Saracens, attempting to deal with the fallout from one of the biggest scandals in English club history, insist their heavy punishment for salary-cap breaches will not have an impact on Eddie Jones’s squad in the forthcoming Six Nations.
The England head coach has said that there may be some dislocation between Saracens’ players in his squad and those from other clubs and that a club v country conflict could loom in the new year. Premiership Rugby’s docking of 35 points means that the English and European champions now have minus-22 points in the Premiership and face a desperate struggle against relegation to the Championship.
Saracens had six starters and two players on the bench in the World Cup final and the threat of the loss of their Premiership status may mean they would opt to play club games rather than be on international duty. But Mark McCall, Saracens’ director of rugby, insisted on Wednesday that he has not had a conversation with Jones.
“I would never ask players not to play for England. We want them to play for their country and I support them doing so 100%,” he said. McCall said that all his international players would be available if selected for Saturday’s Champions Cup game at home to the Ospreys. McCall refused to say who would play but the England hooker Jamie George looks certain to be in the squad alongside the new signing Jack Singleton, who has not played for England since the pool stages of the World Cup and who had a difficult club debut in the 30-10 defeat to Racing 92 in Paris on Sunday.
Saracens must beat the Ospreys at Allianz Park to have a realistic chance of progressing in Europe and only winning the trophy for a third successive season would guarantee their appearance in Europe’s major club competition next season.
Despite Saracens’ best efforts to what they call “draw a line” under their breach, which has also been punished with a huge £5.36m fine, the scandal was the elephant in the room at a bad-tempered press conference. The club sponsor Allianz is seeking talks over the affair and Saracens were earlier this week fined another £10,000 for not attending the launch of the Champions Cup a fortnight ago when news of their punishment engulfed the club.
McCall added: “The squad is tight and we are delighted to have our England players back. We have just had our most competitive session ever and we are working on strategies to give us a chance in the forthcoming games. Things are very clear. The table tells us what we have to do. The feeling from the players is that we can stay up.”
One of McCall’s many problems as they prepare to face an Ospreys side heavily beaten at home by Munster in their opening fixture, is a growing injury list that includes the likes of Alex Goode, Liam Williams and Brad Barritt. Racing ruthlessly exposed their shortcomings on Sunday even though Saracens have made a solid start domestically without the majority of the 15 players who played in Japan.
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