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Page last updated at 17:01 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

England talent drain worries RFU

Rob Andrew (left) and Martin Johnson
Andrew (left) and Johnson admit the England talent drain is a concern

Rob Andrew insists the growing exodus of English players to France is an issue that the Rugby Football Union will be monitoring carefully.

Three of Wasps' England stars signed for French clubs this week and Andrew, the RFU's director of elite rugby, said there were two areas of concern.

One is securing player release for England duty and the other is the impact on the Guinness Premiership.

"It's a new dynamic, we must watch it carefully," Andrew told Radio 5 Live.

England forwards James Haskell and Tom Palmer will join Stade Francais next season, while their Wasps and international team-mate Riki Flutey is heading to French rivals Brive.

Eleven English players, eight of whom have represented their country at the highest level, are already at top-flight French clubs, though former Leicester fly-half Andy Goode (Brive) is the only current international.

Ben Cohen, Ben Johnston, Steve Thompson and Simon Hughes are also at Brive, Magnus Lund plays for Biarritz, Perry Freshwater is at Perpignan, Phil Christophers is with Castres, Ollie Smith plays for Montpellier, Johnny Howard is at Bayonne and Nick Adams is at Montauban.

Johnson not worried by France exodus

The RFU is set to discuss the effects of a talent drain on the English club game with Premier Rugby - the body that represents England's top-flight clubs - at the next scheduled RFU Management Board on 25 February.

"It's new, we've never quite had this with professional rugby," said Andrew.

"The Premiership has always been one of the strongest leagues and has attracted players from all over the world and paid big money for those players, particularly the All Blacks who came over after the 2007 World Cup.

"There are two things that concern us. One, from England's point of view, is that these players are playing well and are released back to England in exactly the same time that the other players are released back under the EPS [Elite Player Scheme] agreement.

"That is critical, otherwise it will undermine Martin's [Johnson] ability to do his job.

"Secondly, we have to look at longer term issues with the Premiership and with PRL over the impact it might have on quality and standing of the Guinness Premiership."

The ultimate thing is players are released to train and play for us when we need them to

England manager Martin Johnson

England-qualified players plying their trade abroad fall outside the eight-year access agreement between England and the Premiership clubs.

The French clubs have an obligation to release the players for Tests but not for additional training weeks.

The agreement allows England manager Martin Johnson to name a 32-man squad at the start of every season.

He can then call them up for an August training camp, a fortnight of preparation before both the November Tests and the Six Nations, and an end-of-season tour.

Johnson admits there is some concern for the English game but added that the situation - fuelled by big-money approaches because of the lack of a salary cap in France - is a reality of modern sporting life.

"The ones who have left have all told me they don't want to jeopardise their England careers," Johnson told BBC Radio 5 Live.

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"We want our guys playing in a really tough, competitive world-class Premiership which we've had for the last 10-plus years but it's where we are at in the world right now.

"I've spoken to all the players and we've been aware of their thoughts for months now. We've given them all advice and talked to them separately about where they are in their careers.

"Ultimately, you want them to do what's best for their rugby. If they're going to play for a team like Stade Francais or Brive, they're good rugby teams.

"The ultimate thing is they have the release that they can train and play for us when we need them to."

Asked if he would consider only selecting English-based players, Johnson replied: "There's no policy as of yet. We'll pick the best England team."

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see also
Money matters for Wasps
18 Feb 09 |  Rugby Union
Trio quit Wasps to play in France
17 Feb 09 |  London Wasps
Jeremy Guscott column
17 Feb 09 |  Rugby Union


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