Fearns: Jones called me a whinger
TOP 14, ROUND TWO: Lyon's English No.8 Carl Fearns said a discussion with England head coach Eddie Jones played a role in his decision not to move back to England.
Lyon have twice been relegated in the last six years, but with Pierre Mignoni at the helm and Fearns in dynamic form the unfashionable club can realistically target a successful Top 14 season.
They opened their campaign last week with a 25-16 away victory over Stade Francais - they had to wait until April last season for their first win on the road - and entertain Brive on Saturday with 20 000 fans expected at Stade Gerland.
Lyon came close last season to making the play-offs, not a bad showing for its most recent return to elite division of French rugby.
With Lyon during that promotion rollercoaster was Fearns, who has spurned a move to Gloucester to stay in the Alps.
The 28-year-old Liverpudlian's outstanding campaign saw him shortlisted for the Top 14's Best Player of the 2016/2017 season award.
Speaking to the Daily Mail this week, Fearns, known as the 'Inferno', said he would be willing to play for France should he have the chance by the time he serves his three-year residency next year.
"It was a massive decision," Fearns told the newspaper of his u-turn on joining Gloucester in a bid to belatedly earn a first England cap.
"The only positive reason to go home was England, but it's not guaranteed. I didn't want to go back for that one reason and risk everything for my family, to chase an England cap. I felt that was too risky and wrong. It would have been selfish."
Fearns revealed he had a call from England coach Jones, wanting to discuss the player's intentions, but it did not go well with the Australian questioning the back rower's fitness, saying he wouldn't last 15 minutes in a Test match.
"If you look at my stats for last season, I carried the most times in the league and I carried for the most metres, against these big international players. And I was playing 80-minute games," Fearns argued.
"So I told Eddie that I disagreed with him, then he said a few more things that I didn't agree with. He called me a whinger and a moaner. I said, 'Hold on, I'm not a whinger because when things weren't going well at Bath, I didn't just sit around and moan, I went to the second division of France to change my career'."
With England unwilling to pick players based overseas, Fearns added: "While that RFU policy is in place, it is finished for me. I qualify for France at the end of this season, so we will see what happens there.
"It's something I would seriously think about. I will have just turned 29 by then, so if it's possible, I will look at it.
"If I'm wanted by the French national team, I would do it - 100 percent. I want to play international rugby. I feel like when I play against international players, I am at their standard, so I want to test myself at that level," he told the Mail.
Lyon President Yann Roubert, who brought in 14 new recruits over the off-season, said the team's "goal is to do as well as last year [when they ended up 10th after sitting seventh with two games to play], if not better, but other teams also have this objective".
"We have the right to dream all the while keeping our feet on the ground."
Coach Mignoni added that the backbone of the team remained intact, notably with Fearns as the fulcrum of the pack.
"We tried to go less for quality over quantity, while integrating our young players who'll have some game time."
On his thoughts on whether Lyon could make this season's Top 14 play-offs, on their home ground, Mignoni said: "That's a long way away."
The weekend's big match sees Mignoni's two former clubs, defending champions Clermont and beaten finalists Toulon, clash on Sunday.
Agen v Racing92
Stade Francais v La Rochelle
Castres v Bordeaux-Begles
Lyon v Brive
Montpellier v Oyonnax
Toulouse v Pau
Clermont v Toulon