Bill Sweeney and Conor O'Shea want England to be the best place to play professional rugby
Henry Arundell is set to be available for England’s Six Nations campaign despite signing for Racing 92 but the RFU has confirmed the door will be slammed shut on all other internationals playing abroad.
Arundell, who scored five tries against Chile in his only World Cup appearance to date, will be granted an exemption as it will be within 12 months of his former side London Irish entering administration.
Jack Willis previously benefitted from the exceptional circumstances clause but having re-signed with Toulouse, and because it will have been over a year since Wasps went bust, will no longer be available along with the likes of Joe Marchant (Stade Francais) and David Ribbans (Toulon) who chose to leave Harlequins and Northampton Saints voluntarily and are also in Steve Borthwick’s squad in France.
Arundell available for Six Nations: Hear from CEO Bill Sweeney
RFU CEO Bill Sweeney said: “What we said was that any players who were (abroad) as an outcome of their clubs going out of business, and needed to find employment overseas as a result and couldn’t have a contract in England – they would be available for the Six Nations in 2024. That’s the case with Henry Arundell – we would stand with Henry on that one.
“Where we do support the Premiership is in that we do want the best English players playing in England. In Henry’s case, he will be available for the 2024 Six Nations, then we will work very hard with him and with the Premiership, so hopefully he can get a contract to come back to England in season 2024-25.”
Sweeney confirmed the RFU is working on a hybrid contract proposal which would see 25 of England’s top stars receive contracts that allow head coach Steve Borthwick to have more of a say over them when the new Professional Game Agreement (PGA/PGP) is slated to come into force from 2024-25.
Conor O’Shea, the RFU’s executive director of performance rugby, added: “To clarify, we discussed this at PGB (Professional Game Board) and hopefully it will be signed off in the coming weeks regarding Henry. People like Joe (Marchant) and Dave Ribbans who have gone abroad, they will not be available.
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“But we discussed at PGB and we are just awaiting PRL feedback about that exemption for Henry, given that 12-month gap from when London Irish went into administration, to coming back. It should be signed off – that is the expectation.”
Sweeney suggested the RFU is working with Premiership Rugby and the RPA to make sure that playing in England is the best place for a professional to be as record numbers of internationals head across the Channel in the wake of four English professional clubs going to the wall in just one year.
The CEO said: “The hybrid contract approach is helpful in that regard. What we have said in working with the RPA to make England the best place to play professional rugby, not just in terms of money, player welfare plays a key role there. There are all sorts of stories about experiences of playing in France, benefits and maybe not so many benefits. We want the best players in England to play in England.”
When pushed as to why players would stay, he replied: “Because of some of the programmes we are putting in place. And what we’re doing around the professional game to make the Premiership a better product, to make the Premiership more sustainable and more successful and stronger and more attractive.”
O’Shea doubled down on the RFU’s refusal to budge on allowing players to represent England if they ply their club trade overseas, suggesting the men’s hybrid contracts will lean on what the governing body has done with the Red Roses to assemble a core of well-looked after players and will in turn benefit the Premiership clubs.
He said: “We have been round to all the directors of rugby, all the clubs – myself and Phil Winstanley – we have discussed the concept behind it. If you want to say, what is this hybrid contract? The best coaches are when your best players are fit and on the pitch.
“Why will players want to be here? We want them playing for England, they will only play for England while they are here. But we want them in an environment where they are looked after, both on and off the pitch, both financially but also in the way they are looked after in the longevity of their career.
“And you get the best core group of players together over a consistent period of time, they are exemplars to others within the system who want to be them, as much as they are the driver of the team. The great teams if you look at them have consistency, of the best people on the pitch, and that is the driver behind this. It’s the best for club, it’s the best for country, it’s the best for the player. Simple, really.