The post-mortem into England’s fifth-place finish in this year’s Six Nations is well underway and one of the main reasons which is being discussed is the load being put on some of England’s top stars.
With the Lions tour taking place last summer, which extended the 2017/18 season for all those involved, there was concern surrounding the welfare of those players going into the new season.
However, in England, there is no central contract system with the governing union, the players are solely contracted to the clubs and the RFU have to request or effectively pay the Premiership clubs to receive their players.
As a result, the clubs are only concerned with getting results and performing at their peak which is reflected when you compare the minutes played between some of England and Ireland’s top players.
For example, according to some number crunching by Charlie Morgan in The Telegraph, Johnny Sexton has played 435 minutes for Leinster this season while Owen Farrell has played 1084 minutes for Saracens. The two players will face off against one another in two weeks when Leinster host Saracens in the quarter-final of the Champions Cup at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Dan Cole has played 1070 minutes for the Leicester Tigers, while Tadhg Furlong has played 644 minutes over 11 matches for Leinster which includes six Champions Cup games and four interprovincial fixtures in the Guinness PRO14.
Those two aforementioned players, Maro Itoje, Anthony Watson and Mako Vunipola have all played a huge amount of rugby this season so it would be unwise if Eddie Jones selects them on the tour of South Africa in June.
England’s performance in the Six Nations will undoubtedly highlight the debate around the control the clubs have on England’s players and whether a centralised contract system, similar to that of Ireland and Wales, is the way forward.