Owen Farrell backed by Clive Woodward to take ‘fantastic opportunity’ to alter ‘absurd’ England policy

The Saracens and England fly half has been strongly linked with a move to Racing 92

Harry Latham-Coyle
Monday 08 January 2024 11:29 GMT
Owen Farrell has been linked with a move to the French Top 14
Owen Farrell has been linked with a move to the French Top 14 (PA Wire)

Sir Clive Woodward has urged Owen Farrell to take a “fantastic opportunity” and sign for French club Racing 92 to pressure England to reverse their policy on overseas-based players.

Farrell has been strongly linked with a move to the French capital club as he mulls his options at the end of his contract with Saracens, which concludes in the summer.

The 32-year-old is understood to be giving strong consideration to an offer from Top 14 leaders Racing that would see him reunite with Stuart Lancaster, his former England coach.

Double World Cup winning captain Siya Kolisi and England starlet Henry Arundell are part of Lancaster’s squad as he bids to build the glamour club into consistent continental contenders.

Any move to France would render Farrell unavailable to Steve Borthwick under the Rugby Football Union’s current rules that do not allow players based overseas to be selected for the England team.

But Woodward, who coached England to men’s World Cup triumph in 2003, believes that the fly half should make the move and compel the RFU to abandon an “archaic policy”.

“My overriding reaction when I heard Owen Farrell is in advanced talks to join Racing 92 was that it is a fantastic opportunity for him to move to Paris and take his game to another level,” Woodward said in his column in the Mail on Sunday.

“Farrell can put himself under pressure to succeed in a totally different environment after spending his entire career with Saracens and England. There are no negatives around the proposed two-year deal except for the fact it will mean he can’t play for England. That is so wrong.

Owen Farrell is considering his future (PA)

“The RFU should abandon their foreign selection rule. Farrell is just showing the absurdity of it all and highlighting how far behind England rugby is in its thinking and structure.

“Uf Farrell — or any other player — is playing their club rugby in France or anywhere else, they should still be eligible for England.

At the moment, only those employed by Premiership clubs can play in Steve Borthwick’s national side. It is an archaic policy and not reflective of the society in which we live today. It is a policy born out of a negative mindset and all about ‘defending our patch’. It sets the wrong tone.”

The RFU’s long-standing policy leaves Borthwick unable to include Arundell and fellow Top-14 based World Cup squad members Joe Marchant, David Ribbans and Jack Willis in his Six Nations squad, which will be named on Wednesday 17 January.

Owen Farrell has been linked with a move to Racing 92 (PA Wire)

Farrell will also be absent from the campaign after taking a break from international rugby to prioritise his mental health, with Borthwick mulling his options to replace England’s record points-scorer as captain.

Courtney Lawes, Farrell’s regular stand-in, has retired from international rugby but is also weighing up a move to France, with ambitious second-tier side Provence among those interested in the flanker.

Citing the example of his World Cup-winning fly half Jonny Wilkinson, who starred with Toulon towards the end of his career, Woodward explained why more players should contemplate a switch across the Channel.

“My advice to players is you don’t want to look back on your career when you’ve retired and have regrets,” Woodward said. “Moving abroad is not for everyone. But it can make you a better player and person.

Steve Borthwick (left) is considering his options to replace Owen Farrell (Getty Images)

“I think the likes of Marcus Smith — who was targeted by Racing —will look back and think maybe they should have moved whilst playing at the height of their career.

“I worked with Jonny Wilkinson for many years and even he improved when he went to Toulon, though, in reality, he went to France four or five years too late.

“Farrell can put himself under pressure to succeed in a totally different environment after spending his entire career with Saracens and England. Anyone with a passion for English rugby should hope he thrives in France.”

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