Rugby-Saracens players must focus on England now, says Jones

By Mitch Phillips

By Mitch Phillips

LONDON, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Coach Eddie Jones included seven players from crisis-hit English and European champions Saracens in his Six Nations squad on Monday and said his only interest in the salary-cap scandal was how they performed for England. England's most successful club have formed the backbone of Jones's England team since he arrived over four years ago but they are now in turmoil, with many players' futures uncertain, after they were handed an automatic end-of-season relegation from the Premiership for another breach of the salary cap rules.

Jones, a former coaching consultant with the London club, said that his job was simply to get the seven players all to focus on England's opening game, away to France on Feb. 2.

"They have to get ready to play against France and then get ready to play against whoever we play against after France," he told a news conference when asked what advice he would give them.

"All they have got to do is come in and have a great excitement about playing for England. All of that business, that will get sorted out. It's important, but the only important for those boys now is to get ready to play for England."

The prospect of captain Owen Farrell and star performers such as Maro Itoje, Elliot Daly, Jamie George and the Vunipola brothers operating in the second-tier Championship next season was also not on the Australian's radar.

"That's not my issue," he said. "My issues is to pick the squad today and then pick the 23 against France. When the appropriate time to make a selection that possibly involves players from the Championship we'll make a decision on it.

"They have to make a decision to be in their best condition to play France. That's the only decision they need to make."

One Saracen not in the squad is Billy Vunipola, who broke his arm for the fourth time yesterday and is expected to miss the championship.

"It's massively disappointing for him but these things happen," said Jones, who did not include any other specialist number eight in his squad.

"There was a rugby league great, Mal Meninga, who broke his arm four times in two years. He then played six or seven years, won grand finals and won Test matches for the Kangaroos.

"The tide will turn for Billy. At the moment it's tough and probably feels the whole world is against him, but he'll be all right."

Jones included eight uncapped players but retained the bulk of his World Cup group in a 34-man squad. "It's a very exciting squad," he said. "We've added eight or nine players who have the potential to be great players so it's a nicely balanced squad."

England, World Cup runners-up in November, have not won the Six Nations since 2017 and face a tricky start away to a new-look French team.

"I thought they had a positive World Cup and they have obviously taken a view that they are building a squad towards the 2023 World Cup (which they host)," Jones said.

"They've gone for a fair bit of youth, and we know they've won the last two Under-20 World Cups, so they've got talent coming through. But talent doesn't necessarily transfer to performance in test match rugby so we will wait and see."

Jones was back to his usual bullish self following the bruising World Cup final defeat by South Africa as he declared: "My aim is to make England the greatest rugby team the world has ever seen. That's my mindset."

Asked whether his ambition could be achieved in two years, he added: "I want to do it next weekend, mate. Why can't we go out and play fantastic football against France?" (Reporting by Mitch Phillips, Editing by Ian Chadband)