Former England captain Dylan Hartley said he would be surprised if Saracens’ players put the club’s Premiership survival ahead of playing in the Six Nations.
That was the prospect raised by Eddie Jones after the English and European champions were docked 35 points and fined £5.36million for breaching salary cap regulations.
Saracens supplied six starters for the recent World Cup Final and, while the club state that players with international ambitions will continue to have their blessing, Jones fears they might suffer from conflicting loyalties.
But the recently retired Hartley, who in 2016 led England to their first Grand Slam for 13 years, insists Tests rugby is too big a draw to turn down.
“You try and find me a player who doesn’t want to play for his country. I’d be shocked if the Saracens players weren’t playing for England,” Hartley told the PA News Agency.
“Your club is your bread and butter, but no club would hold back a player. And when you’ve got 10 or 12 of those players, you might need them!
“It would be a brave decision not to play because then you open the door to someone else. It’s almost like that decision you make at the end of the season not to tour and I’ve done that because of injury.
“It would be a bold decision to choose not to play for England and personally I can’t see it happening.”
Jones is also concerned he may have to heal any rift between his Saracens contingent and players from disgruntled rival clubs when the squad gathers for Six Nations preparations in January.
But Hartley said: “It’s not a players issue. As a player, I would want my team-mates to get what is best for them and their family because the game is hard and takes its toll.
“We retire but don’t have enough money to retire professionally. We retire from rugby but still have bills to pay. So I would encourage every player to do what’s right by them and theirs and get what’s owed to them.
“It’s the powers that be who must understand where the cap is and how they allocate their money. It’s not the players.
“The Saracens players have done what’s right by them, so I don’t see it as their problem. I can’t imagine they were aware of it.
“In an England changing room, people don’t talk about salaries. It’s not a known thing.”
— Sky Sports Rugby Union (@SkySportsRugby) November 14, 2019
Saracens have not appealed against the sanctions imposed for breaching the salary cap for the last three seasons and now face a desperate battle for Premiership survival.
Hartley said: “There have been murmurs for a long time, so I’m not surprised.
“I’ve cheated and done things and you take a slap on the wrist and do your time. Them accepting the points deduction and fine is them saying that.
“Speaking from a personal point of view I don’t like talking about it, entertaining it and dragging it out.
“When I did something, it was like ‘I’ve done that, it’s there to see, now I’m doing my time so leave me alone’. But when I retired, everyone brings that stuff up again.
“So they’ll probably have to deal with that tag for years now, which probably leaves a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths.”
Hartley was speaking as an advocate for N-Pro headguards, the only protective headwear capable of reducing impacts by up to 75 per cent.
They are the first of their type to be approved for trial by World Rugby and Hartley said: “As a training aid, why would you not use it every day to reduce risk?
“I think you’ll start to see more and more people start to wear these now. We need to keep that raw gladiatorial quality that makes rugby interesting, but also make sure we can do everything we can to protect people playing the game at all levels.”