UPDATE 1-Rugby-Jones planning "clear the air" player talks over Saracens scandal

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By Mitch Phillips

LONDON, Jan 20 (Reuters) – Coach Eddie Jones has scheduled “clear the air” talks for everyone in his Six Nations squad to ensure any rumbling discontent over the Saracens’ salary cap scandal does not sour the atmosphere in the England camp.

Seven Saracens were included in the squad named on Monday, including England captain Owen Farrell and key performers Maro Itoje, Elliot Daly, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola.

The players have largely been exempted from the criticism and punishment handed out to the Premiership champions, who will be relegated at the end of the season for repeated salary cap breaches.

Yet Jones wants to guard against the possibility of any lingering ill-feeling among the squad which, for instance, features three players from Exeter who have seen their club beaten by Saracens in three of the last four Premiership finals.

He said he will address the issue when the squad meet “for a beer” on Wednesday before heading off to their warm weather camp in Portugal.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to get it all out on the table and sort it out,” he told journalists on Monday.

“We’ve got the World Cup debrief so it’s going to be a long meeting. If players are angry about it then say it, get it out, but at the end of the day there are 35 players that all want to play for England and their job is to get ready and sort it out.

“We will help them sort it out. I don’t envisage any problems at all. In fact, I think it is an opportunity for the team to get tighter.”

Jones, formerly a coaching consultant at Saracens, said it was part and parcel of an international coach’s job to smooth over inter-club rivalries.

“We’ve got players from potentially 12 different clubs. That’s 12 different ideas of what’s right and what’s wrong,” he said.

“Every national team I have coached has those problems. I remember coaching Japan and the Panasonic players hated the Suntory players, so we had to sort it out.

“We’ll have a drink Wednesday night and on Thursday we’ll be off to Portugal to train. The really good players are good at compartmentalising issues and international rugby is going to be really good for those guys.” One Saracen not in the squad is Billy Vunipola, who broke his arm for the fourth time on Sunday and is expected to miss the entire championship.

Jones, however, opted not to include any other specialist number eight, which seemed harsh on Harlequins’ in-form Alex Dombrandt in particular.

“There are some good young players out there and I’ve been watching them very carefully to see if they are the right sort of number eight for us,” the Australian explained.

“You are always looking at a balance between your 4/5/6/7/8, between ball-running, defensive capabilities, workrate. We’ve got a view of how we can be most effective in that area without a Billy-type player.

“Flankers Tom Curry, Lewis Ludlam and uncapped Saracen, Ben Earl, look to be the men in contention to fill the considerable void.

England, World Cup runners-up in November, have not won the Six Nations since 2017 and face a tricky tournament start away to a new-look French team on Feb. 2. Jones though was back to his usual bullish self following the bruising World Cup final defeat by South Africa as he declared: “My aim is to make England the greatest rugby team the world has ever seen. That’s my mindset.”

Asked whether his ambition, which he repeated three times just to ensure the message got across, could be achieved in two years, he added: “I want to do it next weekend, mate. Why can’t we go out and play fantastic football against France?” (Reporting by Mitch Phillips, Editing by Ian Chadband)

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