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The 'poppycock' Baxter reaction to England picking overseas players

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Exeter boss Rob Baxter has shot down recent speculation that the restriction preventing overseas-based players from representing England could be scrapped. Jack Willis last month became the first player since Jonny Wilkinson and Tom Palmer in the 2011 World Cup quarter-final to represent England while registered with a club in France.

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The flanker made an emergency move to the Top 14 in November following his redundancy at the collapsed Wasps and a special dispensation has since enabled him to temporarily be available to Steve Borthwick for the Guinness Six Nations campaign.

However, that dispensation for Willis will end next week and despite Borthwick recently calling on the RFU to review its overseas selection policy, Baxter can’t see any other player based outside the Gallagher Premiership ever being able to get selected in the future by Borthwick for England duty.

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Exeter are losing a number of their Test players to the Top 14 at the end of this season with Luke Cowan-Dickie and Sam Simmonds heading to Montpellier, while their England squad colleagues Joe Marchant and David Ribbans have also secured confirmed deals with Stade Francais and Toulon respectively.

Baxter, though, wouldn’t like to see these players based in France and still be available to play for England, claiming that such a scenario would damage the credibility of the Premiership and weaken its ability to hold onto its Test players.

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“I cannot see any way that the clubs would agree to raise the overseas being allowed to play for England,” he said on Wednesday at his media briefing ahead of this Saturday’s Exeter game at home to Newcastle in the league. “I know there was an article a little while ago that said the feeling was the clubs would be in agreement because the thing they don’t want is players moving between other clubs.

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“I read it and I thought, ‘Where has this guy got this poppycock?’ That was genuinely poppycock. I don’t know where it could have come from because I can’t believe any CEO or owner in the Premiership saying, ‘Yeah, that is fine, they can go overseas as long as they don’t join another Premiership club’.

“With the strictness of the salary cap it’s one of the few things that allows better quality players, particularly guys who have come through your academy and you have helped create their careers, it is one of things that helps you keep them at the club and without doubt that is what you want to do.

“Obviously if they are home grown you get some benefit in being home grown and then obviously you pick up some international credits. These are the things that help you within the salary cap and then the fact that the player is earning from playing for England, that helps as well.

“But I can’t believe there would be a single club that would go, ‘Oh yeah, I agree with the fact that potentially my best player could still maintain his England career and we have now got to compete with more French clubs and Irish clubs, whatever’.”

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Having been reduced during the pandemic, the Premiership salary cap is set to increase from 2024/25 and despite some suggestion that this plan might not yet go ahead, Baxter was adamant that the increase was already signed off. “I believe that is already set in stone as far as I have been told.”

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