English Rugby
Andrew fires warning to departing stars
February 19, 2009
England's James Haskell, Riki Flutey and Tom Palmer
James Haskell, Riki Flutey and Tom Palmer have been warned that their England hopes may be dented by their move to France © Getty Images

England elite rugby director Rob Andrew has warned any players who are looking to feather their nest with a lucrative move to France that they will be seriously denting their hopes of playing for England by doing so - but has ruled out an international ban on overseas-based players.

Following the news that current England Elite Player Squad (EPS) members James Haskell, Tom Palmer and Riki Flutey have agreed deals with French sides Stade Francais and Brive respectively, Andrew has moved to stem the tide by issuing a blunt warning to the players. Following their moves the players will fall outside of the £100m EPS agreement between the RFU and Premier Rugby, the umbrella organisation charged with the affairs of Guinness Premiership clubs, jeopardising their England places if they are unavailable for training camps.

Haskell and Flutey are rumoured to have trebled their wages thanks to the favourable exchange rate currently available between the euro and pound, sparking fears of an exodus. While Haskell apparently has a clause in his contract with Stade Francais allowing him to attend all England sessions, Andrew has still expressed his fears for their international futures.

"The key thing is the integrity of the England team and Martin's [Johnson, England manager] ability to have the players when he wants them for preparation, which is clearly a massive part of the EPS agreement," said Andrew. "These players will need to be available when Martin wants them available because, by definition, if they are not that will compromise their own situation.

"There are two things that will clearly impact on a player playing for England - one is form and the second is whether he is available when the team preparations are going on. What we effectively did with the EPS agreement was buy more preparation time. Players would have to make sure they have that covered in their individual contracts We need to get the exact detail of what their contracts actually say so we can understand the whole picture."

While Andrew admitted the RFU would have to monitor the situation carefully, he does not believe restricting England selection is necessary yet.

"There is no policy as far as that is concerned," said Andrew, who played for England in the 1992 Five Nations while spending a year with Toulouse. This is a new dynamic in terms of England and England senior internationals going to play in France. We clearly have to look at it closely, watch it closely. We have to consider the impact of this moving forward. We have to see where this takes us.

"But in my personal view, and we have got a management board meeting next Wednesday, limiting England selection to Premiership players only is not appropriate at this point in time."

Another worry for the trio is the simple fact that their form and fitness will become more difficult to monitor if they are playing abroad.

"There are quite a lot of things that need to be considered in this," said Andrew. "It is not just training times (that are outlined in the EPS agreement) but the medical profiling which we do with every player each week, the August training camp, the fact the players have to be guaranteed a rest one week in five and there is a limit on the number of games they can play in a season."

The players all met with Johnson in the early stages of their contract agreements and assured him that they remain committed to England, and it was he who advised them to agree any "England release" clauses.

"The guys have all said they want to play for England. They don't want this to affect them playing for England and how do they go about that happening?" he said. "I said to them that if they go out of England they need to get the release taken care of otherwise it makes it very difficult. If they don't have that it will make it more difficult.

"We will not tell them what to do. They are professional players who have a short career and ultimately it is their call but we will give them advice, or strong advice in some cases. We explained to them that it does make it more difficult for us to see them play. We can watch the tapes but they are not competing in the Premiership. We can't compare them week-in and week-out.

"My advice to the players usually is to do what is best for your rugby career. They know the implications of what might happen to their form and their chances of playing for England."

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