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Why England Shouldn't Pick Euro-Chasers

30/08/2013 16:04 BST | Updated 30/10/2013 09:12 GMT

England are right to exclude overseas-based players from the national team.

It's no secret that the giants of the French Top 14 are prepared to splash some serious cash to snap up top players.

Racing Metro and Toulon in particular let their chequebooks do the talking over the close season; the Parisian giants snapped up the likes of Dan Lydiate, Jamie Roberts and Jonny Sexton, while their south coast rivals added South Africa legend Bryan Habana and others to their already star-studded squad.

All of those players are current internationals, yet all were free to leave their country behind to seek megabucks contracts in the top tier of French rugby union.

But of all the stars to move to the land of the croissant since the end of last season, not one was a current England player, or even on the fringes of selection for Stuart Lancaster's men.

The only Englishmen involved in Top 14 transfers were 31-year-old former Exeter hooker Neil Clark, who's now at Oyonnax, and 21-year-old ex-Moseley second-rower Addison Lockley, who moved to Biarritz. Meanwhile, Olly Barkley - a fly-half capped 23 times by England - swapped Racing Metro for Grenoble over the summer.

Clearly this trend has nothing to do with the stars of the Aviva Premiership not being good enough for the Top 14. The fact is, any English player who harbours even the faintest hope of international recognition knows they can pretty much kiss that ambition goodbye if they move across the Channel, due to England's ongoing policy of not picking anyone who plies their trade outside of the Premiership.

Take even a cursory glance at England's latest Elite Player Squads (EPSs) and you'll notice a distinct lack of overseas-based talent. That means Stuart Lancaster has overlooked some big names - perhaps most notably, the Toulon trio of Andrew Sheridan and Armitage brothers Steffon and Delon.

Is it right that stars like these are frozen out of the international frame simply because they play in a different country?

In a word: yes. This policy isn't just vital to England's chances of building a consistently successful team, it's also crucial to the future fortunes of the Premiership.

At the moment, English clubs hold a significant bargaining chip when entering negotiations with their England hopefuls. The player knows he'll probably be able to earn more in France, but also that swapping the Premiership for the Top 14 could be the death knell for his international career.

It would only take a slight relaxation of the 'no overseas players' rule for the floodgates to open.

Imagine, for example, that Steffon Armitage had made the senior EPS. Once Lancaster (or his successors) decide to start making exceptions, other players will realise there's no reason they can't go ahead and seek out that big-money overseas move.

Before long, English rugby's stakeholders would be facing the same issues currently besetting their Welsh counterparts - namely, that many of their best players are based abroad, to the detriment of the Welsh regions (and sometimes the national team).

Some leading pundits - former England legend Jeremy Guscott, for instance - have made the valid point that players can obtain release clauses in their club contracts, freeing them up for international selection. Guscott, in his column for the Rugby Paper, has argued that if a player can guarantee their availability, it shouldn't matter where they're based.

The problem, however, comes from trying to define the term 'release clause'. Just because a player is free to be picked for a Test match doesn't automatically mean they'll also be available for training camps, or games played outside the IRB's official Test window.

Wales found out just how thorny this issue can be in last season's autumn international series. Lock Luke Charteris, who insisted he'd be given "full release" for Wales duty prior to his move to Perpignan in summer 2012, was forced to seek special dispensation from his employers to play in the December 1st Test against Australia as the international window closed on November 30th.

Given this complexity, the simplest option is for England to maintain their current policy. If English players want to be picked by their country, they'll just have to forego their bumper French payday.

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