McKenzie vows to aid England pair's careers
February 22, 2009
Stade Francais boss Ewen McKenzie believes that James Haskell and Tom Palmer have made a positive move © Getty Images
Stade Francais boss Ewen McKenzie has promised to further the England careers of James Haskell and Tom Palmer after the Wasps forwards agreed controversial deals with the Top 14 side.
The pair were joined in moving by England centre Riki Flutey, who will join Birve, sparking fears of an exodus as players sought to capitalise on the strong Euro and lack of salary cap in the Top 14. Players choosing to move to France will fall outside of the RFUand Premier Rugby's £100m EPS deal however, and may harm their England futures as the management struggle to see their form and fitness on a regular basis.
"I have met both the guys and I was impressed with them. We probably had an hour-and-a- half meeting, just talking about rugby, their responsibilities, lots of things," said McKenzie. "In amongst their concerns was their desire to play for England and I have said we definitely want to help them with that.
"My objective as a coach is getting players playing for their national team. You want people to play for their country so if they are here, I will be helping them the best they can. We have engineered their contracts to allow them access to England, so we have been not necessarily compassionate but certainly logical about it all."
All three Wasps players are believed to have England-release clauses written in to their contracts and discussed their moves with England manager Martin Johnson before signing, leading McKenzie to wonder at the reaction of the England management.
"This was no great surprise from the England management's point of view - there have been discussions going on for a long time," the 1991 World Cup winner added. "They aren't just coming here hoping they will be picked for England; they have been given the green light. You can't suddenly renege on the discussions they have had. A policy has been put in place."
McKenzie has expressed his delight at snaring Haskell, a player that he believes can provide the grunt that has been lacking in big games for Stade.
"Haskell was chased by a lot of clubs so I am pretty happy to get him," McKenzie said. "He looks to be a guy that likes a challenge and guys like that normally go far in this game. Players who look for the short cuts tend to let you down in the big games anyway. I think he is a very combative player, a good ball-carrier and there is a lot of scope how to use him. And I think Palmer is the same.
"We are bringing skill-sets in, not just good players. I need these players, they have specific skills we need."
There has been a great deal of criticism bandied about following the players' move but McKenzie believes that they are right to test themselves in a different environment. He also criticised the double standards apparent in the criticism, with Premiership clubs all too happy to pack their squads with foreign players but crying foul now that the balance is shifting.
"I know there is a bit of huff and puff about it all but I admire people who take on a challenge like this - it would be easy for them to go to a team and be the star player every week," he said. "I think if you go to a team where there is competition, it will get the best out of you. I am a one-club bloke but you want to make sure when you go through your career that you have tried all different types of game.
"My take on these two guys (Palmer and Haskell) is that is what they are interested in because they have been enjoying themselves a lot and tasted success at the top. But they want more. You can't be too precious about this. It's an international sport now and people move round.
"And look at Andy Goode. He was probably consigned to the scrapheap when he came over to Brive and now he is playing for England. It's about your attitude. The Premiership is choc-ful of players from overseas so you can't have this 'holier than thou' attitude."