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Concern over 'creating false market for English-qualified players'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Juan Gasperini/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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London Irish director of rugby Declan Kidney has dived into an issue that is sure to dominate the conversation around the Gallagher Premiership in the near future. A squeeze has already been put on the 13 top-flight clubs with the £1.4million salary cap reduction already in play along with the 2022/23 season reduction from two to one marquee player sitting outside that budget. 


Amid a stalled plan to increase the Premiership to 14 clubs, the salary cap reduction will be followed in 2024 by the stipulation that will see all top-flight clubs having to select 15 English-qualified players in every matchday squad of 23, a policy that mirrors the emphasis in recent years in France towards home-grown players. 

The French have reaped the reward for this as their national team is now the strongest it has been for a decade and it resulted in Fabien Galthie last month guiding them to a first Six Nations title since 2010. However, it won’t be for some time before it is known if a greater emphasis on home-grown talent in the Premiership will have a similar effect on the England national team. 

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It will be the 2024/25 league season when the regulation comes into play in the English top-flight and Kidney, the ex-Ireland Grand Slam coach, had pondered the pros and cons of this impending Premiership change with RugbyPass. In recent times, London Irish have started to get their younger, newer players noticed by England boss Eddie Jones, Ollie Hassell-Collins, Tom Pearson and some others getting chosen for international squad training in the past year.

While Kidney is greatly enthused by this progress, he is wondering if the added emphasis on English-qualified players playing every week in the Premiership will dilute the quality of the league? For instance, the try-celebration picture accompanying this article features South African Benhard van Rensburg, the Australian Nick Phipps and Scotland’s Kyle Rowe, a trio of non-English players at London Irish.   


“I have been on the other side of that,” said Kidney to RugbyPass in reference to his previous role as Ireland boss from 2008 to 2013, a five-year stint that was followed by some time away from the game before he linked up with London Irish as their director of rugby in March 2018. “You want players coming through in every position for the English team, without a shadow of a doubt, but what you want to watch is if there are 14 teams with 15 (English-qualified) players in the squad, do England have 210 players who are Premiership ability? 


“You just want to make sure that the standard of the competition stays up. From an international point of view to be able to have, say, ten players in each position to pick from must strengthen the hand of the international coach but at the same time then you want them to play in a competition that is really meaningful. 

“The Premiership has served England well in the past. I know there are always arguments over players being overplayed and the attritional nature of the matches, which is certainly true. That is my experience of working here as against the PRO14 or URC. There is a high attrition nature here. They are all difficult leagues in their own way. The advantage of the English one is that a lot of matches are played at three o’clock and you get home that night.

“PRO14 you are playing in a different country at eight o’clock on a Saturday night and then there is extra travel and things like that, so the different competitions are demanding in their own ways. From an England point of view, an awful lot of the things that are set up right for the national team and putting this in place is another one. But what you do want to make sure is the standard of the competition stays that high.

“If you only allowed eight (non-English-qualified players) in your squad, I presume the number of non-English players being recruited for each club will reduce over the next three years. There is no point in having 16 (non-English) players in your squad and only half of them can play at any one time. 


“But the converse of that is, do you create a false market for English-qualified players and you end up with players being paid a lot of money and if they don’t reach the standard of the competition, then that is what can deteriorate. So the same money could be going out but if the standards of the competition aren’t kept up, that could adversely affect the English team.”


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