games to keep them ticking over.
“If they need more competitive rugby there are avenues to make decisions with that player.”
Saracens have lost nine senior players due to their enforced relegation, while six more flourishing talents, including Dragons-bound Wales find Nick Tompkins, have headed on loan before returning to north London for the 2021-22. campaign
England boss Jones has already insisted he will have few qualms selecting Saracens’ experienced Test campaigners while they are competing in the Championship.
McCall believes those players will have ideal preparation for the autumn completion of the Six Nations, and the one-off eight-team Test tournament which is being staged.
Saracens will take on Bristol on August 15 when the Premiership returns from the coronavirus shutdown, with McCall enthusiastic about what is in store.
“They’re going to have just about the perfect lead into the autumn internationals, they’re going to have just about enough very competitive games,” he said.
“They’ve got a huge role to play in terms of the standards they set here, which they’ve done already in this pre-season, and they’re hugely important going forward even though they probably won’t play that many Championship matches.”
Formidable lock Itoje will be in the running to captain the Lions in South Africa with Gatland having name-checked him, with Farrell also chief among the contenders.
McCall believes either could comfortably lead the tourists into battle with the World Cup holders.
“I genuinely think that both of those players would do a phenomenal job,” said McCall.
“Probably a slightly different job but they would do a phenomenal job. I think they are both ready to do it.”