LONDON // Two of England's brightest performers in the 23-15 defeat to Wales in Cardiff on Saturday are set to lead a dramatic player exodus from England to France this summer. The Sunday Times reported yesterday that barring some last-gasp manoeuvring, the Wasps pair of James Haskell and Riki Flutey will play for Stade Francais and Brive respectively next season.
Other high-profile players, such as teammate Tom Palmer, are also expected to join them on the continent, where the lure of a strong Euro seems impossible to resist. It is a significant worry for the England manager Martin Johnson and perhaps for the 12 clubs of the Guinness Premiership, too. On paper it may not seem a problem. After all, Andy Goode, England's fly-half on Saturday, plies his trade for Brive.
Under the new deal between Premier Rugby and the Rugby Football Union, however, from next season only players from English clubs can be guaranteed for the two week training period for every international that Johnson and his coaches will enjoy. This would mean limited squad time for the likes of Haskell and Flutey, and they would not be available outside Test windows unless their clubs agreed. Guinness Premiership champions Wasps have 18 players out of contract in the summer, and one of their new directors, Lawrence Dallaglio, was tasked with putting this problem right.
Dallaglio managed to secure a year extension from the highly-rated fly-half Danny Cipriani last week, which was thought to be the springboard for further extensions. French clubs are flexing their financial muscle at a time when English clubs are starting to cut back. There have been recent talks of scaling down the salary cap that is operated in the Guinness Premiership. French clubs do not have such restrictions, and many are funded by backers with seemingly limitless pockets.
In November, Bayonne tabled a four-year deal reportedly worth Dh24.2million to Matt Giteau, the Australian fly-half. Dan Carter, the New Zealand fly-half, was reportedly paid Dh3.3m to play for Perpignan for six months before he ruptured his Achilles tendon. email@example.com