The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has for years guarded against an exodus to France by upholding the policy of not selecting overseas-based players for international duty save for “exceptional circumstances”.
But now France’s mega-rich club sides are prepared to build clauses into contracts that would allow England stars to cross the Channel without being exiled from the Test team.
Top 14 sides are understood to be eyeing opportunities for a clutch of current England players, given the relative cutting of financial cloth in the Gallagher Premiership.
Heavily-backed outfits like Racing 92 and Toulon will be confident of offering more lucrative contracts than are generally on offer in England’s top division.
The RFU has extended the “exceptional circumstances” England selection clause to those players made redundant by Wasps and Worcester, with English chiefs working hard to help free agents back into gainful employment.
But now England players are understood to have the wider facility to move to France without curtailing their Test careers – provided they secure vital clauses in their continental club contracts.
England players must secure full release for Test windows from French clubs, written into their contracts, in order to keep their international careers alive. This new development will not lead to the kind of mass exodus that the RFU feared when imposing impediments to Test stars heading overseas.
The bulk of England’s senior players want to stay put in the Premiership, as much down to positive club situations as the logistical ease of preparing for Test windows. France’s aristocrat clubs will not be deterred however, and are understood to be prepared to agree to Test window release clauses in contracts in a way they would not even have considered several years ago.
Clermont Auvergne are understood to retain an interest in recruiting Saracens’ England hooker Jamie George, and could look to use the Test window release clause as a way to tempt the 32-year-old into a move. Sam Simmonds will trade Exeter for Montpellier at the end of the campaign, and has already secured his availability for England at the 2023 World Cup.
The pacy No8 will start against Japan at Twickenham on Saturday, with boss Eddie Jones confirming: “He is available for the World Cup.”