Manu Tuilagi believes Saracens’ England players will face “a tough decision” at the start of next year’s Six Nations over whether to focus on club or country.
On Monday, the English and European champions chose not to appeal against a 35-point deduction and £5.36million fine for salary cap breaches.
The decision immediately plummeted Saracens to the foot of the Gallagher Premiership on -22 points, 26 adrift of Tuilagi’s own club, Leicester.
England head coach Eddie Jones suggested there would be Saracens players who would “feel like they’ve got to play for their club instead of their country, to make sure they don’t go down”.
Tuilagi can understand that for England’s World Cup contingent – Owen Farrell, Mako and Billy Vunipola, Jamie George, Jack Singleton, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Ben Spencer and Elliot Daly – they will be torn as to which way to turn ahead of the Six Nations campaign that begins with a clash against France in Paris on February 2.
“Obviously, that will be a tough decision for the boys,” said Tigers centre Tuilagi.
“They have to play well for the club first, to try and get the club back up to where it normally is.
“For me, I feel for the boys at Sarries. They are good lads, and I’m sure when it comes to that decision they will make the right one. But it’s going to be a tough one.”
Tuilagi was speaking at an event on behalf of Canterbury, the official partner of the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa in 2021.
The 28-year-old was part of the Lions squad for the 2013 tour to Australia, playing in three of the warm-up matches as well as a substitute in the third Test.
While Tuilagi knows what it means to represent the Lions, and to be part of the squad to take on the Springboks, he is refusing to look too far ahead.
For me, I feel for the boys at Sarries. They are good lads, and I'm sure when it comes to that decision they will make the right one. But it's going to be a tough oneManu Tuilagi
He added: “For me, it was an honour beyond my dreams to play for the Lions.
“I enjoyed that whole tour. I couldn’t wait to put that jersey on. Fortunately for me, I got to put it on a few times.
“As for 2021, that is a long way away. You have to focus on what is now. You don’t want to focus so far ahead when there are so many games in between.
“I know if I keep working hard and keep playing well for my club then that will take care of itself.”