Eddie Jones believes Saracens’ relegation to the Championship will be a blessing for those England players who are staying with the club, even though the Lions are touring at the end of next season, saying form for their country would be key if they were to be picked for the trip to South Africa.
Jones, who last week agreed to remain in charge of England until the end of the next World Cup, has spoken to a number of his players who will be remaining with the Premiership and European champions despite the club’s demotion for breaching salary cap regulations.
Billy Vunipola, Jamie George and Elliot Daly have said they will be staying and the England captain, Owen Farrell, is expected to commit to the club, along with Mako Vunipola. “It could be a great opportunity for them,” said Jones. “We are talking about players some of whom are the best in the world and some the best in England.
“We want to make sure they have the right number of games and quality training. I have had chats with a number of them, generally and individually, about where they thought they could benefit the most. Those discussions are still going on and they have different situations, but when the dust clears we will sit down with Saracens and have another chat.
“I think we can do something that will benefit those players for the rest of their careers. They are high quality and want to play at the top level for their club and England for a long period. This is an opportunity to get them in the best condition and we will not waste it. The Lions is not my selection issue and to be in contention they need to be playing well for England.”
Maro Itoje has been linked with a year’s sabbatical in France with Racing 92, but the professional game board has not yet agreed for the second-row to continue to be available for England. The RFU chief executive, Bill Sweeney, said nothing firm had been decided yet.
Jones is in Japan, where England are due to play two Tests in July, but the prospect of tours taking place that month is looking increasingly unlikely because of travel restrictions put in place to contain the spread of the virus. “Our approach has always been to pick the strongest side available,” said Jones. “There were certain guidelines in place about who was eligible and who was not. If it goes ahead, we will look at them and make the appropriate selection. Japan are ranked eighth in the world and have recently beaten Ireland and Scotland so we will be taking a strong team.”
When Jones returns to England, he plans to find out if there is any truth in reports that the prop Joe Marler is considering retiring from the game after receiving a 10-week ban for grasping the groin of the Wales captain, Alun Wyn Jones, during the Six Nations match at Twickenham last month. “We were due to catch up in Horsham a couple of weeks ago but the social distancing rules came in,” the England coach said of the 29-year-old Marler. “We keep in contact and have a little banter through texts, but I look forward to having a chat with him at the appropriate time.
“You only have to look at the Beast [the South Africa prop Tendai Mtawarira], who was at his best in last year’s World Cup at the age of 34. Joe is a relatively young man with a lot of rugby ahead of him. He has a lot of depth as a character: he has made some mistakes, but he is a great team man, player and person. You have to have the desire to keep playing and only Joe knows that. It is about players who want to play for England.”