Following the confirmation that Saracens will be relegated at the end of the season, the club has come up with a plan that could see them hang on to the majority of their England stars.
The club is said to have agreed to arrangements for next season which include exhibition games against overseas opposition, sabbaticals for key England players and limited amounts of game-time for top players in the second tier of English rugby.
The club revealed how England captain Owen Farrell and some of his England colleagues including Maro Itoje and Jamie George could stay at the club with unique arrangements aimed at priming them for a tour with the British & Irish Lions in 2021.
With England coach Eddie Jones and his Lions counterpart Warren Gatland have given their consent to the masterplan.
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This could see the Saracens' squad for next season split into three groups:
1. The Championship Challengers:
This would be a core group of players that would be tasks of gaining promotion back to the Premiership.
2. The Prospects:
These players who be loaned out to other Premiership clubs to further their development. This could possibly include the likes of England scrumhalf Ben Spencer, fullback Max Malins and England call-up Ben Earl. Interim chief executive Edward Griffiths described the recipient clubs of these players as “lifeboats, not vultures”.
3. Established Internationals:
These would be the key internationals and probable British and Irish Lions tourists. The likes of Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Owen Farell, Mako Vunipola and Billy Vunipola are amongst the players that fall in this category. These players would effectively be on sabbaticals and would play little to no Championship rugby during the 2020/21 season.
But would still be available to both England and the Lions, and would play against overseas opposition in exhibition games, McCall said these players had been on a “treadmill” for 10 years.
“Most of our established internationals are 27, 28 [years old],” said McCall. “They are seeing it as a positive where next year can be one where they are freshened up, physically recover and get better, play enough rugby and go on a Lions tour at the end of it fresh – which is not normal.
“I will let Eddie and Warren tell you their own views. But those views have been taken and they have been communicated with our players. I think, as you can imagine, Eddie is on the whole happy to select players who are established, Warren Gatland the same.
“Warren Gatland is keen to get as fresh a Lions team as possible to take to South Africa and our situation, in a funny kind of way, is going to help him.”