Flutey, Haskell and Palmer leave Wasps

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Wasps this morning confirmed that England internationals Riki Flutey, James Haskell and Tom Palmer will all move to French clubs next season.

Flutey's move to Brive was announced by the Top 14 club last night, while Haskell and Palmer have signed for Stade Francais.

French clubs are not bound by a salary cap like their Guinness Premiership rivals and can therefore offer wages far in excess of those available in England.

Reports suggest that Flutey and Haskell have virtually trebled their money, which is a major concern both for English club rugby and the national team.

Wasps executive chairman Mark Rigby said: "It does raise great concern that French clubs can now blow the English clubs away when it comes to salaries and it is clear that in financial terms we are no longer on a level playing field.

"There is a wider concern that the development of English rugby players will only be hampered as they move away from the Guinness Premiership, which stands as the best domestic league in the northern hemisphere, and regular head to head competition."

Haskell, Flutey and Palmer will no longer fall under the eight-year access agreement that England thrashed out with the Premiership clubs.

The trio will have to be released for Test matches but their French employers are under no obligation to make them available for additional England training weeks.

Wasps have also lost club captain Raphael Ibanez, who today announced he had been forced to retire after suffering a series of concussions.

The former France captain was first injured against Worcester in September 2008 and suffered further head injuries against Leinster in Dublin and Sale at Adams Park earlier this season.

After a two-month analysis, Ibanez is still suffering the effects of those blows to the head and his neurosurgeon advised the risk of serious injury was too great to continue playing.

"We all agreed that to avoid a bad injury it is time for me to stop playing," said Ibanez.

"I tried everything to come back onto the pitch but it is just too risky."

The RFU issued a statement in response to the news that Haskell, Flutey and Palmer will soon be playing their club rugby in France.

It read: "The RFU will be considering the potential impact of the announcement by London Wasps today of three England Senior Elite Player Squad players signing for French clubs at the end of this season.

"It will be discussing internally and with Premier Rugby Ltd the possible long term effects on the English club game, the operation of the EPS programmes under the new eight-year RFU/PRL agreement and the effect of the PRL 'revenue smoothing' arrangements on our clubs' abilities to remain competitive in the player market.

"The policy matters involved will be discussed at the next scheduled RFU management board on Wednesday, February 25 and no further statement will be made until then.