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Saracens react to the England omissions, give Itoje injury update

By Liam Heagney

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Mark McCall has given his reaction to the ongoing exclusion of Billy and Mako Vunipola from the England squad, relayed how chuffed Jamie George is with his Test squad reprieve while also confirming that Maro Itoje isn’t an injury doubt and will play for Saracens this weekend despite going off early in the second half last Sunday at Bath. 

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There was concern that the talismanic second row might now be unavailable for the England squad when they link up next weekend in Jersey for a week-long camp ahead of their November series of matches versus Tonga, Australia and South Africa.

However, unlike the medical updates from elsewhere on Tuesday which ruled out Bath’s Anthony Watson and Exeter’s Luke Cowan-Dickie, Saracens provided some happier news on Wednesday afternoon regarding Itoje and the shoulder that he hurt at The Rec in his first match since the Lions series concluded on August 7 in South Africa.  

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Eddie Jones’ England squad media briefing
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Eddie Jones’ England squad media briefing

“He is fine,” said McCall about Itoje at his weekly Saracens media briefing. “It’s a very minor shoulder injury and it is not a problem. He will play this weekend. He was good (against Bath). It is always difficult when you haven’t played in a while and it is your first game of the season but as first games of the season go, I thought he was good.”

Switching from Itoje to the confusing situation surrounding the continued exclusion of the Vunipola brothers from the England squad, Saracens boss McCall added: “We’re obviously disappointed for Mako and Billy that they haven’t made the squad. 

“There is one thing not making the squad and another the way they are playing. If they weren’t in good form that might be different but they are playing really well and they have still got the bit between their teeth. There is hope for them that they can make their way back into the England squad and they are going to try and do that, try and get back for the Six Nations, so we will see. They have got to continue their good form. That is the way we see it. 

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“Eddie spoke to them both on Monday prior to the squad being announced. Those conversations are obviously private but they are very aware of what he wants. What I think is not really important. Eddie has been clear with them on what he wants. The boys know that there is the opportunity, a window back into the squad if they continue to play the way they are playing and that is what they intend to do. 

“They are unbelievably competitive rugby players. They have proven that for a long time, not only at the highest club level but also at international level as well. Anybody who saw their performance on the weekend, and in Billy’s case, maybe the weekends before that know that Billy is near the best he is playing. That is really encouraging. 

“Billy has had a full pre-season for the first time in a long time. He is in the best shape he has been in for a long time, he is enjoying his rugby, he is playing really well and Sunday was one of his best games for a long time. Mako also had a hugely influential game as well so the two of them, I can say all you want me to say but really actions speak louder than words and they demonstrated on Sunday just how good they are but also how much it means to them to play at the highest level and push themselves hard.”

Whereas the Vunipolas continue to adjust to life as out-of-favour England players, hooker George went from deflation to elation in the space of 24 hours this week as he was called in on Tuesday to replace the injured Cowan-Dickie having initially been excluded by Jones on Monday. “With Jamie, it is good that he is back in there,” continued McCall.    

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“Eddie and him have had some constructive conversations, to be honest. When you look at the squad people would realise that Jamie was still in the top two hookers in the country and potentially Eddie was looking to see some younger players and that kind of thing.

“But now with Luke Cowan-Dickie out, it’s no surprise that Jamie would be the first he would turn to in that situation. Jamie is playing really well, played well on Sunday, and he is delighted to be back in the squad. He is a very experienced player and is delighted he is now in the squad and is going to be there for the whole campaign.”

Asked whether England selection would continue to specifically fuel Saracens performances to the extent of their 71-17 win last Sunday over Bath in advance of the latest Test squad announcement, McCall added: “I don’t think so, no. We were just on our own new journey at the moment.

“The first two or three matches were a bit hit and miss for us and things went well for us on Sunday although the scoreline doesn’t reflect the game in lots of ways. But there were some really encouraging signs from how we played. It gives us a strong platform going forward but we have got to back it up.”

 

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Saracens react to the England omissions, give Itoje injury update

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