Andrew talks tough in face of exodus
April 30, 2009
RFU Elite Director of Rugby Rob Andrew has issued a further warning to those players considering a move to France © Getty Images
The England axe will fall on any Top 14-bound player who fails to guarantee his full availability for international duty until the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
That was the hard line spelt out by Rugby Football Union elite director Rob Andrew in a stark warning to current England squad members and other players considering a lucrative move to France's top division.
Three current England squad members - James Haskell, Riki Flutey and Tom Palmer - have agreed summer moves to the French Top 14 with the likes of Jonny Wilkinson and Jamie Noon among others who have been tipped to follow suit. Ahead of yet more high-profile moves, Andrew has underlined the RFU's stance, insisting that England internationals heading to France are expected to include the same release and welfare clauses in their contracts that govern the team's access to domestic-based players.
But Andrew admitted that is currently not the case and, using his strongest language yet on the issue, he unequivocally warned any player who fails to comply with England's demands by July 1 will be axed from the squad.
"Martin Johnson and I have spoken to the players and we are speaking to their agents and the French clubs to ensure the conditions are in their contracts to allow them to fulfil the same obligations that we have in England," said Andrew. "There is a lot of work still to be done on that. The intention is to get all of that information for when Martin announces the squad on July 1.
"We are effectively saying to all the players that if you cannot fulfil the obligations under the elite player agreement then you will not be considered for the England squad. We cannot stop people going to sign a contract in the European market. What we can do is try to protect the integrity of the England programme we have put in place to provide the England team manager with the best possible preparation for the national team.
"By definition, if you cannot come training with the rest of the squad you put yourself at a disadvantage. If a player wants to play for England he has to have these things catered for."
The elite player agreement that exists between the RFU and English clubs not only covers additional international release days but rest periods and medical profiling, which would be much harder to insist upon. England will also demand that all players are available for the 2010 summer tour of Australia, the last major trip before the 2011 Rugby World Cup squad.
The French final is scheduled to take place seven days before England's first Test against the Wallabies, which would clash with the two-week preparation period.
RFU chief executive Francis Baron said, "We will never again send a team into a Test match without two weeks' preparation."
Baron accepted the policy could mean an established England player - potentially the likes of a Haskell or Flutey - would have to be axed from Johnson's elite squad on July 1.
"We accept that. This policy has always been tough and it has been clear. The policy does have teeth," he stressed.
There will be at least 19 English players plying their trade in the Top 14 next season, not to mention the likes of Scotland internationals Simon Taylor, Jason White and Hugo Southwell.
"Everybody knows the reasons why some of these guy are going in terms of the power of the French clubs financially at the moment and also the strength of the Euro," said Andrew.
The French clubs (LNR) and the French union (FFR) are anxious to stem the flood of overseas talent in the Top 14, with foreigners now accounting for 45% of the players. The LNR is looking to introduce a "home-grown players" rule from next season while the FFR has been in talks with the RFU over a mutual arrangement to limit the number of players crossing the Channel.
"The French want to organise regular meetings with the RFU now to ensure that from both countries' national team perspectives they can seek to legally limit the number of foreign players that play in those league," said management board chairman Martyn Thomas.
Top 14 additions and reported deals in the pipeline:
Biatrritz - Ayoola Erinle (Leicester), Iain Balshaw (Gloucester).