WELLINGTON (Reuters) – England centre Joe Marchant will join Super Rugby side Auckland Blues for a season as part of a sabbatical written into his three-year contract extension with Harlequins.

The highly-rated 23-year-old, who played in three of England’s warmup tests for the Rugby World Cup, will link up with the Blues between January and the end of June next year.

The arrangement bolsters the Blues’ back-line options and covers the absence of Caleb Clarke, who was released to join New Zealand’s rugby sevens programme in the leadup to the Tokyo Olympics.

“Firstly I could not be more grateful to Harlequins for allowing me this opportunity to expand and grow my game,” Marchant said in a statement.

“The club has supported me every step of the way in my career to date and proven that Harlequins is still willing to support my growth as an individual.

“I am really excited to be given the chance to experience playing in Super Rugby. I am sure that I will learn a lot and I can’t wait to bring my learnings back to the club.”

The twice-champion Blues finished bottom in the New Zealand conference and 13th in the 15-team Super Rugby competition in 2019 but head into next season with great expectations after signing All Blacks’ superstar flyhalf Beauden Barrett on a long-term deal.

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