Former Bath and England fly-half Freddie Burns believes England and the British and Irish Lions will “massively benefit” from Saracens retaining so many of their core players for next season despite their Gallagher Premiership relegation.

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Burns’ prediction comes after the reigning English and European champions kept many of their key players despite being set to play in the second-tier Championship next season following the salary cap scandal. 

In the past week alone, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Elliot Daly, Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje all committed to the London club for next season and beyond – all five of them England and Lions internationals. 

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These join yet more high-profile players that will play in the Championship next year, such as Billy Vunipola and Sean Maitland, while others such as Ben Earl have secured season-long deals elsewhere in the Gallagher Premiership to continue their progress.  

It had long been suspected Warren Gatland and the Lions would be the beneficiaries of this situation, but the upcoming exhaustive schedule for Gallagher Premiership clubs means England and Lions will undoubtedly profit from the Saracens situation. 

Following the Premiership’s suspension in March as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the league is set to resume next month with teams facing an intense run of nine games which will include midweek fixtures. There are also European Champions and Challenge Cup playoffs in September. 

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The new Premiership season will follow after that, although there will be a break to accommodate international fixtures. With it recently confirmed that the Lions tour in 2021 to South Africa will still take place in July and August despite the major changes to the calendar in the northern hemisphere, aspiring Lions players in the Premiership face an exhausting year ahead.

With Saracens players expected to have a significantly lighter workload than usual due to their Premiership demotion, both Eddie Jones and Gatland will be ecstatic. 

They still have to complete this current season, as well as play in the remainder of the Champions Cup, but the ensuing season in the division below may almost be seen as a sabbatical for some players. 

The five-cap Englishman Burns, who is set to join Japanese outfit Shokki Shuttles, has already been critical of the brutally congested schedule that Premiership players face, explaining on Twitter why he feels England and the Lions will be grateful for the rest Saracens players will receive following their relegation.   

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He said: “Saracens retaining so many top players will massively benefit England and the Lions. Key players well-rested and fresh, away from the hectic schedule of Premiership rugby. Get through the seven games in 28 days, then play to peak-perform during the internationals.”

Fortunately for Jones, Saracens do provide a fair portion of the England squad, and the chances are that many of the retained players will also be flying to South Africa next year with the Lions. 

The combination of automatic relegation last January for Saracens and the current pandemic have made this one of the strangest years ever in rugby – and indeed all sport. Yet, in such unforeseen circumstances, Saracens’ punishment is likely to be a blessing for Jones and Gatland.

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