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The Premiership Rugby statement that won't please Steve Borthwick

(Photo by Ben Whitley/PA Images via Getty Images)

The restriction on Steve Borthwick selecting England players based abroad will remain in place for the next agreement overseeing the domestic game, according to Premiership Rugby chief executive Simon Massie-Taylor. The CEO insists there is no desire among Premiership sides nor the RFU to relax a rule designed to keep the country’s top stars at home as well as give the England head coach greater control over his players.


An ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause saw Toulouse’s Jack Willis picked during the Six Nations, but he is the lone example of its use since 2011 with dispensation only granted because of Wasps’ financial collapse in October.

Borthwick wants the overseas policy eased in order to pick the best players available for his England team amid a recent spate of signings for Top 14 sides, including Luke Cowan-Dickie, David Ribbans and Joe Marchant. But that prospect has been ruled out as talks continue over the new professional game agreement that comes into effect from July 2024.

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“Having our English players playing within the Premiership is important for England and for the Premiership,” Massie-Taylor told the PA news agency at an event for Funding Circle, the UK’s largest small business lending platform. “From the RFU’s, ours and even the players’ perspective we all see the importance of England internationals playing domestically.

“Provisions exist for exceptional circumstances that will probably still carry on going forward, but we all agree England international players should be playing in the Premiership. There will always be an international market for players and players have that choice to go abroad and not play for England.”


The latest incarnation of the PGA that shapes the landscape of the English game promises to be a fine-tuning of the current arrangement rather than a significant overhaul, ending the prospect of players being directly contracted to the RFU. Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall stated on Wednesday that central contracts should be top of the agenda, while also tabling the idea of a salary share.

Due to the precarious financial climate, Premiership clubs are finding it harder to justify producing England players who are absent for lengthy periods of the season, even when compensation payments made by the RFU are factored in.


Massie-Taylor, who says PGA negotiations are being driven by a “desire to see a winning England and winning English clubs”, reveals that a middle ground is being sought to mitigate the risk to a league that saw Wasps and Worcester enter administration earlier in the season.

“We have an existing system in place in terms of access and historically that has worked pretty well. We are discussing how that can be improved,” he said. “Alongside that – and I think this is perhaps what Mark is alluding to – is generally around financial risk because we have a system where the principle financial burden of the system falls on the people who are funding the rugby clubs.

“That is clearly in quite a fragile state at the moment so we need to have a discussion around sharing more risk and around England stars as well. What Mark is describing I probably wouldn’t define as central contracting, it’s more shared contracting. It’s been discussed – those types of things are always on the table.

“Clubs invest into these players from a very early age, bringing them through the academy system and developing them to the point of England selection. Rightfully clubs need to be able to reap the benefits of developing England players and you also want to properly incentivise clubs to develop and pick England players. You don’t want to make it a disincentive to develop a top star.


“There are certain things in place already and that’s another obvious thing to look at – to make sure that Saracens still want England players in their team while recognising they’re not going to be there the whole time.

“When we were doing the rounds with clubs last summer to talk about the future PGA, central contracts were mooted but I don’t necessarily see them as a shared belief amongst other clubs as well. There’s a balance to be struck here.”


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Alex 453 days ago

The concern seems to be that if clubs don't maintain some level of control over players, the players will be gone for too long. But a big part of this, something that SMT seemed to acknowledge earlier on is that there are simply too many matches.

Cut the number of matches back to 16-18 per season (plus European play). England is not France, France is unique in the world of rugby in that they seem to be the one nation in which rugby fans value their clubs just as much as their national side.

England is like the rest of the rugby playing world, all of whom play far fewer domestic matches. You have URC at 18, Super Rugby at what, 14?

We have the straight forward 10 team format with a 10 team Championship and pro/rel that's been mulled. In an ideal world, that would be my preference, and it gives you 18 matches.

I've shifted though to really dramatically cutting back the Prem season even more. Keep 12 clubs, ring fence it. The 11 in it now plus Wasps reborn. You have a North Group and a South Group. Double round-robin in your group, single round robin outside of it, gives you only 16 matches. Top 2 from each group make the playoffs N1 vs S2, S1 vs N2 semis, then the final.

I want pro/rel, I want the extra matches as well but again, we are not France. There just isn't the appetite for domestic rugby that you have in France. Sixteen matches assures that even with European play, they wouldn't miss much on national duty, and it makes central contracts way more palpable, which is truly what the game does need. The national side can exercise more control over the most valuable players, while lifting some financial burden from the clubs and also providing incentive for England's best to stay in England.

John 453 days ago

These said players are being choked /forced out of the English game. Ordinarily most would agree with the stance. Until the game is safe once more. Draw on our strengths

Neale 453 days ago

RFU should pay the Premiership nothing. Spend the money on grassroots instead. Current expensive deal has achieved nothing of note. All they're doing is propping up loss-making clubs who keep signing overseas players. If they are going to keep paying Prem clubs, then insist on 85% EQP rather than the current 65%. Why is half the Argentinian squad playing in England?

Samuel 453 days ago

The issue here is, surely, that the rule is starting to show no signs of being a deterrent? I get the feeling the RFU is eventually going to need to do what the ECB did back in the 2000s when it basically just told the counties to like it or lump it over central contracts (and even then didn't go far enough, hence why the counties can effectively ignore the recommendations of high performance reviews and act like it didn't happen) - like in cricket (hence the ECB comparison) ultimately in this country it's the England team that generates income and interest in the sport far more so than the domestic game. The Prem clubs however seem to wish the game was more like football or rugby league, which are both self-sustaining in England without the need for a particularly successful national side, and therefore are ignoring the evidence under their own nose; that if they're not helping to produce a strong England side, then they're contributing to their own demise.

In that sense, letting England's players go abroad would seem absurdly counter-productive and the intention behind the rule has always been sound IMO, but until English rugby is structured in a way that means it can sustain itself then it might be necessary; at the very least, central contracts, which would be merely the tip of the iceberg, would at least free up space on the wage bills of the clubs AND keep England's players in England while allowing the RFU a greater say in their workload, which is surely a win-win for both sides. Whether the RFU has the balls to face down the inevitable gnashing and wailing from the clubs however, I have my doubts.

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