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Saracens’ first-class demolition of Bristol Bears, combined with Leicester Tigers’ failure to convert their healthy lead against Exeter into any points, helped Mark McCall’s side take one giant step closer towards Premiership survival – but there is trouble on the horizon.
It could have been significantly worse. At one stage Saracens were trailing Bristol 13-7 while Leicester were threatening a major upset at Welford Road in leading the Chiefs 22-10. Had results finished up that way, Saracens would have found themselves 25 points behind Leicester and facing a fierce battle against relegation this season. Instead, they secured a 12-point swing in their favour, and the reality of the reigning champions dragging themselves off the foot of the table now seems to be a case of when rather than if.
But Saracens must make hay while the winter sun is shining. Come the Six Nations, Saracens could once again be without the nine England internationals that featured in Eddie Jones’s World Cup squad as international rugby returns.
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Yet that number could increase. As part of their preparations for the tournament, Jones will take 36 players to Portugal for a week-long training camp at the end of January, meaning that anyone selected will miss round nine of the Premiership. For Saracens, that means a trip to fierce London rivals Harlequins, where a ferocious battle can be expected at the Stoop given how the south-west Londoners have reacted to their neighbour’s salary cap breach this season.
In addition to Farrell, Itoje and the Vunipola brothers, Saracens could realistically find themselves without the services of one or two others, too. With five more places in his training squad than he was afforded in Japan this autumn, Jones may well take a few players who he wants to get a closer look at. Ben Earl and Max Malins would fall into that category.
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