May 20, 2024

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With clubs in financial trouble, English rugby faces a talent flight to France

With clubs in financial trouble, English rugby faces a talent flight to France

A large number of players leave the country to join the top 14 on Saturday in Lyon, England, against France's XV for the final day of the Six Nations tournament.

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Owen Farrell will leave Chariz for Racing 92 at the end of the season during the match between Union Bordeaux-Begless and Saracens on January 14, 2024.  (ROMAIN PERROCHEAU/AFP)

Next season, Owen Farrell and Courtney Lawes will expand the group of Englishmen playing in the top 14, up from 16 this season (according to National Rugby League) joining Racing 92 and CA Private respectively, they confirm that the top 14 has become a destination for English players in exile in search of better wages. Saturday March 16 (9pm live on FRANCE 2 and France.TV), the English Rugby Union (RFU) is trying to stem the tide of departures.

According to one of its rules, foreigners are no longer actually eligible for the national jersey, regardless of their origin and number of selections. The RFU is trying to prevent its best elements from joining more lucrative championships such as France or Japan, while the league's financial problems have driven clubs into bankruptcy.

Younger and younger players are leaving England

Previously reserved for players at the end of their careers, this spill is now for players in their prime or even very young. Such is the case of Henry Arundell, who was recruited by Racing 92 this summer after London Irish went bankrupt. The 21-year-old winger or full-back was initially allowed to continue his international career, but a contract extension with Seal et Blanc made him ineligible after the 2023 World Cup, when he scored five tries. “It would be great if I could do both, but we have to defend the English ChampionshipHe admitted in early January that he had ten picks. It's the same in France, in every meeting people want to see Cameron Vokey, Gael Fico, the international… I understand why this rule exists..”

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At 27, English third-rower Jack Willis is thriving with Toulouse, having joined after Wasps disbanded. “People sometimes forget the situation in England. I lost my job only 14 months ago. I no longer had a salary, no privileges in the country, and Toulouse was wonderful for me“, he recalled.

Will restrictions end?

In the country, some voices are being raised for reform, like 2003 world champion Lawrence Dallaglio with XV de la Rose. “They must change. I think Steve Borthwick wants to change things, he won't say it publicly, but it needs to be done. I do not think England has sufficient qualities at present to ignore the foreign world“, taking the example of Willis, made the former Wasps player. England lose one of the best sides of the best European team. Why can't he play for England?

However, there are stars who are still loudly declaring their love for the white jersey, such as Maro Itoje, who is 29 years old and has 80 caps, and should stay in the country at least until the 2027 World Cup.Playing in the last World Cup was an extraordinary experience. The passion, the atmosphere, the excitement, the enthusiasm of the supporters. It is a drug that is hard to give up.“, considers the Saracens player.