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Prem exodus: 5 players leaving English top flight for France

By Ian Cameron
Toulouse's English flanker Jack Willis (C) celebrates after scoring a try during the French Top14 rugby union match between Stade Toulousain Rugby (Toulouse) and USA Perpignan at the Ernest-Wallon stadium in Toulouse, south-western France on December 3, 2022. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP) (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

Fears abound that the Gallagher Premiership could be set to lose more of its stars as the English top flight struggles to compete with salaries in France.


The salary cap in the Gallagher Premiership is currently set at £5 million while the salary cap in the French Top 14 is currently closer to £9 million. Even with one marquee player allowance, this means that clubs in the Top 14 have the ability to spend significantly more on player salaries than those across the channel.

As a result, Prem clubs are now feeling the pinch and struggling to attract and retain top talent. The fear for Premiership DoRs is that what was once a rare enough phenomenon will become increasingly more common.

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Zach Mercer’s case study doesn’t help matters. When the sometimes England back row upped sticks for France in 2021 at the age of 23, it raised eyebrows.  The gamble has well and truly paid off for the former Bath man, who will play for Gloucester next season and is once again being talked about as an option for England after making a huge impression at Montpellier.

Now, halfway through the season, five international-class players have left or are leaving for the continent.


When Wasps collapsed it was always going to be a reach for the Gallagher Premiership clubs to fit all the Coventry-based side’s top talent in under the cap. Willis, arguably one of their biggest names and a player projected to star for England, was scooped up by French giants Toulouse.

Biggar has already departed Northampton for Toulon, after a mid-season exit was agreed that has seen him swap Franklin’s Gardens for the Stade Mayol.  Biggar played 69 times for Saints, scoring 614 points in total. It is understood that Saints’ were unable to make Biggar an offer that could compete with the French side.


As a player involved in England, Simmonds’ exit to Montpellier might have been a bit of a watershed moment. The No.8 is expected to be available for next year’s World Cup but after that will be ineligible to represent his country.

Another Exeter Chief who is upping sticks despite currently fighting it out for England jersey, the hooker is following Simmonds to GGL Stadium and Philippe Saint-André’s big spending side. Like Simmonds, Cowan-Dickie will be eligible for next year’s World Cup, but England’s current selection policy for players plying their trade overseas means the Lions’ star is unavailable after that tournament.

Marchant who has been in and out of [the now jettisoned] Eddie Jones’ England set-up like a yo-yo in recent years has decided to throw his lot in with Stade Francais. Marchant will depart the club following nine years at The Stoop, after joining the Senior Academy set-up back in 2014.



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Shaylen 2 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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Jon 8 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Sopoaga is going to be more than good enough to look up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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