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'To lose three players within an hour was a bit disappointing'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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Mark McCall has given his thoughts on the desperate Saturday of Test rugby where Saracens had Owen Farrell and Jamie George seriously injured when playing for England and Marco Riccioni even more seriously hurt when playing for Italy just shortly before that. It was November 13 when that afternoon’s Autumn Nations Series schedule kicked off with the Italians hosting Argentina in Treviso with the English taking on the Wallabies in London not long after. 


Riccioni played just 50 minutes of the 16-37 Italy loss to the Pumas, the tighthead rupturing his ACL, and an operation will mean he will miss the remainder of the 2021/22 season for both country and club. Meanwhile, at Twickenham, George only managed to play the first half versus Australia due to a knee injury that will sideline him for between eight to ten weeks while England and Saracens skipper Farrell limped off after 68 minutes and an ankle operation last Friday will keep him out for ten to twelve weeks. 

“In terms of Owen and Jamie, it is what it is,” explained McCall about England duo Farrell and George at his weekly Saracens media briefing. “We also lost Marco and his is a much more serious injury. We are devastated for Marco as he has made a big impression on the group since he came. Effectively he is out for the season and he gets an opportunity next Wednesday. It was an ACL so he is out for the season which is a real shame for him because he has been really good for us. 

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Marinate with Max | Episode 1 | Thai beef salad
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Marinate with Max | Episode 1 | Thai beef salad

“Owen had an operation on Friday and is just in the process of feeling his way back from that. We aim to have him back – well you never know – but hopefully at some point at the end of January. Let’s wait and see. Jamie George didn’t need an operation so he is getting on with his rehab now and we will just see how that goes and whether we can get him back a little bit earlier than anticipated. 

“To lose those three players within the space of an hour was a bit disappointing but it is what it is and we are not the only club who suffer injuries. Everyone else is back in good health and everybody who has been away is back and available for selection this weekend. Because our game (against Sale) is on the Sunday, we didn’t get together until Tuesday so that has given everybody a bit of breathing space.

“We didn’t have as many people as normal away. It was only Maro (Itoje) and Max (Malins) returning from England, Nick Tompkins from Wales, Eroni Mawi coming back from Fiji and Vinny Koch coming back from South Africa as well. Not as many as normal and we have always found they are pleased to be back amongst their friends at the club. At the same time, we do realise they played at Twickenham in front of 80,000 one weekend and it’s quite an enormous thing to do and then go and play a Premiership match after that.


“So I am glad we have a Sunday game, glad they had that time Sunday, Monday just to get their heads around that and thankfully we have got a couple of pretty big matches ourselves and have holidays planned for some of those players later in December.

There is inevitably going to be some comedown from something so big and it’s for us to make things as easy and simple for them as possible and not be too demanding. Some of the senior players who weren’t away on internationals have taken up the mantle over the last few weeks. Billy and Mako (Vunipola), Jackson Wray, Alex Goode have been magnificent really.”

Switching back to Farrell, who faces a race to be fit in time for the start of the England 2022 Six Nations campaign on the first Saturday in February, McCall added: “I talked to him on Thursday evening before the operation he had and just had some reflections on his time with England. Of course, Owen is a big match animal. He relishes those occasions.

To miss out on Tonga was a hugely frustrating one to miss in the manner that it happened but to miss out on a game as big as the South African one was desperately disappointing for him because he loves those occasions so much. But we know he will get back as quickly as he can and hopefully have some time to play a game or two for us before going to the Six Nations but we will wait and see on that.


“He is captain of the club and he is hugely keen to be involved. He only got his operation on Friday and for now, he is not all that comfortable or all that mobile. He is only coming into the club to get his wound dressed and that kind of thing but he has been on the phone with me, with our attack coach, and once he is able and can come into the club he will be much more involved. He is very keen to be involved.”


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