I won’t hold my breath, but Jack Willis’s decision to stay at Toulouse ought to sound alarm bells at the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and cause them to reconsider their refusal to pick overseas-based players for the England team.
That stance might be sustainable when your clubs can pay the same as those in France and elsewhere, but the current financial crisis in the Premiership has also weakened the bargaining position of the RFU.
With a reduced salary cap, there is very little English sides can do to keep their talent when they can earn an extra £100,000 a year in the Top 14. The situation is even worse in Wales, where the union is dying on its arse and players are fleeing.
My personal view is that I can’t see how any restraint of trade like the RFU’s England selection policy is positive for anyone. When Wasps went bust, what would those in charge have preferred to see Willis do: drop out of the Premiership and either train on his own or join a second tier side? Or sign for Toulouse and play in the latter stages of the Champions Cup?
Granted, my wallet benefited too, but my game definitely improved as a result of my time in France. As I have written before, I was exposed to a different culture and way of playing and I returned to England a much better player.
At the moment, the England team is suffering massively and that is only going to continue as a host of other domestic stars prepare to leave the Premiership this summer.
Another argument in favour of changing the rules is that an exodus of English players to the Top 14 isn’t great news for France and their domestic talent pool. Meanwhile, it frees up space at our clubs for the next generation to get all important game time.
The Welsh Rugby Union’s problems extend far beyond the national team but I think the RFU will see the ripple effect of the mess the WRU has got into. Attempts to maintain a hardline stance on where players ply their trade ended in the threat of strike action and a climbdown.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the RFU still stood firm and stuck by its selection policy despite calls from players to review it.
They feel they are acting in their best interests and, in fairness, I understand why they want control over player welfare which they can’t exert overseas. French clubs aren’t interested in what state their English players turn up for international camps in. But unions also treat players like commodities, and careers are short.
I’d like the RFU to look at other sports and learn from them. Footballers and cricketers are praised for sampling different leagues and environments; Twickenham should also embrace English players moving abroad and recognise it as a development opportunity.
Times have changed since England selection was predicated on playing at home. Hopefully the case of Willis and the many others set to follow him will force the RFU to listen and revise their short-sighted policy.
Chris Ashton completed rugby his way
One player unafraid to cross the Channel – or codes of rugby – is Chris Ashton, who has announced he will be retiring at the end of the season.
The former league star switched to union, became an England regular and set try-scoring records in both the Premiership and Top 14.
There isn’t much he didn’t achieve in an outstanding career – maybe a Lions tour is the only gap on his CV – and, importantly, Ashton did it his way.
Look out for upsets in the Premiership
Games are running out for teams to reach the play-off places in the Premiership, which resumes this weekend.
I fancy resurgent Exeter to boost their top-four hopes at Leicester, Bristol to do likewise at home to Sale, and Gloucester to keep theirs alive at home in a West Country derby with Bath.
Quins should stuff Newcastle, while there could be an upset at Northampton who face a Saracens side who may be vulnerable following their European exit.
Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is the founder of Optimist Performance, experts in leadership development and behavioural change. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn.