Eddie Jones’ boss has hinted that England may relax its policy of not selecting players based overseas to allow Saracens stars to escape their relegation hell.
The development came as it emerged that the disgraced champions had been asked by Premiership Rugby to hand back the domestic trophies won whilst in breach of the salary cap – and refused.
England have a longstanding stance of not picking players who abandon the Premiership for bumper paydays in France – other than in what they term “exceptional circumstances”.
As things stand the relegation penalty imposed on Saracens does not qualify for that dispensation, which means half of England’s first-choice team are condemned to a season playing in the second tier.
But last night came hope for the likes of Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Jamie George, Elliot Daly and the Vunipola brothers from Rugby Football Union chief executive Bill Sweeney.
Whilst stopping short of confirming an exception would be made, he vowed: “Whatever decisions we make would be made in the best interests of the England team and the players.
“The players are at the forefront of our considerations – and we want to make sure that whatever happens, the players aren’t disadvantaged in any way.”
Sweeney’s words will prick up the ears of Lyon, who are battling it out for top spot with Bordeaux Begles in France’s premier division and who are reportedly keen to offer an escape route to Farrell, Itoje and Billy Vunipola.
Saracens’ embattled squad could use some good news as another day of criticism rained down on their club, complete with a four-week ban for Aussie lock Will Skelton for his sending off at the weekend.
Darren Childs, boss of Premiership Rugby, defended his organisation’s handling of the scandal whilst voicing “surprise” that they did not have the power to strip the Londoners of their titles “and take things like that (the Premiership trophy) back”.
Asked whether Saracens had been asked to return the trophies won over the past two seasons, he revealed: “There have been discussions about it – but they were inconclusive.
“And as we don’t have the ability to actually take them back they are very much still over there at the minute.”
Childs, speaking publicly for the first time since the relegation axe was wielded on Saturday night, expressed little sympathy for the club.
“Had they shown contrition, had they shown openness, had they been willing on compliance, I think the other clubs who have been let down would have been open to a different solution,” he said. “They showed none of those things.
“The other clubs feel let down. Saracens have been using the system to gain a competitive advantage. They feel let down and I understand and have empathy for that.”