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Guinness Premiership
Haskell defends decision to head to France
Scrum.com
February 18, 2009

England flanker James Haskell has defended his decision to sign for Stade Francais insisting it will only serve to enhance his career.

Haskell, 23, is one of three England internationals leaving Wasps for France next season, with Tom Palmer also joining Stade Francais while Riki Flutey has signed with Brive. Haskell and Flutey have reportedly trebled their wages by swapping the Guinness Premiership for the Top 14 next season.

There have been concerns for England over the impact of a potential exodus across the Channel because overseas-based players do not automatically fall under much-heralded agreement between the Rugby Football Union and Premier Rugby Limited, the umbrella body for England's leading clubs. But Haskell ensured his international ambitions will not be jeopardised by demanding a clause in his two-year contract with Stade Francais that guarantees his release for all England duty.

It is understood all three players kept Twickenham fully briefed over their plans. Palmer's deal contains a similar clause while Brive chief executive Simon Gillham confirmed today that his club would continue to make Flutey and Andy Goode available to England.

Haskell explained, "The most important thing for me is playing for England. That is why I play rugby. Luckily with the contract with Stade Francais all my release dates, all my EPS (elite player squad) contract is written into my agreement so there will be no excuses not to be involved.

"Some people will criticise me for going to France because they will say I am following the money. To be honest, that was the last of my considerations in going to France. A lot of the offers from British clubs and Wasps were very competitive but it was a decision about playing rugby.

"Playing for England was my top priority and I would never have moved if I wasn't able to do that. The reason I play rugby has always been to play for England. I am very lucky to have an opportunity to go and play for one of the best teams in France. They have some of the best players, let alone best back-row players, in the world who I can learn from.

"I spent a lot of my time at Wasps learning from players like Lawrence Dallaglio, Joe Worsley and Paul Volley and I hope this will be the same process in France, playing out of my comfort zone and in a really challenging league."

News of Haskell's England release clause will cushion some of the blow at Twickenham, as will Danny Cipriani's decision to sign a new one-year deal with Wasps. But the Rugby Football Union will meet later this month to discuss the "long-term impact" of losing elite players to the French league.

Unlike their English counterparts, French clubs are not bound by a salary cap while the current strength of the Euro has made the Top 14 an even more attractive option. The RFU will also meet with Premier Rugby to address the thorny issue of the distribution of compensation payments to clubs who produce England players, known as 'revenue smoothing'. The money is currently split among all the Premiership clubs, which Wasps believe costs them £750,000 a year.

Wasps executive chairman Mark Rigby said: "It does raise great concern that French clubs can now blow the English clubs away when it comes to salaries and it is clear that in financial terms we are no longer on a level playing field."

Lawrence Dallaglio was appointed to try and persuade the club's big-name stars that Wasps was the best place for them to achieve their full potential, even it meant accepting a lesser salary. Wasps have managed to hold onto Cipriani but Shaun Edwards admitted the club had expected to lose Haskell, Palmer and Flutey all along.

Director of rugby Ian McGeechan said: "The majority of the money is in France and we simply cannot compete. Some of the numbers are mind-boggling. If someone wants to play for the money then that's his decision. The Premiership is the best club league in the world and it develops players and the ethos of this club will not change because we want our guys to play at the highest level.

"The majority of players see the bigger picture and I hope that players will join this club because of our track record of producing internationals. The concern must be that we will end up with players with an ambition to play for England not be part of the Guinness Premiership. That is not a good thing for England."

Stade Francais have confirmed that Haskell and Palmer are set to sign three-year contracts while Flutey's agreement with Brive is understood to be a two-year deal.

The Parisians have also announced the signing of Leicester Tigers hooker Benjamin Kayser for next season. The France international, who is the second-choice hooker for his country, will pen a two-year deal. Kayser left Stade for the Tigers two years ago.

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