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Alex Spink: why England should not follow Australia down the road of enlisting the foreign legion

23 Apr | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Alex Spink: why England should not follow Australia down the road of enlisting the foreign legion

Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell might offer the Wallabies hope of World Cup success but following that lead in England would be damaging in the longer term.

George Ford is 22 years old, so too Billy Vunipola, Jack Nowell and Henry Slade. Anthony Watson is 21, Jonathan Joseph and Owen Farrell both 23.

Seven reasons why England won’t follow Australia’s decision to lift its self-imposed rule of not selecting players who ply their trade overseas.

You can add to that list Joe Marler and Mako Vunipola, Stuart Lancaster’s 24-year-old props, George Kruis (25) and even Courtney Lawes (26). All players whom England will build their World Cup challenge around – not just this autumn but in 2019.

Down Under rugby union is fighting a desperate battle to be noticed. With rugby league, cricket and Aussie Rules all above it in the pecking order, the Wallabies need to be successful just to catch the eye.

Hence this week’s decision to permit Wallabies with 60 caps or more to return to the fold. Players like Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell, superstars at European champions Toulon, box office talent on the global stage.

In England there is a bigger picture for Twickenham bosses to consider. Pick players now who have followed the big pay deals abroad and you can be sure the floodgates will open following this World Cup.

French rugby, with its vastly superior financial clout, will throw euros at Lancaster’s young squad. The current French foreign legion of Nick Abendanon, Steffon and Delon Armitage will become the rule rather than the exception. And no matter how many assurances the Top 14 clubs give over player release for England, the national team is sure to suffer.

With Lancaster’s side having finished runners-up in the Six Nations for a fourth consecutive year, the clamour for him to make exceptions of Abendanon and at least one of the Armitages grows by the day.

Lancaster could yet buckle under the pressure of having to deliver a World Cup for RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie, who has shown himself to be a tough taskmaster by describing England’s valiant Six Nations performance as “unacceptable”.

He has hinted all along that the likes of Steffon Armitage could be given a chance in his bloated World Cup training squad to state their case, assuming of course that the allegation of assault currently hanging over the back row ace goes away.

It is vital, however, that if he does make an exception of any player it is for a clearly defined and easily justifiable reason – one which stands up to scrutiny from his current squad as much as any critics.

Players who have sweated blood and tears, week in week out in the Aviva Premiership, to put themselves in contention for rugby’s greatest show on earth will not lightly accept anybody parachuted in from foreign fields at the eleventh hour.

And rightly so. Which is why the England management team should keep their focus on the domestic league as it approaches its climax, with round 19 of 22 this weekend, rather than get carried away by the Englishmen abroad involved in the Clermont-Toulon Champions Cup final at Twickenham on Saturday week.