Saracens urge England to act with Jamie George and Maro Itoje futures still uncertain

 (Rhianna Chadwick/PA Wire)
(Rhianna Chadwick/PA Wire)

Saracens have urged the RFU to finalise their first central contracts or risk plunging Jamie George and Maro Itoje’s futures into doubt for club and country.

The RFU’s new hybrid contracts system is due to be launched next season, with England captain George and star lock Itoje the first two to agree the two-tier deals.

England will top up club player contracts for the first time, in a seismic change, to help keep top stars on home soil amid the superior financial power of clubs in France and Japan.

Saracens duo George and Itoje agreed RFU-enhanced contracts months ago, but are still yet to see any paperwork for deals due to start next season.

The hybrid contracts setup forms part of the new Professional Game Agreement (PGA) between the RFU and Premiership Rugby, the specifics of which are still being thrashed out.

Both George and Itoje have already signed their new Saracens contracts that will come into effect this summer.

But the experienced tight-five forwards are still waiting on details for the RFU top-ups, that will account for up to £160,000 per player per season.

No further players have yet shaken hands with England on similar two-tier deals, albeit the RFU has always planned to stagger the award to fall into line with the expiration of individuals’ club contracts.

Rugby director Mark McCall has now been left to admit that any shift from the RFU could cause worrying repercussions for Saracens, George and Itoje.

“I think it’s fair to say that in principle an agreement has been reached, between the players, Maro and Jamie, the club and the RFU – in principle,” said Saracens boss McCall. “But as far as I know, I’m not sure there’s any contract on the table as it stands.

“The sooner all that can get done the better for everybody. It’s pretty important that it gets sorted as quickly as possible.”

The hybrid contracts system has been adopted to help England head coach Steve Borthwick maximise his resources, in terms of both access times to Test players and keeping the very best talent on home soil.

England will continue their policy of refusing to select overseas players, leaving a raft of stars unavailable for Test duty.

The bulk of Borthwick’s preferred England players will still be plying their trade in the Premiership next term, but standouts like Jack Willis at Toulouse and Henry Arundell at Racing 92 would be Red Rose regulars if based at English clubs.

Asked if the hold-ups in the RFU’s proposed hybrid deals has caused any issues for Saracens’ squad building for next term, McCall continued: “No it hasn’t, but it’s got the potential for things to change, I suppose. Hopefully it won’t have any influence, but we’ll have to wait and see.”

Saracens will head to Bath on Friday night bidding to boost their Premiership play-off chances, with just three regular-season play-off games to go.

The Men In Black will be without centre Olly Hartley, who has suffered what Saracens fear to be a long-term knee injury.

England A star Hartley’s absence will represent a big blow, but fellow centre Alex Lozowski is now on the comeback trail after his own knee troubles.

England midfielder Lozowski suffered a torn ACL in the 38-10 win at Harlequins on November 18, but could now be fit in time for Saracens’ trip to Bristol on May 11.

“There’s a possibility Olly has done a lot of damage to his knee, and he’s seeing a consultant on that,” said McCall.

“He’s got a big, big future at our club, that’s for sure. And as a club we’ll surround him with the help and support that we can possibly give him, albeit that we can’t get him on the playing field for quite a while I don’t think.

“We have Alex Lozowski at the other end of an ACL rehab though. He won’t be available this weekend, but he is back in training and should be ready for Bristol.

“We have Alex and other players who have suffered similar injuries to Olly’s and they will be able to talk to him about their experience to help him now.

“Alex has worked really diligently, and hard all the way through, really helped by our medical team to be honest.

“And it’s going to be a six-month recovery period, or there and thereabouts, which is probably a little bit ahead of where he might have been. So to get that option back towards the end of the season is great.”