The lone England Saracen in pre-Six Nations action
NEWS: Billy Vunipola is set to be the only England international in action for Saracens before the champions’ Six Nations opener against Scotland on February 6.
No.8 Vunipola is in his club’s starting side to play Ealing on Saturday in the Trailfinders Challenge Cup, a warm-up tournament ahead of a second-tier Championship season delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
But all of his fellow Test teammates at Saracens are missing from the matchday 23 and are unlikely to feature in next week’s match against Doncaster as well.
It would mean the likes of England captain Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly, Maro Itoje, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola will not have played since December’s Nations Cup final win over France.
But Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall had no doubts about their fitness for next month’s Calcutta Cup clash at Twickenham.
“The England internationals are on individualised pre-season programmes to help prepare them for the Six Nations,” McCall said on Friday.
“It’s so that they hit the ground running when it comes to the Scotland match. I don’t think there’s a great need for most of them to play games.”
The former Ireland international added: “Billy’s a little bit different. He always has been. In his case, we all agreed that he’s better with game time. He gets a lot out of playing, so that is why he’s playing.”
England coach Eddie Jones has long believed Vunipola needs plenty of rugby to be at his best.
The 28-year-old loose forward started all five of England’s end of year internationals in 2020 after recovering from the latest in a succession of broken arm injuries.
Saturday’s match in west London will be this weekend’s only game involving English clubs following the two-week break created by the cancellation of the final rounds of European group matches, caused by the French government ordering their Top 14 clubs to pull out of cross-border action because of Covid-19 safety fears.
Saracens were relegated from the Premiership last season for repeated salary cap breaches.
They are due to launch their bid for an immediate return to the top flight on March 6.