Saracens' England players ready for Six Nations despite lack of game-time, says Mark McCall

By Chris JonesBBC rugby union correspondent
Billy Vunipola playing for England
Billy Vunipola is the only England player playing for Saracens on Saturday

Saracens' England contingent will be able to "hit the ground running" in the Six Nations despite a lack of game-time, says Sarries boss Mark McCall.

Billy Vunipola starts at Ealing Trailfinders on Saturday, but brother Mako, Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Jamie George and Elliot Daly are not playing.

It means the Six Nations opener against Scotland on 6 February will be their first game since early December.

"I don't think there is great need for them to play," said McCall.

The RFU Championship is scheduled to start in March, but Saracens are competing in the pre-season Trailfinders Cup this month along with Ealing Trailfinders and Doncaster Knights.

With the England internationals also unlikely to feature next weekend, McCall says they are being managed individually to ensure they are in optimum physical condition for the Calcutta Cup showdown.

"All our England internationals are on an individualised pre-season programme to help prepare them for the Six Nations and to hit the ground running when it comes to the Scotland match," he said.

"In Billy's case we all agreed that he is best served playing some game-time. Billy is a little bit different and always has been."

Saracens' relegation following salary cap breaches means the north London club are not due to play a league game until the Championship's scheduled start in two months' time.

However McCall admits there is still a level of doubt over when the league season will start, and in what guise.

"I think sometimes the hardest thing for players, and staff too, is not having certainty, and we have not had a lot of certainty, and maybe that [certainty] is not completely there," he added.

"We have a starting point of the 6 March, with two conferences of six teams, and we hope that is going to be the case, but we don't know for sure."

Either way, Saracens will be without Alex Sanderson in their coaching ranks after his move to become director of rugby at Sale.

McCall says he is "delighted" to see Sanderson secure a top job, and believes Saracens have the coaching resources to cope with the departure.

Adam Powell will be stepping up to become the new Saracens defence coach, with Joe Shaw the head coach.

"We feel fortunate to have had Alex for as long as we have, which is 17 years," McCall added.

"He is an outstanding coach and he's an outstanding person and we are delighted he has got this opportunity to progress his career.

"We have had a 'boot-room' philosophy, this promote-from-within philosophy, for a very long time.

"Alex is a great coach, and a great person and great friend of ours, but we were very determined for the club not to be reliant on one person.

"Down the years we have had some very significant people who have left the club, but we have got some great people left in the club and we are very excited about the playing group we have assembled for the 2020-2021 season."

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