LONDON // The England manager Martin Johnson has sent a clear message that players who move to play club rugby in France are putting their international careers in jeopardy when he named his 32-man elite squad for the season. Jonny Wilkinson, who has moved to Toulon having missed most of last season through injury, and Riki Flutey, about to start with Brive, were included but a host of other France-based players were left out.
James Haskell, Tom Palmer and Tom May, who have all moved to French clubs for the new season, and Brive regulars Andy Goode, first-choice fly-half for most of last season, and Steve Thompson were all left out of the squad. None of them even made the 32-man second-string Saxons squad, with Johnson saying their progress "would be monitored." Danny Cipirani also remains out of favour as the fly-half was included in the Saxons.
"Our selections include players based in France and Rob Andrew and I have had extensive discussions with the French clubs, who have recruited English players and these have gone well," Johnson said in a statement. "We are looking forward to continuing the positive working relationship with them, which worked so well last season." The exodus of internationals from the salary-capped English Premiership to France has been a major concern for the Rugby Football Union and Johnson and Andrew said last season that in tight calls, preference could be given to England-based players.
"Selection for the two squads has been very difficult because there is a greater strength in depth of players to choose from now than we had 12 months ago," he said. "The England players on the British & Irish Lions tour have played exceptionally well and this has allowed us to look at other players in the two matches against Argentina and in the Churchill Cup. "We feel we have made considerable progress as a squad during the course of last season and we are looking forward to building on this during the August training camp and into the internationals in November against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand.
"There is strong competition for places within both of the squads but there will also be opportunities, as there were last year for movement between the seniors and the Saxons and for players to come in from outside the 64 because of injury, retirement or suspension. Delon Armitage and Mark Cueto are good examples of the latter and Ugo Monye and Joe Worsley have earned Lions caps after being originally selected in the Saxons."