England set testing targets

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The Independent Online

The Rugby Football Union has just published details of its new eight-year strategic plan, which sets out minimum targets for the Test team of semi-final appearances in each of the next two World Cups, together with four Six Nations titles between 2010 and 2017, including a couple of Grand Slams. The sound of laughter from Cardiff, Dublin and Paris was almost deafening, but the great and good of Twickenham were more immediately concerned with the difficulties of managing their France-based players.

Rob Andrew, the director of elite rugby, admitted yesterday that precious few of those who crossed the Channel at the end of last season – Riki Flutey, James Haskell, Tom Palmer and Jamie Noon were among them – negotiated contracts with their new clubs that satisfied RFU demands in respect of player release for England duty and medical protocols. Indeed, the only name he volunteered was Jonny Wilkinson, currently winning games single-handedly for Toulon.

Andrew is determined to address the outstanding issues. "We don't want to find ourselves at the start of next season, with the 2011 World Cup only a year away, without having things properly sorted," he said. "We're in new territory, but we've made our position absolutely clear. We want those people selected for the England squad to be available for all England sessions."

Flutey, the first-choice inside centre who picked up some shoulder damage during the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa in the summer and aggravated it playing for Brive against the advice of the England medical staff, has brought the problem to a head. The former Wasps midfielder has ruled himself out of contention for the internationals against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand. Flutey himself acknowledged that he should not have risked himself.

Wilkinson appears to have secured a "model" contract that has England concerns at its heart. But if the red-rose hierarchy are serious about him spearheading theWorld Cup campaign in New Zealand, they will need to exert increasing control over his playing programme. That would be much easier were he still on Tyneside.

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