Paul Sackey

French import: Paul Sackey, here in flying action for Stade Français, has returned to the Premiership with Harlequins

By Rob Hartley

FORMER ENGLAND wing Paul Sackey has backed the exclusion of France-based players from the national side on his return to the Aviva Premiership.

Sackey spent three seasons in France before his move to Harlequins this summer, but still backs England’s stance of only selecting players from this side of the Channel.

The ex-Toulon and Stade Français man pointed to the current weaknesses in the French national side to illustrate the dangers of selecting players from a league with so many international stars.

“A lot of the guys that are in the French team, some of them probably don’t even play for their clubs,” says Sackey, 33. “They’re not the best players in their club teams.”

The financial clout of the Top 14 continues to lure big players from all over the world to France, which means there are no easy games, according to Sackey.

“Because there’s so much money there, every club has probably got two or three, maybe even four, stars in their team or big guys that can make things happen.

“There’s never a time when you go, ‘Right, we should go down, even to the lowest team, to Grenoble, and smash them’, whereas here I think there’s probably three or four teams that you can go, ‘We should win that game’. You’ve got to be on it every week, because there’s so much quality in depth.”

Despite the Top 14’s large pool of talent, Sackey still believes the top three or four teams in English rugby can match their French rivals. And his new Quins team-mates may well benefit from his knowledge of the French sides.

“You have to match their physicality and if you do their heads go quite quickly,” he says. “Except for teams like Clermont because… they’re a good side and they’re well-drilled.”

Sackey revealed he was set to retire before turning down other offers and settling on a return to Quins – a move that allows him to be close to some of his business interests.

National duty: Sackey's last England cap was in Dublin four years ago

National duty: his last England cap was in 2009

“Quins are an amazing side with a lot of ambition. I want to be at a team that’s got ambition, that’s got good young kids coming through, that want to win, that want to make an impression. I know the coaches. I know what they’re about. I’ve played with them. It was an easy decision for me.”

Sackey appearanced 22 times for his country and scored 11 tries. He made his Test debut against New Zealand in 2006 and played in the following year’s World Cup. But does he still harbour England ambitions? Does he think a strong run in the Quins side might bring a call from Stuart Lancaster?

“I could play the best rugby of my career and probably still not play for England. As much as I’d love to play for my country again, I’d rather concentrate on doing well and playing my best for the club that I’m at.”