with clubs in financial difficulty, English rugby facing the flight of talent to France

Opposed to the XV of France for the last day of the Six Nations Tournament, Saturday in Lyon, England is seeing more and more players leave the country to join the Top 14.


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

Next season, Owen Farrell and Courtney Lawes will expand the contingent of English players playing in the Top 14, numbering 16 this season (according to the National Rugby League). By joining Racing 92 and CA Brive respectively, they confirm that the Top 14 has become a land of exile for English players in search of better remuneration. While the XV de la Rose travels to Lyon to challenge France, on behalf of the fifth and final day of the Six Nations Tournament, Saturday March 16 (9 p.m. live on France 2 and france.tv), the Federation English rugby union (RFU) tries to limit the starting waves.

According to one of its rules, expatriates are in fact no longer eligible for the national jersey, regardless of their pedigree and their number of selections. The RFU is thus trying to dissuade its best elements from joining more profitable championships, such as France or Japan, while the league is plagued by financial problems having led clubs to the point of bankruptcy.

Younger and younger players are leaving England

Previously reserved for players at the end of their careers, this leak now concerns players at their peak, or even still very young. This is the case of Henry Arundell, recruited this summer by Racing 92 after the bankruptcy of London Irish. The 21-year-old winger or full-back was initially allowed to continue his international career, but after the 2023 World Cup, where he scored five tries, the extension of his contract with the Ciel et Blanc made him ineligible. “It would be great if I could do both, but we have to protect the English championshiphe conceded at the beginning of January, he who has ten selections. It’s the same in France, at every meeting people want to see Cameron Woki, Gaël Fickou, the internationals… I understand why there is this rule.”

At 27, English third row Jack Willis is flourishing with Toulouse, which he joined after Wasps went into liquidation. “People sometimes tend to forget the situation in England. I lost my job only 14 months ago. I no longer had a salary, no offers in the country, and Toulouse was wonderful to me“, he recalls.

Towards the end of restrictions?

In the country, certain voices are being raised for reform, like Lawrence Dallaglio, 2003 world champion with the XV de la Rose. “They must change. I think Steve Borthwick wants to change things, he won’t say it publicly, but it has to be done. I don’t think England has enough qualities at the moment to ignore the foreign world as it is“, developed the former Wasps player, taking the example of Willis. England are depriving themselves of one of the best flankers of the best European team. Why can’t he play for England?

However, there are stars who still loudly proclaim their love of the white jersey, like Maro Itoje, 29 years old and 80 caps, determined to stay in the country at least until the 2027 World Cup.Playing in the last World Cup was an extraordinary experience. The passion of the supporters, the atmosphere, the excitement, the excitement. It’s a drug that’s hard to give up.“, assumes the Saracens player.

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