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Saracens issue 'foolish' warning to England over axed players

By Liam Heagney

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Saracens boss Mark McCall has insisted his axed England contingent still have plenty to offer to international rugby even though some rugby fans believe last month’s squad announcement by Eddie Jones marked the beginning of the end for the Vunipola brothers and Jamie George. The three forwards were the headline omissions from the first training camp ahead of the autumn internationals.

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Having had 45 players at a mini-training camp last week in London, Jones is scheduled to select his next squad on October 18 for the upcoming games versus Tonga, Australia and South Africa. Billy Vunipola and Jamie George are already back in harness, playing for Saracens in the Premiership, and with Mako Vunipola potentially involved versus Newcastle this Saturday, they will all have the chance to put their hand up for England selection.

McCall is certainly admiring the attitude currently being shown by the trio at Saracens. “I thought Billy was exceptional last weekend. Billy has had two really strong matches for us, so with all of them they are very motivated, they really want to get back into the England squad. They are great competitors, all of them, so I am sure Mako, Billy and Jamie will put their best foot forward.

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“It’s just their attitude and their hunger and desire to do extras and do more than is necessary. If Mako wanted, he would go through the motions a little bit and would still be picked by us, but that is not the case. He has been really enthusiastic. 

“He has trained really hard over the last seven or eight weeks. Mako, as everyone knows, likes playing more than he likes training so he is super keen to get back on the field again. We are really pleased he is probably going to be involved this weekend. He is in good condition and the more rugby he plays the better he is.

“He is on the coaches’ back, on the S&C coaches’ back as well just to see where he can make improvements both physically and rugby-wise. That is the case with all of those players. Most of them are only 29, 30 years old. It would be foolish to write them off at this point,” cautioned McCall, who added how much additional leadership they provide at the club under Owen Farrell, the England and Saracens captain. 

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“Jamie, Mako, Maro (Itoje), Billy are all superb leaders in their own right. They all understand the game very well but one of their big roles at our club is to mentor the next generation. They are all super keen to be involved in that and they have two or three players under their wing from their positions and they do a very good job at passing on what they have learned over the years to those players.”

Itoje isn’t expected to figure in Saracens’ selection plans until the October 17 Premiership match away to Bath but in the meantime, McCall’s squad will look to bounce back at home versus Newcastle this Saturday after last weekend’s controversial loss at Leicester on the same day it was confirmed the club had been taken following a £32million investment.

With time up at Welford Road, Aled Davies was penalised for illegally shunting Guy Porter into touch and Leicester were awarded a penalty even though that decision should have been reversed as Tigers’ Dan Kelly struck Davies in the aftermath of the penalised tackle.  

Kelly was cited and subsequently banned for three games for his intervention but that came too late to change the outcome of the game for Saracens as Leicester turned their penalty possession into a match-winning penalty try and Billy Vunipola was given a yellow card for collapsing the maul.

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“We don’t want to be a club that cries after the event, to be honest,” shrugged McCall. “That was a game we should have won and we put ourselves at risk in that second half by some of our own errors and some of our own mistakes. When it is a six-point game you always run the risk that an error from a referee can determine a game, so that is very much our own fault.”

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Saracens issue 'foolish' warning to England over axed players

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