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England stars set to return to help Saracens’ Premiership survival bid


Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola look set to boost Saracens’ Premiership survival bid with the director of rugby, Mark McCall, revealing the England trio are closing in on their returns for the club.

McCall welcomed back Mako Vunipola, George Kruis and Jamie George for Saturday’s thumping Champions Cup win over Ospreys, as well as handing a debut to Elliot Daly as Saracens kept alive their European campaign, but omitted Farrell, Itoje and Billy Vunipola.

While the captain, Brad Barritt, was adamant Saracens can still successfully defend their European title, he acknowledged Premiership survival is the priority with his side 26 points adrift at the foot of the table following their 35-point deduction and £5.4m fine for breaching the salary cap.

Saracens travel to Bath on Friday for their first Premiership match since formally accepting their punishment for the first of four domestic fixtures for which they will have their England players available before they depart to begin Six Nations preparations. McCall said last week he does not expect them to forgo their international commitments.

McCall also said the salary cap scandal had not affected the decision over when his England players would make their comebacks but he did strongly hint that Farrell, Itoje and Billy Vunipola would be in the frame to face Bath.

“We were determined regardless to make decisions with them, not for them, about the appropriate time for them to return, when they’re physically ready and emotionally ready,” McCall said. “We’re getting to the stage where the three that didn’t play [on Saturday] are pretty keen to get back, which is exactly what we want.”

Following Racing 92’s 21-21 draw with Munster, those two sides occupy the top two spots in Pool 4 on seven points with Saracens in third on five. Next month’s double header with Munster looks set to be decisive in determining whether Saracens reach the knockout stages and, while Barritt conceded they cannot give the competition as much focus as in previous years, he believes if his side do reach the quarter-finals, “all bets are off”.

He added: “We are still going into this competition wanting to win it. If there are three or four guys who can’t play on a weekend, so be it. But make no mistake, this Saracens team wants to win this trophy.

“We can’t look further than we can see at this point. If we are too focused on what happens in May or June, we are going to get ourselves into trouble. There’s going to be adversity throughout the season. We’ve had challenges along the way over the last 12 years that I’ve been here. This is going to be as unique a challenge as any club’s going to face but we are a hugely resilient bunch and a team that’s going to fight to the end.”



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