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McCall defends England policy that helped Saracens and hurt Quins

By PA
(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Saracens boss Mark McCall admitted his England players were key to turning the tide against Harlequins as he defended the flexibility of the stand-down policy that enabled them to play in the 30-27 victory. While Quins seethed with frustration that star fly-half Marcus Smith was prevented from playing in the London derby by the same rule, man of the match Billy Vunipola, Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje helped overturn an early 17-0 deficit.

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With Mako Vunipola and Jamie George reinforcing the comeback off the bench, Saracens were able to launch their season with a bonus-point win at Twickenham Stoop. All five players were fully involved in the July tour to Australia and, in theory, should have been unavailable for ten weeks, but they received dispensation from the bodies overseeing the directive – the Rugby Football Union including England coach Eddie Jones, the Rugby Players’ Association and Premiership Rugby.

Yet, Harlequins playmaker Smith was prevented from taking part by the same authorities, highlighting the inconsistency of the player welfare measure. Saracens boss McCall, however, believes it is important not to impose hard and fast rules. “We chose to start Maro, Billy and Owen and they were a big part of why we won. Jamie and Mako’s experience coming off the bench at this kind of place is good, but it was a good team performance,” he said.

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“The process is simple really. There is a ten-week rule in place and you make an application. Not an application – you write an email! The parties involved are the player – very importantly – the club, Eddie Jones, PRL and the RPA. It’s a really good process, actually.

“The decisions are taken in the best interests of the player and obviously we are delighted to have our players available. Our players haven’t had a big load over the last couple of years when you think about the Championship year when we didn’t play any rugby until March.

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“You just look at what they did last season, their minutes and what is coming. We have got a plan for them all for the next two or three months. It’s very important that there isn’t a general rule for everybody. It shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all. It should be on a case-by-case basis. I certainly see it as a sensible process.”

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Harlequins director of rugby Tabai Matson refused to publicly criticise the process as he saw his side throw away a commanding lead. “All we do is put a plan in and we get the thumbs up or thumbs down,” said Matson, who revealed that England number eight Alex Dombrandt suffered a hamstring injury that requires further investigation.

“We have a discussion and whether we get a thumbs up or thumbs down, they give us a reason. We accept that and move on. We knew that it was probably going to create a kerfuffle for our fans and for probably everyone looking in from the outside, but we can only move forward with the group that we have.”

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