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England to only pick home-based players from 2011

Jonny Wilkinson in action for Toulon
France-based Wilkinson is one of the England stars who may be affected

The Rugby Football Union has written to players to say England intend to only select players who play for domestic clubs following the 2011 World Cup.

Three members of the England squad - Jonny Wilkinson, Tom Palmer and James Haskell - currently play overseas.

RFU chief executive John Steele said players would be "entirely free to play outside England should they so wish".

But he added: "It is our absolute intention we only select from overseas clubs in exceptional circumstances."

Steele said it was not a change in selection policy from England, who have always stated their preference for players to stay in the country.

But in writing to players, the RFU has made a clear statement that it will take a dim view of players moving abroad and Steele added: "It is for you and your agent to decide if you are willing to take that risk."

It is our strong intent, from the end of Rugby World Cup 2011 through the RWC 2015 cycle, to select our Elite Player Squads at all levels entirely from players playing at English clubs where at all possible

RFU chief John Steele

World Cup-winning fly-half Wilkinson, who missed the November Tests through injury, has a contract with Toulon which runs until the end of the season.

Palmer, who started all four autumn Tests, and Haskell, who started one, both play for Parisian club Stade Francais.

Palmer has one more year left on his contract after this season and it is understood he would not be penalised for that, unless he signs an extension, while Haskell's contract expires at the end of the current campaign.

Other England internationals playing abroad, but not currently in the squad, include Paul Sackey and Dean Schofield at Toulon and Magnus Lund at Biarritz, while Danny Cipriani has joined Australian side Melbourne Rebels.

The RFU's director of elite rugby Rob Andrew conceded that players based overseas could still force their way into the international reckoning.

606: DEBATE
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"We have said in exceptional circumstances we will look at it," he told 5 live Breakfast.

"Clearly we are not going to cut off our nose to spite our face, but we don't want an exodus of our best young players going across to play in France because it will cause us difficulties from an England point of view.

"It is really about saying to them that in the long run we can help protect your international careers if you stay and play for our English clubs."

French clubs are currently the wealthiest in global rugby, and a host of world stars have moved there in recent times, including New Zealand prop Carl Hayman - another of Toulon's acquisitions - and Racing Metro's South African star Frans Steyn.

Among England players believed to be eyeing a move to France after the World Cup is Sale's loose-head prop Andrew Sheridan, who has been linked with Toulon.

Sale coach Mike Brewer said: "Sherri is having a look at France after the next World Cup. He's possibly done everything he would want to in England."

Tom Palmer playing for Stade Francais
Palmer played for Leeds and Wasps before moving to Stade Francais

Steele said England wanted their players to be domestically based in order to maximise their chances of winning the 2015 World Cup, which England are hosting.

"As things stand today we have a number of elite players in various squads and clubs outside England, principally in France, and you may be considering that as your next career move," Steele said in his letter to players and their agents.

"If that is the case then I wanted to let you know that it is our view that we are best served by having our England Elite Player Squad (EPS) and our England-Qualified Players (EQPs) all playing in England at English clubs.

"We feel that enables our whole elite department, including team management and coaches, as well as our technical, medical and sports science teams, to work more closely with EPS players to ensure that you are supported in the right way.

"We further believe this is easier to achieve working with the Premiership and Championship clubs with whom we have excellent relationships at all levels.

"So I would like to confirm that it is our strong intent, from the end of Rugby World Cup 2011 through the RWC 2015 cycle, to select our Elite Player Squads at all levels entirely from players playing at English clubs where at all possible."



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see also
Haskell regrets England-Stade row
08 Mar 10 |  Rugby Union
Wilkinson extends Toulon contract
28 Jan 10 |  Rugby Union
Sackey to leave Wasps for Toulon
18 Feb 10 |  London Wasps
Trio quit Wasps to play in France
17 Feb 09 |  London Wasps


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