England’s Maro Itoje said he never considered leaving Saracens amid their salary cap scandal ahead of Saturday’s Premiership final.

The lock stayed with Sarries, who were relegated to the Championship following a breach of salary cap rules, before they won their first second-tier title since 1995.

A year on from that triumph, he is hoping Sarries can regain the Premiership crown at Twickenham on Saturday in what will be his fifth final appearance.

Speaking ahead of the showpiece with Leicester Tigers, Itoje emphasised his love for the club and said he never wanted to leave despite the challenges of a year in exile.

"To me this club is more than just a rugby club," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"It is more than just my employer. I genuinely do care about the club.

"It is my boyhood club. Where my parents live in Edgeware is 10 minutes away from Copthall.

"Obviously there was a bit of talk about going somewhere for the short-term [after relegation], but leaving Saracens was never in question.

"I was always going to be at Saracens and playing at Saracens.”

Some of Itoje’s teammates did choose to spend a year away from the StoneX, however.

Two of the north Londoners stars of the season, Max Malins and Ben Earl, both benefited from a year on loan.

The pair joined Bristol Bears and helped them to finish top of the regular season standings, before play-off heartbreak at the hands of eventual champions Harlequins.

Back in Black, revenge was secured in this year’s semi-final with Gallagher Player of the Season, Earl, scoring a hat-trick and league top try scorer Malins also starring.

"That relegation year was a tough year, but for the core group we wanted to get the club back to these sort of occasions," Itoje added.

"While it was tricky at times, we knew that if we stick together - and especially given the quality of personnel - we knew we were going to be all right.

"Going to places like Nottingham and Doncaster Knights, especially during Covid, it was like rolling back the years.

"Those types of experiences either bring you tighter together or further apart, and I would like to think it brought us tighter together."

After bringing up 150 Sarries appearances in the semi-final win over Quins, Itoje will be partnered by England teammate Nick Isiekwe in the second-row this weekend.

Tim Swinson makes way ahead of his retirement, while the experienced Jackson Wray returns to the bench in Mark McCall's only changes from the London derby win. 

“Experience is good but it’s all about Saturday really, it’s all about Saturday,” Itoje told the Saracens website.

“You can’t cash in experience. You need to go out there and play your best rugby.

“Most Premiership players don’t reach one final and we’ve been here a few times and the last couple of years have shown us how precious and special these moments are.”