Eddie Jones was given the green light to pick championship players for England – as half his team faced up to the imminent threat of relegation.
Owen Farrell, Maro Itoje, Elliot Daly, Jamie George, George Kruis, Mako and Billy Vunipola are part of a Saracens club understood to have accepted demotion from the Premiership for again being in breach of the salary cap.
The alternative for the disgraced English champions was to give up their trophies and be forced to dismantle their team.
Relegation would mean eight of England’s World Cup final 23 plying their trade outside the top flight for a year leading into the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa.
Since rugby turned professional England have rarely looked beyond the Premiership. Mark Wilson did go to the 2019 World Cup but his freshly-relegated Newcastle side had yet to begin life in the lower tier.
The sensational scenario moved a massive step closer to becoming reality following a crisis meeting at Saracens at which the doomsday scenario was spelt out
Sarries had already been deducted 35 Premiership points and fined £5.36 million for cap breaches in each of the last three seasons – which brought two league titles and two European crowns.
Faced with an end-of-month deadline to become compliant for this term the Londoners have been unable to reduce their wage bill sufficiently to avoid triggering a further 35-point penalty.
One source suggested it would have meant shedding eight players. Club captain Brad Barritt made it clear on Tuesday that there would be opposition to a cull.
“Everyone wants to avoid disruption to the greater squad,” he said. “I would hate to see one of my friends and colleagues disappear because of this situation.”
Team boss Mark McCall has indicated, however, that he will not quit the club in its hour of need.
“I have never thought of walking away,” he said earlier this week. “I love the club; the club’s been brilliant to me, brilliant for my family.
“I have been here over a fifth of my life. This is my 11th year at the club and you’re not going to walk away, or run away at the first sign of a bit of hardship.
“This is where we need a bit of leadership. We need people to fight and stick around. The playing group are doing that. We need to do it as well.”
The players are due to meet with the club to discuss their futures on Monday, 24 hours after Saracens’ biggest match of the season – a must-win Champions Cup pool clash with Racing 92 at Allianz Park.
Aware that a second 35-point deduction would leave them dead and buried 53 points adrift at the foot of the Premiership, Sarries have opted to go all-out to retain their European crown, naming their strongest possible side.