England will be able to field a full-strength side throughout their arduous autumn campaign this year, despite fears over player welfare prompted by an unprecedented workload.
On Tuesday, Premiership clubs announced a series of measures to limit players’ game-time and create rest periods, as English rugby faces 12 months of nonstop fixtures in the aftermath of the coronavirus shutdown.
However, Sportsmail has learned that no restrictions will be placed on Eddie Jones, in terms of national team selections.
Eddie Jones (left) will have no restrictions on who he can pick for England’s autumn Tests
While the head coach is likely to rotate the Red Rose match-day squad at his discretion, it is understood no guidelines have been put in place to limit any player’s involvement.
In theory, England stars could play in six internationals — five of them Tests — over seven weeks, on the back of a gruelling club schedule.
England’s last fixture was on March 7 when they beat Wales 33-30 in the Six Nations. The following weekend’s trip to Italy in a championship finale was postponed, as was July’s two-Test tour of Japan.
But England’s Italy tie is now due to go ahead on Saturday, October 31.
Sposrtmails understands no guidelines have been put in place to limit any player’s involvement
Six days earlier, the national team will return to action with a non- capgame against the Barbarians at Twickenham. The PremiershipFinal will be staged in south-west London the previous day, October 24.
It is understood that Jones will be free to select players involvedin that showpiece occasion to face the Azzurri, if he wishes,despite the tight turnaround between the culmination of the league season and the last round of the disrupted Six Nations.
In theory, by late October, Exeter or Northampton could be striving to seal a domestic and European double, as both clubsare in the Premiership title hunt— with Exeter top of the table — and are also due to meet in a Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final next month.
For players such as Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam and George Furbank — all likely to feature for England — there may be several major knockout contests, before the Tests start.
There may be several major knockout club contests for some players before the Tests start
It is up to Jones to assess their state of readiness for what will follow; the Barbarians, Italy, a week off and then an eight-team tournament which will pit England against Wales, Ireland and Fiji, before the prospect of a final appearance.
It is a World Cup-level schedule, but without the benefit of three months in camp and just a few gentle warm-ups as preparation.
The Australian can afford to lean on his large Saracens contingent as the demands on them will dip when their club spend next season in the Championship.
It is up to Jones to assess players’ mindsets after some potentially grulling club matches
But Premiership clubs must hope Jones handles their players with care, as the 2020-21 league campaign will begin while England are still on autumn duty.
Rotation is likely, but there is no obligation and will depend on injuries and priorities. England hope to clinch a first Six Nations title since 2017, so they will surely send out a powerful team in Rome, while their pool in the eight-team event is threatening and there will be a desire to reignite public interest, especially if fans are permitted at Twickenham.
Players will want to play as often as possible — to protect their places from competitors and to earn the large match fees which will help alleviate club pay cuts.
England players will want to play as often as possible so not to allow for extra competition
So it will be up to Jones to protect the welfare of those who have been worked too hard, with one eye on the bigger picture, which includes next year’s Six Nations and the end-of-season Lions tour to South Africa.
When Harlequins’ back-rower Jack Clifford announced his retirement yesterday at the age of 27, it was a reminder of the dangers posed by this savage profession.
He had been much admired by Jones and earned 10 caps in 2016 and 2017, but has been forced to quit after failing to properly recover from two major shoulder operations.