Stuart Lancaster: Arundell has big England call to make and I’ll back him

<span>Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA</span>
Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

Stuart Lancaster has warned “there’s a decision to be made” by Henry Arundell on his future and says the debate about eligibility for England internationals playing overseas is “very tricky”.

The former England head coach became director of rugby at Racing 92 this season after several years coaching at Leinster, and the French club host Harlequins in the opening round of the Champions Cup on Sunday. Arundell joined Racing following the demise of London Irish, with the Rugby Football Union exempting him to play at the World Cup because of those exceptional circumstances.

Related: The Breakdown | Arundell’s French adventure puts pressure on Borthwick and RFU

The 21-year-old is one of the most exciting talents in the English game and has scored some electrifying tries for his new Parisian employers. But under the RFU’s eligibility rules he will not be eligible for the Japan and New Zealand tour next summer unless he joins a Premiership club for 2024‑25.

Given the superior spending power of clubs in France and elsewhere, Arundell’s case is becoming a focal point for a longstanding problem in English rugby that looks likely to worsen.

As a former England coach now overseeing a well-resourced Top 14 club - Racing 92 have a host of internationals, including South Africa’s World Cup‑winning captain Siya Kolisi - Lancaster understands the issues more than most.

“It’s a very tricky one,” Lancaster said. “I go back to 2011: I get the interim [England] job and there’s decisions to be made about players who were in France. The RFU has held the line [on eligibility], with Premiership Rugby squarely behind, because they want to keep their homegrown talent in England. I can 100% agree with why that’s important to England and to the Premiership.

“From my point of view, any international player who plays in the Six Nations, I’m never going to compromise their chances to be successful for their national team – be that French players or English players or Welsh players,” Lancaster said. “We’ll see what happens with Henry. It’s early days for him and there’s a decision to be made. Whichever way he goes I’ll support him and try and help him develop.”

Of Arundell’s willingness to move overseas and take on a fresh challenge in Paris, Lancaster said: “To have the courage and maturity to do that at a young age is impressive. He has thrown himself in.”

Harlequins head across the channel to begin their European campaign in the wake of an emphatic 36-3 victory against their Premiership rivals Sale last Friday. Lancaster – whose side lead the Top 14 table with six wins from nine – is focusing considerable energy on how to negate the threat of Marcus Smith, Quins’ fly-half who shone in the dismantling of the on-form Sharks.

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Lancaster anticipates the England No 10 will pose “a lot” of challenges: “He’s got good footwork, he’s got very good vision, he’s got a great kicking game, and he’s quick, the ability to scan and see space sets him apart.

“It’s a bit like when you’re trying to set up your defence against Finn Russell. Sometimes he’ll play behind the line, sometimes he’ll take on the line, you don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen. You’ve got to be aware to not give him what he wants. But it’s easier said than done because he’s very good at changing direction and taking opportunities.”

Lancaster also talked up Sunday’s encounter between two “attack-minded” sides and highlighted the fact that the indoor venue, Paris La Défense Arena, will leave no room for excuses about conditions. “Knowing all the coaches and most of the players at Harlequins, they will be absolutely relishing the chance to come and play in a stadium where there’s no wind and no rain guaranteed,” Lancaster said. “Racing play a similar style. Pitching two attack-minded teams together, you couldn’t wish for a better fixture.”