England may face Six Nations destiny without star players

Players involved in Premiership final will remain with their clubs

Sale’s Tom Curry could miss England’s Six Nations game against Italy if his club reach the Premiership final. Photograph:  Clive Mason/Getty Images

Sale’s Tom Curry could miss England’s Six Nations game against Italy if his club reach the Premiership final. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

 

England could be missing a host of frontline stars when they go in pursuit of the Six Nations title in October following confirmation that Premiership clubs will keep hold of their players for the domestic final.

World Rugby’s revised autumn Test window is due to begin on October 24th – the same day as the Premiership final – with the final round of the Six Nations, including England’s trip to Italy, set to take place a week later. Eddie Jones would ordinarily have guaranteed access to his players in an official Test window but the Rugby Football Union and the Premiership have reached an agreement whereby they will remain with their clubs if they reach the final.

Within the existing agreement between the RFU and PRL, the union pays for additional access to players for an extra week’s training before international windows, which means this autumn England are set to convene on October 19th to prepare for their rearranged match against the Barbarians – set to take place on October 25th.

As would have been the case had the Barbarians fixture taken place in June, however, the Premiership finalists will miss that match as well as the crucial week’s training preceding it, and with Jones adopting a policy of picking teams from players available for full camps they are unlikely to be parachuted into his side in Rome.

Exeter and Sale occupy the top two positions in the Premiership and if they were to contest the final England could be without Manu Tuilagi, Tom Curry, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell and Luke Cowan-Dickie against Italy.

Jones was sanguine about the prospect when asked last week, insisting “the RFU and the clubs will decide when we get the players, then, we’ll prepare them as well as we can” – but given how tight it is at the top of the Six Nations table he would undoubtedly want his strongest squad primed against Italy.

England top the Six Nations table on points difference from France, though Ireland would go into first place with a bonus-point victory against Italy. That match is set to take place on October 24th, a week before the final round when, as well as England’s trip to Italy, France host Ireland and Wales face Scotland.

The destination of the title – and the €5.5 million of prize money – could well come down to points difference, further highlighting why Jones would want his best players at his disposal. – Guardian

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