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'Sensible conversation': When Saracens expect their Lions to play

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Saracens boss Mark McCall has hinted that he could be selecting some of his Lions tour contingent of players for Premiership action earlier than was originally envisaged. A ten-week rest period (five weeks holidays, four weeks pre-season and another week prior to the autumn internationals) had been in place for all of the England Lions picks, a timeframe that stretches next month. However, there have been indications this week from various directors of rugby that this off-limits date will be loosened on a player-by-player basis. 


That loosening of the regulations now includes Saracens. Having made a crunching return to the Premiership with their round one win away at Bristol, the Londoners had a bye in round two but they will pick things up again in this Saturday’s round three at Leicester with potentially a few familiar faces on board.

When Warren Gatland named his Lions original squad on May 6 to tour South Africa, 16 different clubs were recognised with McCall’s Saracens emerging as the team with the biggest representation in garnering five picks to four each for 2019/20 double winners Exeter, repeat PRO14 champions Leinster and Scarlets.

Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly all went on the trip that ended in a series defeat in Cape Town on August 7 and while Daly won’t be playing for anyone until close to the end of the year due to post-tour procedure on his knee, McCall has suggested the other four players will be seen playing for Saracens sooner rather than later. 

“There has been a sensible conversation and a sensible approach to the whole thing rather than having some kind of blanket arrangement for everybody,” explained McCall about a return to play system where Premiership clubs must apply to a professional game board sub-committee to agree on any variation to the individual player release in conjunction with England boss Eddie Jones. 

“They are rightly going to make decisions based on common sense, logical reasons and ultimately what is best for the player which should be front and centre really. That is really a good way to approach it. Like other clubs, we have talked with the RFU, Eddie, PRL and RPA and just let them know what our thoughts were with regard to our players. Generally, our players had a low amount of game time last year (due to the club being in the Championship). 


“You [the media] probably all wrote articles at one stage or another saying our players were undercooked and all of those Lions players, none of them played a club game between October 4 and the end of March. Their game minutes are low but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be rushed back. 

“Someone like Maro played every minute of the three Test matches on the Lions, so we just want to bring them back at the right time for each one of them in a sensible fashion when we think they have had a good rest and when they are ready to go and ready to play rugby really. Over the next couple of weeks you can expect to see a few of them come back in and then Maro will probably be playing after that.”

Switching to Daly, whose injury only became known when he was left out of the recently announced England training squad along with George and Vunipola, McCall insisted he had no issue that his versatile Saracens back was involved in every match on the Lions tour, an involvement no other player matched.

“Elliot is out for a good bit. He had a shin issue for want of a better word for just a while and post the Lions tour he got it investigated. He was really keen to go on tour and then got it investigated properly and he needed to get something done on it. We hope to get him back in late November, early December.


“We have got no problem at all (with the Lions). Elliot went on the Lions tour and was fit to play in those games but when he came home, it was investigated and they felt a procedure was the right thing to do for the longer term so we are okay with that.”


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