Nathan Earle is ready to 'fill the void' at Saracens when Chris Ashton leaves to join Toulon, after capping a successful loan spell in New Zealand by helping Canterbury win the national provincial title.

The 22-year-old wing was in the same junior World Cup-winning England Under 20 side as Maro Itoje; scoring a try in the final against South Africa in Auckland in June, 2014. On Saturday, he touched down in another final - of the Mitre 10 Cup - as Canterbury swept aside Tasman to claim the Premiership trophy.

Not many Englishmen have the opportunity to use Kiwi rugby as a finishing school. Martin Johnson was a rare example - and it did him no harm. Now Earle has seized his chance, after initially heading south in search of game-time, with Sumner Rugby Club in Christchurch, only to earn promotion to the Canterbury starting XV and win local acclaim for his impressive feats on the flank.

He has made a swift return to this country, galvanised by the experience. Having previously spent time on loan at Bedford as he waited to make his breakthrough for Saracens, Earle hopes that the impending departure of Ashton will create an opening for him.


'It is really encouraging for me, coming back with all this rugby behind me,' he told Sportsmail, from Christchurch. 'I've just got to hope the coaches at Sarries will have more confidence in me, to let me play now. If I go well, I can fill the void that Chris leaves at the club.'

During a visit to Saracens, Canterbury head coach Scott Robertson enquired about the possibility of borrowing an outside back. Within days, Earle was on a plane to New Zealand. 'I was asked late because another lad was meant to be coming from Sarries, but he got injured,' he said. 'Mark (McCall, Saracens' director of rugby) asked if I wanted to go and I was really keen. I was on a plane a week later.

'It is very rare that something like this comes about, so it was too good to miss. The club I played for was the most international team in Christchurch. We had a South African player and another guy from Portugal, as well as me. I was lodging with a family initially and since then I've been living at one of the coach's houses.'

His time with Sumner was all about regaining match sharpness, after limited opportunities at home. When Earle was kept on to represent Canterbury, the step up was pronounced. It was an eye-opening experience; to witness the remarkable quality of the domestic game in New Zealand - keeping the All Blacks ahead of their Test rivals.

'The skill levels here are unbelievable,' said Earle. 'All our forwards would be happy to stand at first receiver and be able to do that, which you can't say about some of the forwards back home! Someone like Mako (Vunipola) would be one of the few players who I could liken to a prop out here.

'The physicality is not as high, because people aren't as big, but you can always count on one of the islanders to smash into someone! But the skill levels on the whole are much higher than at home and they play far more expansively. There is a massive focus on the rugby side, rather than the gym.'

Earle's time in Christchurch saw him playing alongside two of All Black No 10 Beauden Barrett's brothers - Scott and Jordie. He has a warning for England and the world; Jordie, in particular, is going to be a devastating force for New Zealand in the near future.

'Scott and Jordie are both absolutely phenomenal,' he said. 'Scott is a second row and Jordie can play at 12 or 15. He's a utility back. The hype around them is for a reason. Jordie has got a cannon boot on him and I don't think I've seen a 19-year-old with his ability in my life. People thought he might settle in slowly in his first season, but he has completely smashed it so far. He's been noticed by Steve Hansen, which is why he is going on tour with the All Blacks as the apprentice.'

Before Saturday's glorious finale to his spell with Canterbury, Earle had already savoured being part of their triumph in the Ranfurly Shield, when Robertson's team beat Waikato in Hamilton to claim the fabled 'Log o'Wood'.

'There aren't many Englishmen who have played in a shield game and to be able to win it as well was massive,' he said. 'That was a wicked memory.'

There was not much time to relax and reflect on his recent feats. On Sunday, Earle was on a flight to London, ready to check back in at Saracens and resume his quest to follow in the footsteps of his England Under 20 captain, Itoje - by taking senior rugby by storm.

He is convinced his Kiwi education will make him more equipped to make that leap.

'I've developed my feel for the game here,' he said. 'I will go back to Sarries able to read the game and understand situations better.'

McCall should not have to delve into the transfer market to find Ashton's successor.

The leading candidate will be back with him again this week, jet-lagged but enhanced by his long-haul loan.