CLUB: London Irish (will join Saracens in 2023)
JOINED: Made senior debut in 2018 (came through academy)
When Saracens announced earlier in the campaign that England back Max Malins would be leaving the club to return to Bristol Bears, many were worried about how they would fill the void left by arguably one of their best players in recent years. In order to plug the gap that the England star will leave open, the club have quickly secured the services of London Irish full-back Tom Parton, who came up through the Exiles’ academy and has played a vital role in their tactics and in establishing the team as a top flight club.
This season, Parton has been limited in his appearances both by injury issues and the form of Henry Arundell, which will be of some concern to Saracens fans. However, as this analysis will demonstrate, he is a player with pace and creativity who likes to dominate the backfield, which is exactly what last season’s English Premiership runners-up need in order to not leave themselves too open at the back when attacking up the field.
Here, in the league match against Bath during the 2020/2021 season, Parton has gone up to claim a kicked clearance from visiting scrum-half Ben Spencer, and the fact that he always had his eyes on the ball and ensured that he was in the air early shows his aforementioned determination and ability to control his own half of the field.
On this occasion, he doesn’t manage to gain any territory once he lands, with Bath’s England flanker Sam Underhill timing his tackle well and sending him backwards, but it is the intent to win the ball that is the key here, with it making him not too dissimilar to Leicester Tigers and England full-back Freddie Steward.
This situation is from the same match and comes shortly after that tackle, with Parton now in the open area behind the majority of the Bath players, having claimed another kick from Spencer and having then spotted a gap in the opposing defensive line that he could exploit, evading the clutches of several Bath players on his way through.
Once in this position, he shows composure and an ability to assess his surroundings to look for options, and that is important as it would be very easy for him to try and finish the move off on his own. Instead, he sends the ball in the direction of winger Ollie Hassell-Collins, who has run through to offer support, and, although England winger Joe Cokanasiga makes an immediate tackle on Hassell-Collins, the try is eventually scored a few phases later by Exiles flanker and captain Matt Rogerson.
Whilst he wasn’t involved in the final stages of this move, there is no doubt that Parton was responsible for the opportunity coming about, with his clever run, identification of space and ability to break through the defensive line at pace all helping to get his team onto the front foot here, and he could prove to be a very shrewd signing for Saracens if he brings all of these skills to the StoneX Stadium.
Whilst Parton is best used as a full-back, he can play as a winger if needed and so does offer some flexibility. However, when considering his ability to carry balls forward, control different situations and finish chances off, the person to best compare him with is England’s Elliott Daly, who will be his teammate next season and who has shown all three of those qualities and more during his time at the club.
As mentioned earlier in the player profile, Parton has struggled for game time this season, which might give fans some concerns about how much time he could spend on the sidelines. However, if he is allowed to have a run in the team once fit and is given the same freedom to influence the game as he does at London Irish, then there is no doubt that he could thrive in his new surroundings.