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RFU to close door on overseas-based players
ESPNscrum Staff
December 2, 2010

The Rugby Football Union have announced that they will not select overseas-based players for England following Rugby World Cup 2011.

Three members of the current England Elite Players Squad ply their trade overseas in France's Top 14 with fly-half Jonny Wilkinson contracted to Toulon and flanker James Haskell and lock Tom Palmer both playing for Stade Francais.

RFU chief executive John Steele has warned that any players based outside of England following the next World Cup would only be selected for national duty under "exceptional circumstances". The RFU's significant statement of intent is designed to give England the best chance of winning the World Cup when it is staged on home soil in 2015.

The RFU have stressed that England players remain free to sign for French clubs after the next World Cup if they wish. But Steele has written to England players and their agents to provide advance notice of the risks they will be taking by leaving.

In the letter, seen by PA Sport, Steele writes, "As things stand today we have a number of elite players in various squads and clubs outside England, principally in France, and you may be considering that as your next career move.

"If that is the case then I wanted to let you know that it is our view that we are best served by having our England Elite Player Squad (EPS) and our England Qualified Players (EQPs) all playing in England at English clubs.

"We feel that enables our whole Elite department, including team management and coaches, as well as our technical, medical and sports science teams, to work more closely with EPS players to ensure that you are supported in the right way. We further believe this is easier to achieve working with the Premiership and Championship clubs with whom we have excellent relationships at all levels.

"So I would like to confirm that it is our strong intent, from the end of Rugby World Cup 2011 through the RWC 2015 cycle, to select our Elite Player Squads at all levels entirely from players playing at English clubs where at all possible.

"I would stress that this is not a change to our selection policy itself, players remain entirely free to play outside England should they so wish, but you need to understand that it is our absolute intention that we only select from overseas clubs in exceptional circumstances.

"It is for you and your agent to decide if you are willing to take that risk."

The RFU have timed their letter to ensure any players set to begin negotiations with clubs in January are fully briefed on the situation. Sale Sharks prop Andrew Sheridan is one senior player who has been linked with a move to France when his current contract expires at the end of the season.

England's eight-year agreement with Premiership Rugby allows them access and a degree of control over their elite players through the season. The RFU's position with regards to the current overseas-based players is that their club contracts must contain clauses allowing them to link up with England when called upon.

Steele has reinforced that message and told any player considering a move to France they would have to provide a letter from their solicitor and agent confirming those clauses are in place. "We are looking for this to be in any contract in full for you to be considered for selection," wrote Steele. "I would further reiterate the crucial point that it is our firm intent to only select players playing at English clubs."

Palmer has one more year left on his current contract with Stade Francais and it is understood he would not be penalised for that - unless he signed an extension. But Haskell's contract with Stade and Wilkinson's deal at Toulon both expire at the end of the current season. And the RFU have made it clear they would want both players back in the Aviva Premiership as England begin their four-year build-up to the 2015 World Cup.

"From October 24, 2011 England will become the Host Union of Rugby World Cup 2015," wrote Steele. "This presents us all with an incredible opportunity to win a World Cup on home soil, and doing so is a major focus for my tenure as Chief Executive."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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