AND stars Jonny Wilkinson and James Haskell face career-defining dilemmas after being told they will not be picked for international duty if they continue to ply their trade abroad.
The Rugby Football Union’s recently-appointed chief executive John Steele has written to England players warning them that those based overseas will no longer be considered following next year’s World Cup.
Steele’s attempt to persuade players to return home, and others to snub lucrative foreign moves, is aimed at strengthening the elite player squad before England host the tournament in 2015.
It would prohibit the selection of Wilkinson (right), of Toulon, Haskell, of Stade Francais, and his club colleague Tom Palmer.
But while Palmer is likely to be given exemption until his contract in Paris runs out in 2012, Haskell and Wilkinson, whose contracts are due to expire in the summer, face tough decisions over whether to renew.
“It is our strong intent, from the end of Rugby World Cup 2011 through the RWC 2015 cycle, to select our Elite Player Squads at all levels entirely from players playing at English clubs where at all possible,” Steele wrote.
“I would stress that this is not a change to our selection policy itself, players remain entirely free to play outside England should they so wish, but you need to understand that it is our absolute intention that we only select from overseas clubs in exceptional circumstances. It is for you and your agent to decide if you are willing to take that risk.”
England manager Martin Johnson, who enjoyed an encouraging autumn campaign in which Wilkinson was absent through injury and Haskell played only a fringe role, backed the RFU’s tougher stance.
“It’s virtually where it is now, but it’s harder. We said to some of the guys when they went away that it will be harder,” said Johnson.
“It’s tougher when players are over there in terms of getting their release and the fixtures in France don’t marry with internationals like here. The number of games they play in France will have a cumulative effect on players as well.”
Haskell’s availability for England gatherings while at Stade Francais has been an issue for the RFU, and director of elite rugby Rob Andrew believes the change in stance will help to avoid such scenarios.
“We’ve had some difficulties over contracts with the French clubs,” Andrew said. “It’s also more difficult to manage the players under the terms of the EPS agreement when they are in France. We think it’s in the best interests of the player for his long-term international career and the England team if we go down this road.”