Peter Bills: Overseas players are killing English rugby

We know the myth well enough.

The Guinness Premiership is awash with overseas stars. The likes of Schalk Brits, Saracens' South African hooker, Aaron Mauger and Scott Hamilton, Leicester's New Zealanders, Butch James, Michael Claassens and Luke Watson, the South Africans at Bath, Nick Evans, the New Zealander at Harlequins... the list seems endless.



Emotions run high in this particular debate. Some promulgate the view that English rugby is enormously enhanced by the presence of so many overseas stars because they add knowledge, attitude and experience and are good for young English players around them.



Others mutter that the Guinness Premiership ought to be a breeding ground solely for present and future England players, not a pension pot for overseas stars.



Well, the official figures show that almost 65% of those who play in the Premiership are English qualified. A total of 35% overseas players? That hardly seems excessive.



Yet if you want a blitz of statistics, digest the following and ponder their implication. More than a quarter of a million people play rugby in England on a fairly regular basis, a figure far in excess of most other countries not only in this part of the world but also in countries like Australia and New Zealand. Furthermore, since the World Cups of 2003 and 2007, the Rugby Football Union has boasted consistently that the playing numbers are forever on the increase, a wonderfully healthy picture.



That figure alone ought to guarantee England's supremacy, certainly in conjunction with France, in this part of the world and perhaps in a world perspective on a pretty regular basis. Alas, figures released by governing bodies often hide another story.



Since the summer of 1995, when professionalism was brought into rugby union, England's record in the Five and then Six Nations Championship, the annual international tournament in this part of the world which surely offers us a proper and fair perspective of playing achievements, has been abysmal.



In those 15 seasons since rugby union went open, England have won just one Grand Slam. They did it in 2003, their World Cup winning year. But before and since, there has been a vacuum of success for English rugby. Several coaches, the likes of Jack Rowell, Clive Woodward, Andy Robinson, Brian Ashton and now Martin Johnson have tried to metamorphose that 65% of England qualified players in the Guinness Premiership into Grand Slam winners. Only one, Woodward, has managed it and that in just a single year.



Failure has become the hallmark of English rugby at the highest level, certainly in the first decade of the Six Nations Championship. Perhaps clubs like Saracens are in part to blame. The club which this coming weekend will contest the final of the Premiership at Twickenham against Leicester, has recruited mainly South African players to its ranks. Indeed, one of the first acts last year of the club's new South African owners was to tell fourteen English players that they would no longer be needed. Hardly an auspicious act in terms of English rugby's future.



Of course, the Saracens propaganda machine – much employed of late trying to explain away the increasing misdemeanours of its Rugby Director Brendan Venter – would tell you that the club is bringing through some exciting young English players. In two or three cases, that is true. But once the 2011 Rugby World Cup is over, I am willing to bet that Saracens will unveil more South African signings. All of whom will be deeply injurious to the prospects of the England national team.



It may well be that, as the regulations dictate, a specific number of English qualified players are included in the matchday squads of the Premiership clubs. But this is misleading. Many spend most of their matchday sitting on the bench and many more never get to play the match in one of the key positions on the field, roles which England need them to fulfil to become potential international players.



Part of the reason for this is that, under the regulations, only a very small number of players are classified as ‘foreign'. Just two from that category are allowed in a matchday squad. Yet plenty of others qualify, while still not being available for England. Herein lays the kernel of the problem.



And if you doubt there still is a problem, explain please why England, a country with so many playing numbers and all the vast riches of the Rugby Football Union, has won a paltry one Grand Slam since professionalism arrived, in a period when France has won five.



Explain, too, please why Martin Johnson's 44 man party to tour Australia and New Zealand next month contains not a single player whom you could genuinely classify as world class. Ben Foden/Delon Armitage, Chris Ashton/Ugo Monye, Mike Tindall/Matthew Tait, Olly Barkley, Toby Flood/Jonny Wilkinson (2010 vintage), Danny Care, Dylan Hartley/Lee Mears, Tom Payne/David Flatman/Dan Cole, Steve Borthwick/Tom Palmer, Simon Shaw/Nick Kennedy, Tom Croft/James Haskell, Lewis Moody/Tom Rees, Nick Easter.



The most damning fact of this entire piece is that not one of them would get into a current World XV, always the best arbiter of true talent. All are good players but none are currently ‘greats' of the world game. Why is that? Why have so many England players of recent years – the odd few like Wilkinson and Shaw excepted – been unable to take that further step to ascend the world stage?



Undeniably, there has to be some reason why a country of England's playing numbers and financial stature has so consistently under-performed, indeed failed, 2003 excepted. I suspect that the presence of so many overseas stars in such key roles in the Guinness Premiership teams is one of the primary causes.



I don't pretend it is the sole reason – failure at the top of the English game, i.e. within the RFU – has clearly played a part. But whatever the cause, England are stumbling towards the Rugby World Cup next year with diminishing hopes of achieving anything very much.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup