Borthwick wants ‘best players’ for England squad amid exit fears | The England rugby union team

Steve Borthwick has said he wants permission to pick England’s strongest team, amid fears that a post-World Cup exodus of players abroad will weaken his hand. The Rugby Football Union’s strict criteria currently prevent Borthwick from selecting players from outside England, but with Premiership clubs unable to compete with foreign rivals, the powerbrokers are under pressure to change that policy as part of a review of the domestic game.

Luke Cowan-Dickie, Sam Simmonds, Joe Marchant and David Ribbans have all agreed moves to France after the World Cup, while Jack Willis is on a short-term contract with Toulouse and only currently available for England after the RFU granted temporary exemption to players who lost their jobs at Wasps or Worcester.

Due to long-standing union policy, however, Willis – and anyone going abroad – will be ineligible after the World Cup, while Manu Tuilagi and Billy Vunipola have also been linked with moves to Japan. Foreign clubs are able to offer more lucrative contracts than their Premiership counterparts, which operate under a reduced salary cap.

England vice-captain Courtney Lawes, who is understood to have the option to leave Northampton at the end of the season, recently warned of the consequences for the national team of suddenly being without so many players and Borthwick revealed the problem is brewing. part of the discussions surrounding the new Professional Gaming Agreement that will come into force next year.

Citing a meeting with the RFU last week, Jamie George insisted those discussions were positive amid the threat of a strike from the Wales squad, which has put England’s Six Nations match in Cardiff on Saturday in doubt, but there a growing sense This major overhaul is needed to avoid England’s own player crisis, with some Premiership clubs no longer finding it viable to host many internationals.

While RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney has previously suggested looking at some form of central contracts, that nuclear option is unlikely, but until Premiership clubs have the will and means to retain England stars, greater flexibility in criteria selection would limit the damage to the national team. “What we’re dealing with here are some extreme circumstances,” said Borthwick, who made one change to his side to face Wales with Anthony Watson selected on the left wing for the first time in almost two years.

“There are discussions going on about what that means and what the implications are going to be. It is also about the livelihood and career of the players. From my point of view I want to make sure we can select as many players as possible. And the best possible players. Do I want to make sure we have an England squad where we have the best players available? Yes.”

Borthwick expressed his sympathy for the Wales team, who agreed to drop the threat of industrial action after reaching a settlement with the Welsh Rugby Union over their demands. As a result, the 60-cap rule, which prevents players with fewer based outside Wales from being eligible, has been reduced to 25. Historically, the RFU has stood by its ruling, which was introduced after the 2011 World Cup. Tom Palmer was eligible for the 2012 Six Nations because he was still under contract with Stade Francais but, with the odd exception of Brad Shields and Piers Francis, who were set to join Premiership clubs, players such as Steffon Armitage have been repeatedly overlooked.

But given the current landscape, Borthwick added: “There are negotiations for a new Professional Games Agreement, which starts in 2024. The players have been involved in the first point of those discussions. From my point of view it is in the early stages, but we know there are problems in rugby at the moment. Myself and all our players sympathize wholeheartedly with what the Welsh players have had to go through. No one should have to go through the level of uncertainty they had.

“Everyone knows it’s been a difficult situation for rugby in this part of the world. We have seen two clubs no longer play Premiership rugby this season. So we have to make sure these things are right. What we’re doing right now is focusing on doing the best we can on Saturday.”

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