Is not the hysterical reaction of the Rugby Football Union to the news that three England players had signed for French clubs typical of a selfish organisation?
In a sense, it showed English rugby’s naivety. The French have seen some of their international players, the likes of Raphael Ibanez, Sebastien Chabal and Olivier Azam, plus former Biarritz scrum half Julien Dupuy, going to England to play their rugby. In a professional era, what is surprising about that ? Players will go where the best deals are and be tempted by living and playing in another country.
In soccer, David Beckham has played in Madrid, Los Angeles and most recently Milan whilst continuing to represent England. Years and years ago, the likes of Kevin Keegan, Mark Hughes, Gary Lineker and Laurie Cunningham all played their club football on the Continent whilst still playing for their countries.
I detect a note of arrogance in English rugby’s reaction to the London Wasps players, Riki Flutey, Tom Palmer and James Haskell announcing they have signed for French clubs for next season. Flutey will go to Brive, Palmer and Haskell to Stade Francais.
But suddenly, the RFU sense a crisis. Urgent talks are called. This, say official spokesmen, is a serious threat to England and to the Guinness Premiership.
But where were England when Italy lost about ten of their best players to clubs in France and, er, England? No one at Twickenham complained then because it didn’t affect them: Italian rugby could go hang. They weren’t bothered about anyone else.
But the moment the boot is on the other foot, they RFU starts crying foul. Isn’t it typical of these narrow-minded people? All they’re interested in is their own little world.
So what if the Guinness Premiership isn’t in the future the best club league in the world ? I’m not even convinced it is now. French rugby didn’t bleat when it lost players like Sebastian Bruno, Serge Betsen and, before them, Philippe Sella, Abdel Benazzi, Olivier Brouzet, Laurent Cabannes, Christian Califano, Thomas Castaignede, Thierry Lacroix, Thomas Lombard, Olivier Magne, Alain Penaud and Philippe Saint-Andre, to English clubs. Last year, Frederic Michalak played for The Sharks in Durban in the Super 14.
The French don’t whinge; they just get on with it.
And there’s another thing too. Isn’t it the case that it can be the making of young men to leave their comfort zone and go and work abroad? Ask Thomas Castaignede what he got out of his years with English club Saracens, in terms of a lifestyle experience. I always remember Michael Lynagh and Philippe Sella speaking so glowingly about their time together at Saracens.
Won’t Riki Flutey learn much from a new life in the south of France at Brive? Won’t Palmer and Haskell mature in Paris with the cosmopolitan Stade Francais club, especially under an Australian coach? All three will have to learn French - isn’t all that going to improve them as individuals and men?
But of course the RFU isn’t interested in any of that. For their own selfish reasons, they want all the top English players always to stay at home and then they want to see the best players from all around the world join clubs in the Guinness Premiership. In other words, all a one-way street and the hell with everyone else…….
My view is, the RFU and the English players’ organisation should wise up. Come out of your own cosy little cupboard, guys, and open your eyes. There’s a big new world called professionalism out there which means player movement, both ways, is inevitable.
You don’t cry when top world players like New Zealanders Nick Evans, Greg Somerville, Chris Jack and Aaron Mauger join English clubs. The fact that they’ve helped swell attendances at English club games is quietly welcomed. But of course, that’s different...
The fact is, they should stop bleating when some of their players decide to go and try life in another country.
In other words, you can’t have things all your own way, no matter how much you might think you can.