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Hopley warns RFU over stance
ESPNscrum Staff
December 5, 2010
Toulon fly-half Jonny Wilkinson is wrapped up by the Montpellier defence, Toulon v Montpellier, Top 14, Stade Mayol, Toulon, France, December 3, 2010
Jonny Wilkinson, in action for Toulon this weekend, could be affected by the RFU's new stance on English players based abroad © Getty Images
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England's stance on not selecting players based abroad could be against European law, according to Rugby Players' Association chief executive Damian Hopley.

Hopley broadly supports the Rugby Football Union's move to bring England players of all levels under their control in the build-up to the 2015 World Cup on home soil. But he is concerned that players' earning potential will be hit if they have to turn their back on the possibility of lucrative contracts with French Top 14 clubs.

Hopley said, "Clearly we want the best players to be available to play for England but this approach could be seen as somewhat heavy-handed. I understand the intentions behind the approach but there are a lot of people in the game who are nervous about the execution and practice of what is being requested.

"I am sure the stance is eminently challengable if a party wanted to take it further. We all have to be realistic about EU legislation and if there is a restraint on a player it goes to the heart of freedom of movement for our members. We will be taking legal advice once we see the letter (sent to players by RFU chief executive John Steele) but I have no doubt if there was an appetite by an agent or a player to consider challenging this they would be on strong ground.

"Players will now be forced to make some very big decisions about their careers far sooner than some may have anticipated. Clearly everyone wants to play at the top of their capability, which means representing England. My personal fear is that it will force the hand of quite a few people, but it will ultimately be down to individual choice."

Jonny Wilkinson and James Haskell are both out of contract at the end of this season. If they choose to continue playing in France, they could be signalling the end of their international careers. Similarly, Sale prop Andrew Sheridan may now think twice about his proposed move to a Top 14 club because of the potential repercussions on his England future.

The RFU, who believe the move gives England the best chance of winning the 2015 World Cup, left themselves the option of selecting an overseas-based player under undefined "exceptional circumstances". Hopley would not want to see a player mount a legal challenge because the RPA recognise, along with the RFU and the clubs, how important a strong Premiership is.

"In the spirit of responsible collectivity we want to do what is best for English rugby and we recognise having our best English players based in the Aviva Premiership and having strong Heineken Cup squads is best for English rugby and ultimately England," he said. "We unequivocally support making the Premiership the best in world but we can't look at it in isolation. Players have to be mindful they are one injury away from ending their careers. They need to be maximising their earning potential in an environment that benefits both their rugby and post rugby careers."

Hopley suggested one longer term solution would be to consider an increase in the salary cap from its current level of £4million, which is around half the amount available to France's Top 14 clubs.

"We have to look at all things in the round including the salary cap so we can compete financially and holistically to make ourselves more attractive," said Hopley. "We have to look at how we operate as an industry and the entire offering for our players to ensure we make retaining our top players a priority."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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