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FEATURE It's time to let the England players take French leave

It's time to let the England players take French leave
7 months ago

If it’s good enough for South Africa it ought to be good enough for England. No matter how much you let the argument churn through your mind, put one side of the debate and then counter in your own little head space with the contrary point of view, you come back to one stark, simple fact – the Springboks have won the last two World Cups, beating England in the process on both occasions, all with a player base that ought to be sponsored by a Travel Agency so far-flung is it in its reach. Have boots, have got to travel because the rand is shot to pieces and I have only got a short lifespan as an elite athlete, I’m at risk at any moment of a career-ending injury, my pension pot needs some loving care and attention, so too the family I’m planning and who knows if the next national head coach is going to pick me anyway? Faf de Klerk, Cheslin Kolbe, Eben Etzebeth, Duane Vermeulen, Handre Pollard – the cast list is significant. Persuaded? You oughta be.

It is only a sense of English entitlement that keeps them clinging on to their once well-intentioned policy of banning from selection anyone who chooses to ply their trade outside the Premiership. So, goodbye to all those currently on the tri-colour road to France, be it a Joe Marchant or a Jack Willis or a David Ribbans and, maybe a high-flying Henry Arundell whose hat-trick on debut for Racing 92 last weekend, made a certain Stuart Lancaster purr with delight at further prospective riches to come and the brow of a certain Steve Borthwick to furrow still further with concerns that he will not be choosing from a full deck when it comes to his selection options through to the next World Cup.

David Ribbans
David Ribbans has chosen to pursue his career in the South of France with Toulon (Photo David Rogers/Getty Images)

Owing to a special exemption clause, Arundell is actually available for the 2024 Six Nations championship. In a rare bit of foresight and good sense, the RFU have agreed that players forced into scrabbling to get a contract when the Premiership ship hit the rocks and dumped players from Worcester, Wasps and London Irish into unforgiving seas without so much as a rubber ring let along a fully tooled-up lifeboat to help keep them afloat. Those players were abandoned to the elements and left to fend for themselves.

Willis managed to deal with the horrible mess (and many others did likewise) and so too did Arundell. They sorted it out by themselves. The RFU did relent from its zero-tolerance policy when stating that those who signed in extremis, that is, as a result of the clubs going bust, would be given dispensation to play in the 2024 Six Nations, a one-season only exemption. Willis effectively told them to shove it where the sun don’t shine by extending his contract with Stade Toulousain so removing himself from consideration for England. Good on him.

Arundell has only just made his debut for Racing and even though it is felt that he will return to England next season, who really knows at this juncture

I say, play where your employers look after you, play where you feel appreciated as well as challenged, both as a player but also as a young man. Broaden those horizons on all fronts. Being outside your comfort zone, adapting to new ways and different environments, developing yourself as a character first and foremost, doesn’t seem to have done the Springbok emigrees any harm at all.

Arundell has only just made his debut for Racing and even though it is felt that he will return to England next season, who really knows at this juncture, perhaps least of all the player himself who has only just turned 21 and may see a few years nurturing his precocious talent under the stewardship of Lancaster quite an attractive possibility.

Henry Arundell
Henry Arundell cut an, at times, dejected figure with England as he played a bit part role in the tournament (Photo by Sylvain Dionisio/Getty Images)

The RFU ought to do the decent thing and scrap its prohibitive edict. It was first introduced in 2011 and it made a certain sense back then. The Premiership needed supporting and building. So too the national team. There was also a feeling that there was enough money in the English game to be able to offer fair and proper wages to the players albeit the second marquee player ruling always did seem as if it would come back to bite someone on the bum. And what a chunk it did take out of English backsides.

It is only right and proper now that those in charge acknowledge the fact that either directly or indirectly they have contributed to a pig’s ear of a situation for its leading players who, quite rightly, are tempted by the salaries on offer in a country that has managed to police and audit its domestic game to good, beneficial effect.

The sunny uplands are obscured at the moment. They will come into view again. But until that happens, say in three years’ time, the RFU should bite the bullet and have a moratorium on players heading to France being excluded from Borthwick’s consideration

England always prided itself, part correctly, part pompously, on being a draw-card set-up for players. The Premiership still has much going for it. But, at the moment, it is something of a basket case as regards finances. South Africans know that feeling. As do Argentinians. Welsh, even. And the Aussies are keeping an eye on those diminishing dollars.

The sunny uplands are obscured at the moment. They will come into view again. But until that happens, say in three years’ time, the RFU should bite the bullet and have a moratorium on players heading to France being excluded from Borthwick’s consideration. It’s not as if there will be a mad rush through Passport Control. The game in France has its own restrictions on numbers of foreigners and it doesn’t seem to be doing too badly.

Steve Borthwick
Steve Borthwick is said to be warming to a select amount of England players heading overseas for a time (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Borthwick is in favour, recognising that some players, invariably the best of them, will follow the money while it is there. There has been a lot of work done down the years on making sure that the England head coach has full and proper access to his chosen players for training camps. It doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. Flexibility is in everyone’s interests.  A Top 14 club does not want an unhappy player on its books. Borthwick is the man who knows what he needs and if he is prepared to put his head above the parapet and say that he would like to have everyone available then so be it.

Having  Willis, Arundell and their amis in France, should be seen as an opportunity. They will certainly return more rounded and fully-formed. Why, Arundell, might even get over the shock of someone passing him the ball. Leinster’s considerable Irish contingent didn’t seem to fare too badly under the Lancaster aegis. It’s time to do a reverse-Brexit and open the border gates. An entente cordiale will do exactly as it says on the tin, be a friendly arrangement that will bring benefit to everyone.


Leo 212 days ago

Good article addressing an important issue! Top players who command a high salary that cannot/are not being met due to the financial restrictions and realities of the english game, and who face the uncertainty of english selection to boot, will follow the money. From an outsider’s perspective Marchant’s move seems to have been a decision based on him being overlooked/under-utilised at international level - until very recently! The english coaches have taken their time to realise his value and how to employ him to great effect of late, but now he is lost instead of being a young promising prospect to build on. The financial struggles of the English club game is forcing Saracens to cut Maro Itoje’s salary in order to retain Farrell’s. A perspective shift is in order. The article makes a great point that giving English players this option will not devastate the domestic game, as there are restrictions to foreign players in most leagues. This should be seen as an opportunity to grow the profile of the game, the English players, and to encourage more investment in youth. Grow the game!

BigMaul 213 days ago

Just no. This article completely misses the point. The rule doesn’t exist to help England win world cups, it exists to protect the domestic league. Long term, the existence of our domestic league is far more important than any trophy.

Let’s not throw the league down the toilet just because things aren’t going well right now. Let’s rally round the clubs. Build the league back up. A financially sustainable league will benefit the national team in the long run. We’re only in this mess right now because of Saracens’ cheating, which has artificially inflated wages to unsustainable amounts. What we need is a reset, not abandon ship.

Clive 214 days ago

Didn’t know Henry had a free pass but have always thought it was a dum Rse rule, we have little enough real talent nowadays so ignoring some of our better players because they live and work a 2 hour flight or train ride away seems somewhat banal.

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