England’s players insist they have now dealt with the “elephant in the room” despite the latest sanction doled out to Saracens for salary cap offences. The relegation-bound champions are now guaranteed to finish bottom of the Premiership but prop Joe Marler insists the squad’s Six Nations campaign will be unaffected.
Marler’s club Harlequins have been among the more outspoken critics of Saracens’ conduct but, while there remains plenty of banter on the subject, the mood at the team’s Portuguese training base has been more conciliatory. He said: “The longer those conversations or any sort of resentment towards it goes on will detract from what we are trying to achieve here as an England team.
“There are guys from my club who have been very vocal about it but they are not here and we have got eight weeks to become as close as we can. We did that in Japan and it made a huge difference to the way we performed on the field.”
With that objective in mind, Owen Farrell and Mako Vunipola have both invited the entire squad to air any grievances to avoid their Six Nations campaign being adversely affected. “If you don’t address the elephant in the room it grows,” Marler said. “It becomes even more awkward so one of the first things to do was come into camp and say: ‘If anyone has an issue, air it.’
“Owen and Mako stood up and said: ‘We will be happy to answer any questions and talk about anything that you want to discuss, about any beef you’ve got. There are a couple of sets of [boxing] gloves in the gym as well if people want to go that far. Luckily it hasn’t come to that and it has been parked. We are trying to win a Six Nations. We have got eight weeks to try and make memories and do something special with this team.”
Marler , meanwhile, has revealed that head coach Eddie Jones has warned him he needs to up his game if he wishes to retain his place in the squad beyond this tournament. “Eddie texted me to ask what my situation was after the World Cup. He asked, ‘Are you good to go again?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll go again.’ So he said: ‘Right, well you’ll have to pull your finger out then, because other boys are tearing up trees and you ain’t getting any younger.’”
He is also having to contend with a new roommate in Tom Curry, whose hyperactive manner is proving a test for the laconic front-rower. “How I have gone from the geriatric of the group to the guy who just doesn’t sit down or stay still for longer than five minutes?
“This is the only time I have got away from my three kids and they have given me a fourth. If it was described as babysitting I would be sacked immediately because I am not paying attention to him whatsoever. I am trying to avoid him as much as I can.”