Clive Woodward is advocating for a significant change to the Rugby Football Union’s policy on foreign-based players – a move that would allow talents like Owen Farrell to represent England in the Six Nations next year.
Woodward’s call to action comes as current regulations prevent the selection of players employed by clubs outside England and questions whether the Six Nations can be called the pinnacle of the game with so many England players missing.
Woodward – who has stepped back from his role as an on-air rugby pundit for ITV – makes the comments against a backdrop of Henry Arundell’s ineligibility for England after his transfer last summer to Racing 92 – a move that has sparked discussions on the RFU’s squad selection policies.
Farrell followed suit by signing for the Parisian club and is currently taking a break from playing for England at Test level. It’s likely, however, that the Racing 92 bound standoff would return next year to Test rugby given the chance.
Writing in his Daily Mail column Woodward highlighted the predicament “England can’t select the likes of Henry Arundell and Jack Willis because they are employed by French clubs” noting that Farrell will face a similar issue next season.
“The Six Nations is arguably the No 1 rugby tournament,” wrote Woodward. “You could make a case for it being as big, or bigger, than the World Cup because of its unrivalled history. While I hope I’m proved wrong and that we see brilliant matches and great entertainment, I’m not sure we can say ahead of this year’s competition that it will be the pinnacle of the game.”
Farrell was lured to France by another former England head coach, Stuart Lancaster. Lancaster is set to build his Parisian team around the 32-year-old for the next two seasons, with the Englishman playing alongside the likes of Siya Kolisi, Cameron Woki and Gael Fickou, as well as fellow Englishmen Christian Wade and Henry Arundell.
“I have not spoken to Owen a huge number of times but we didn’t need to,” Lancaster told RugbyPass recently. “When we did speak we had a really good, deep conversation about what the challenges were, what the opportunities were, the strengths of the move, what were the potential threats, but he has got a lot of really good people around him; he has got a great family.
“So ultimately it wasn’t my decision, it was his decision. We presented a case where we thought we could develop him and he took that. In terms of the timeline, he made the decision (in November) not to play for England and things rolled off the back of that. That was how it played out.
“It’s similar in that people were generally surprised initially at the decision to step away from international rugby because that is such a big decision for any player. I can’t comment on externally because I don’t know that many people in Paris to ask.
“But I can say internally, even the players who play in his position (at Racing) are excited because they can see that they can learn from him. And the experienced players, the lads who have played against him like Siya (Kolisi) and Gael (Fickou) etc, they were the first people to come up to say to me, ‘What a great signing; we can’t wait to have him here’. That’s good enough for me. And the young players, they will just benefit from his experience.”