American amateurs out to make a point against the Saxons
The Saracens prop Matt Stevens has every chance of moving onwards and upwards, the Gloucester captain Luke Narraway and his Bath-bound former colleague Dave Attwood remain semi-optimistic, and there are a couple of others – the Harlequins full-back Mike Brown, for instance – who are clinging to the driftwood of their hopes and dreams, but for the vast majority of the England Saxons, who open their Churchill Cup campaign against the United States in Northampton this evening, the here and now is all that matters.
When Martin Johnson, the England manager, names his training squad for the forthcoming World Cup in New Zealand, it will be full of people not playing in this tournament. The Americans? They're in a different place entirely. All those on show at Franklin's Gardens can legitimately think of themselves as World Cup contenders, with only five front-line players missing because of Premiership regulations on player access.
Two Saracens, the highly effective flexi-back Chris Wyles and lock Hayden Smith, are not available to the former Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan, who will take the Eagles to All Black country in September. Nor is Leeds' Mike MacDonald. The super-rapid Biarritz wing Takudzwa Ngwenya is resting, while O'Sullivan has decided against picking the second-rower Samu Manoa, who has just signed for Saints. "Samu's deal at Franklin's Gardens doesn't begin until the start of July and if he got himself injured now, he could lose his contract," the coach explained. "The other England-based players are not with us because their clubs won't release them this early ... in fairness, that probably suits me because I know a lot about them already. It's good that I can concentrate on finding out more about others, because the last place I need to find out about them is in New Zealand."
O'Sullivan spent long enough coaching in rugby's elite tier to understand the advantages of professionalism. "The game in the States is amateur, and while everyone thinks we can just tap into the people who don't quite make it in American football, the reality is different," he continued. "When we approach them and tell them they'd be playing for free, they say: 'Why would I want to put my body through all that for nothing when I've just been paid for doing it?'.
"We have excellent athletes in our squad. What we don't have is a structure that gives them a high level of rugby week on week. That's why something like this is a big deal for us."
Crystal Palace manager latest: Malky Mackay ruled out due to messy departure from previous club Cardiff
Sami Khedira to Arsenal: Midfield omitted from Real Madrid squad for Spanish Super Cup
Paul Scholes: Manchester United need five experienced players who can turn round a desperate situation
Angel Di Maria latest: Manchester United target is Real Madrid's 'best player', says Diego Simeone
Luis Nani exit: The curious case of the Manchester United winger
- 1 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 2 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 3 World peace? These are the only 11 countries in the world that are actually free from conflict
- 4 Nicki Minaj 'Anaconda': Singer finally releases predictable video
- 5 James Foley 'beheading': Met police warn public watching murder video could be criminal offence
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Scottish Independence Referendum: Salmond described as 'arrogant, ambitious and dishonest' by Scottish women