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Page last updated at 16:53 GMT, Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Trio quit Wasps to play in France

James Haskell, Riki Flutey and Tom Palmer
The loss of three internationals is a big blow to Wasps

Wasps have confirmed that the England trio of James Haskell, Riki Flutey and Tom Palmer will leave the club at the end of the season to play in France.

Flanker Haskell, 23, and lock Palmer are moving to Stade Francais in Paris, while centre Flutey is to join Brive.

Wasps have expressed concern at the financial clout of French clubs, who do not have salary cap restrictions.

"In financial terms we are no longer on a level playing field," said Wasps executive chairman Mark Rigby.

"It does raise great concern that French clubs can now blow the English clubs away when it comes to salaries.

"There is a wider concern that the development of English rugby players will only be hampered as they move away from the Premiership, which stands as the best domestic league in the northern hemisphere, and regular head-to-head competition."

Wasps were expected to announce on Tuesday that star fly-half Danny Cipriani had signed a new one-deal but BBC Sport understands he has yet to put pen to paper after being whisked off to join up with England at their Six Nations training camp.

Some people will criticise me for going to France because they will say I am following the money - that was the last of my considerations

James Haskell

Reports have suggested that Flutey and Haskell may enjoy as much as a three-fold increase in their respective salaries.

But Brive chief executive Simon Gillham says those stories are wide of the mark.

"It's not at all the telephone numbers that have been quoted, and I think the argument about the salary cap is just one very small part of it," Gillham told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"The players are coming here not just for the money, the second thing is the lifestyle and the life experience."

Haskell denied he was motivated purely by money and revealed that a clause has been written into his contract allowing him to be released for England duty.

McGeechan realistic about player exits

"Some people will criticise me for going to France because they will say I am following the money," he told the www.rfu.com podcast. "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."

The departures have also prompted a statement from the Rugby Football Union (RFU).

They said they will be discussing internally and with Premier Rugby - the body that represents England's top-flight clubs - the possible long-term effects on the English club game of Tuesday's events.

The issues will also be discussed at the next scheduled RFU Management Board on Wednesday, February 25.

But Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of Premier Rugby, does not fear a mass exodus across the English Channel.

"The French clubs and the French union themselves are very worried about the number of foreign players in France, let alone English players," he said. "We won't get rid of the salary cap, we think it's a firm policy to keep it for the long term health of the league."

From next season, the trio will 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.

Coach Shaun Edwards on the departing trio and the retiring Raphael Ibanez

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.

But Gillham says Johnson should have no need to worry.

"We think it's very important our players want to play for their country. It's a totally false argument that players won't be noticed," he said.

"We have always released Andy Goode whenever he was needed as we're proud that he's playing for England."

Wasps director of rugby Ian McGeechan believes the RFU can introduce certain measures to make sure the trickle of players leaving the Premiership does not become a flood.

He said: "I think the obvious thing is to say they would expect England players to be playing in the Premiership.

"Then a player not only has to make a financial decision, he has to make an international decision about his career. That also then hopefully helps create a co-ordinated approach to developing international players."

Haskell, who made his England debut in the 2007 Six Nations, has played in the opening two games in this year's tournament - winning his 14th cap in the defeat by Wales last Saturday.

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Flutey will join England team-mate Andy Goode at Brive after signing a two-year deal.

The 29-year-old New Zealand-born back has won six caps for England and was last season's Professional Rugby Players' Association player of the year.

Prior to signing for Wasps, Flutey enjoyed a spell at London Irish having previously played for Hurricanes in New Zealand.

England World Cup winners Ben Cohen and Steve Thompson are also at Brive, who are sixth in the French league.

Palmer, 27, who joined Wasps from Leeds in the summer of 2006, has won 13 caps for England since making his debut as a replacement against the United States in 2001.

He started the autumn Tests against Australia and South Africa but was ruled out of the Six Nations after shoulder surgery.

Other England internationals currently plying their trade in France include former Sale flanker Magnus Lund (Biarritz) and former Leicester prop Perry Freshwater (Perpignan).



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see also
Jeremy Guscott column
17 Feb 09 |  Rugby Union
Ibanez retires over head injuries
17 Feb 09 |  London Wasps
Ospreys eye shock Haskell switch
13 Jan 09 |  London Wasps
Ref blamed as Haskell handed ban
23 Sep 08 |  London Wasps
Haskell upbeat over Wasps future
04 Jun 08 |  London Wasps
Six Nations Young Guns - James Haskell
27 Jan 08 |  Rugby Union
Cipriani and Flutey land awards
21 May 08 |  English
Flutey to leave Irish for Wasps
19 Jan 07 |  London Irish
Exiles snap up Flutey and Willis
26 May 05 |  English
Wasps move to secure Palmer deal
11 May 06 |  English


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