Maro Itoje and Mako Vunipola have been urged to make “good decisions” for their international careers by the England defence coach, John Mitchell, with both players yet to commit to Saracens next season.
Itoje had hoped to receive dispensation to continue his England career while spending next season on loan in France at Racing 92 rather than in the Championship with relegated Saracens. However, that move was blocked by the other Premiership clubs since it did not meet “exceptional circumstances”, the loophole that allows England’s head coach, Eddie Jones, to select overseas-based players in the event of an injury crisis.
Vunipola, meanwhile, has not yet confirmed his plans, though his brother Billy has said he will stay with Saracens, and, with the north London club recently introducing hefty wage deferrals for their top earners on top of the blanket Premiership wage cuts, a move away would appear all the more tempting, even if that would mean he was unavailable for England.
“I’m sure Eddie, as he is very good at, is guiding them and helping them and they have probably sought his advice,” said Mitchell. “They’ve got family and friends and people within Saracens who they trust. I’m quite confident that they will make good decisions, that is right for them and their families and also that is right in terms of playing Test rugby for England because they are two guys who love playing for England.”
Mitchell has acknowledged that rugby union will not be among the first sports to resume due to its physical nature. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, is set to announce the first steps towards an easing of the lockdown on Sunday, with a host of governing bodies eager to know what it will mean for their sports. The Premiership remains hopeful of returning in early July and, while England’s tour of Japan that month is certain to be called off, World Rugby has been plotting a raft of internationals for the autumn.
“The RFU and our medics are working very closely with the government and it’s important I leave it with them,” the New Zealander added. “No one knows what the pecking order will be. I guess it’s just sensible that non-contact sports will be the creators of the start, I guess, and we’ll learn from what we experience and what they go through. When we eventually get the green button then we as a coaching group will need to be ready.
“We’re going to have to be creative and innovative around how we do things. A lot of our players are going to be better for this as well because they’ve had to find a way to train with home constraints. We are going to have to find different ways to train based on the distancing.”