By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
THE RFU have vowed that after the 2011 World Cup they will only pick players for England that are playing in England. But while they are demanding the players’ loyalty, they aren’t offering the same in return.
It’s easy to see why the RFU want their players in the Aviva Premiership – they have a deal with the top-flight clubs that allows them access to those players pretty much as often as they want. But while they want their internationals and future internationals to turn down big-money offers to move to France to play in the salary cap-limited Premiership, are they giving the players the same commitment in return?
Dylan Hartley, Riki Flutey and Shontayne Hape all hail from New Zealand, Matt Stevens is a South African while the latest man to declare his intention to don the white shirt – Leicester No 8 Thomas Waldrom – is a Kiwi with an English grandmother.
If England are going to continue to favour parachuting in players from overseas for short-term gains rather than developing home-grown youngsters, why should those talented young Englishmen turn down the opportunity to set themselves up for life post-rugby with bigger pay cheques in France?
Let’s take centre as an example. Dominic Waldouck has long been earmarked for full England honours, has come up through the age groups and has steadily improved at Wasps. Harlequins’ Jordan Turner-Hall and George Lowe are another two exciting prospects at centre. All three are home-grown and, in fact, Waldouck and Turner-Hall have both been involved with the senior England squad without winning a cap.
Instead one player who turned out for New Zealand in rugby league internationals – Hape – and another who was never deemed good enough for the All Blacks – Flutey – have been preferred in the England midfield.
I’m not denying that they’re good players, but what message does it send out to today’s youngsters if those who take pride in wearing the red rose in their teenage years and work hard for their club then find their passage to the England team blocked by players born overseas.
The case of Waldrom is even more telling about attitudes to New Zealanders. As soon as the news broke about his English grandmother, people were talking about him displacing Nick Easter in the England No 8 shirt. Yes, he’s played well for Leicester this season and could excel in international rugby, but this is a player brushed aside by the All Blacks and should we be so excited about someone in his 30s who has far from a long future left in the game.
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In the short term his being capped could work well for England, but long term the national team could suffer. Young No 8s being passed over might look for a big overseas club deal thinking their Test prospects are limited. Players will get sick of biding their time if they continue to see foreigners gaining honours.
If England want their new policy to work post-RWC 2011, they need to start showing home-grown players the same loyalty that they are asking for. Short-term gains can equal long-term pains.